On the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, the Orthodox believers bow to the Holy Cross. We are reminded of Christ's calling to us: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) We have heard these words multiple times, but living by them is never easy. Yet following this command of God is the key to our salvation. To take up the cross means to accept all the pain, sorrows, temptations, trials and difficult circumstances that come our way to move us closer to our eternal life in Christ. "The cross is our willingness to accept every sorrow," writes Saint Isaac the Syrian.
No matter how much we prepare for it, our troubles cause us anguish, but we must not let them break us. The cross of our lives, adorned with a constellation of sorrows and suffering should teach us humble acceptance of the will of God, without grumbling or resentment. To deny ourselves means to put Him at the throne of our hearts. Christ should be at the centre, not our self-assertion, egoism or over-reliance on ourselves. Our love of Christ and another should take the centre stage.
But frequently, people prefer to walk past Christ and His cross. They prefer to pursue their personal success, pleasure or self-interest. They put their faith in science and technology and their power to protect them from disease and ageing. They believe in their irreproachable righteousness and purity. They wish to take the place of God.
In this world, boredom and despair are ruling the day more and more, bombs are falling on the young and old. Many feel free to change their sex and decide when to die, and love is running dismally short. As Christians, we are called to become the safe-keepers of love, responsibility and prayer.
The cross is also an embodiment of choice - to live with God or to exist without Him. As Father Rafail, a Romanian elder teaches, hell is our refusal to embrace God. God is life, and when we reject Him, we reject life itself. A man who chooses a life without God, often responds to objections with the question, "So what?" He may lie, steal, hate or turn his wrath on others, but not treat it as anything extraordinary. "So what?" - he will ask. - In the eyes of Elder Rafail, our "so what" is the true hell.
On the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, we sing in our churches, "Before Your Cross We Bow Down In Worship O Master, And Your Holy Resurrection We Glorify". The Cross is the greatest sign of God's love for humanity. It is the beauty of the Church, the strength of Kings, the support of the faithful, the glory of angels and the wonder of demons.
Hegumen Tikhon (Borisov) of Optina Pustyn Monastery