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Mark 8:34-9:1

HOMILY ON THE SUNDAY AFTER THE ELEVATION OF THE PRECIOUS WOOD OF THE CROSS

by St. John of Kronstadt

Our Lord teaches that each one of us must carry his cross. If any man will come after me, He says, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, i.e., the cross of various misfortunes and afflictions, and follow me (Matt. 16:24), Yes, in order to reach the Kingdom of God, the cross is indispensable for everyone, and without the cross, without sorrows, without hardships, nc one can enter the heavenly kingdom. With the cross, our Lord established the way to heaven, and we also must travel there in such a manner. The holy Apostle Paul says, that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). The Lord says . ..narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life (Matt. 7:14). But why not widen the path to the heavenly kingdom, one might say, and make it easier; why not remove from it various trials and tribulations? Just think how many people there would be then going to heaven! The wide path would then be, so it seems, full of people hastening to the heavenly Jerusalem, just as it is now full of people going to hell. However, to speak in such a manner means that one does not know the essence of the matter, does not know himself, has no idea what the heavenly kingdom is. It is not possible, my dear brethren, for the path to our heavenly kingdom to be wide and easy. I will now explain to you my beloved brothers and sisters, based on the Word of God, why the wide and smooth path cannot possibly lead to the heavenly kingdom and why it must be narrow and confined. Narrow indeed is the way of the cross, the path leading to the kingdom of heaven, because we are sinful, very sinful. Sin is inherent in us from our mother's womb; we live in sin; we are, so to speak, permeated with sin, even motivated by sin. We breath, drink, and eat in sin, we converse with each other in a sinful manner. We take our sinfulness with us to church where even there we have sinful thoughts, yes even in the house of God we are sinful; everywhere, every thing about us is sinful. Purity and sanctity are entirely non-existent in us, except by God's Grace, a few of us, perhaps through carefully watching over our hearts and through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, are beginning to acquire those virtues. God, however, is unlimited Holiness, brethren, and in the beginning He created us righteous and holy. Man then voluntarily fell into the defilement of sin, as we also now defile our-selves with every kind of sin. Because God is righteous and holy. He can-not but despise every sin, every unlawful action. The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 15:26). He that worketh evil shall not dwell near Thee, nor shall transgressors abide before Thine eyes (Ps. 5:3). Nothing odious and unclean will enter into the Kingdom of Christ our God, the holy scriptures tell us (Eph. 5:5). To be admitted into the heavenly kingdom also means to be admitted into union with God and His saints, as the Holy Apostle John the Theologian says, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ (I John 1:3). Therefore, in order to enter into the heavenly kingdom, or be accepted into communion with God, it is absolutely necessary for us to be cleansed from our sins, and in order for this to happen, atonement must take place gradually, throughout the course of one's earthly existence. However, dear brethren, is it an easy matter to purify one's heart from the uncleaness of sin? Is it an easy task to not allow sin in any form to take root in our heart when it has already settled in and has become second nature to us, when we have come to love our sins as our own creation, our own child, and part of our very being, and even if we do not love them, since this sinfulness torments us and since our passions torture us, and when not long after having repented, do we not fall again? We "repent" until the next time; the bitter experience of every person attests to that fact. This, brethren, is the reason why the narrow path of the cross alone leads to the kingdom of heaven. Sin has spread its deadly roots in all of us deeply and thoroughly, and it is necessary to expend much pious labor and great perseverance against the sins which sully our soul. It is necessary to endure sorrows, to shed many tears of heartfelt repentance and contrition of heart, to endure persecution from the people of this age, and from evil and unclean spirits who oppose every good. It is imperative that we willingly or unwillingly endure afflictions, make great effort to fast and pray exceedingly, and bear many afflictions in our hearts in order to drive sin out of its lair. What else is there that we can do? One must understand that sin is not unfamiliar to us, for it is the offspring of our own will, the creation of our own inclination towards evil. If we were without free will, then there would be no sin, there would not be such labor needed in order to reach the kingdom of heaven. At the same time, there also would be no paradise for us, no eternal blessedness. How could one possibly be happy without having made any sacrifice, without having been attentive to one's self, not performing spiritual labors, struggling, or exercising much patience in keeping the commandments of God and remaining faithful to Him? It is shameful to eat unearned bread, but that which comes from God-pleasing labor is salutary. How is it possible for us to enjoy eternal blessedness if we are devoid of the endeavor of self-examination, self-purification, and making constant effort to please the all-holy, all-perfect, and all-loving Creator, our heavenly Father?

Brethren! Do not attempt to blame the Creator for your failings, for you are but earth and dust. Do not say to the Potter, you who are but clay;

Why has thou made me thus? (Rom. 9:20). Why did God give us a free will? He endowed us with a free will in order to provide for us the means by which to gain eternal blessedness. How glorious this blessedness will be when we come to the realization that this has been gained not only through the mercy of the Master, but by our efforts as well. Imagine how all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, monastics, and all the saints rejoice, for they all reached the heavenly kingdom by the way of the cross, the path of travail and sorrows. Thus inspired, do not become care-less, but let each one of you make effort to purge yourself of every defilement of body and spirit, and hasten to do good in the fear of God. Do not allow yourself to become despondent when you are experiencing numerous sorrows due to your sinfulness, but pray and give thanks to God for all things. Say to yourself. Tribulation and sorrow have I found, and I called upon the name of the Lord (Ps. 114:3). Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up (James 4:7-10). Do not permit the slightest possibility for sin within yourself, firmly constrain it and drive it out of your heart as vigorously as possible. Resist it, if need be, until you bleed. Crucify . ..the flesh with the afflictions and lusts (Gal. 5:24), and this will signify that you have taken up your cross and followed the Saviour. At the appointed time, the Saviour will place on a throne in His kingdom those who have carried their cross as He promised; To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father on His throne (Rev. 3:21). My brethren, let not one of us falter in denying himself and taking up his cross, that is, to put aside everything that is sinful and corrupt, and follow after the Saviour. Amen.

Translated from "The Complete Collection of the Writings of Archpriest John Ilych Sergiev" in Russian), Vol. I, pp. 410-414.1



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