As Orthodox Christians we should read the Bible, especially the Holy Gospel, daily. Some books or verses seem to stand out to us more than others. This is because by making them stand out God is trying to tell us something. Now we need to be very careful here. No verses mean more than others. Verses must always be taken in the context of the paragraph and chapter of the book or letter. Other chapters and verses in other books regarding the same subject must also be considered. It is quite dangerous to take verses out of context. One possible result of doing so is the 20,000 protestant “churches” in America, each of which claims to be “Bible based” yet somehow manage to differ from each other - sometimes significantly.
One of the readings in our liturgical year which has always stood out to me is the reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark which is read on the Sunday after the feast of the Exultation of the Cross:
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Truly powerful words, very powerful - and instructive.
We can assume that anyone who calls himself an Orthodox Christian would consider himself to be a follower of Christ - or can we. I think that in this day of secular or secularized Orthodoxy - what a terrible, yet true term - we should not assume anything. Some of us are Orthodox by birth, others by culture, others by conversion. The true Orthodox are those who are Orthodox by choice, which means by how we live our lives, regardless of whether we are born into it or converted to it. A true Orthodox Christian follows Christ. Unlike a cowboy who heards his cattle, a shepherd calls his sheep and the sheep respond to his voice. It is up to each of us to respond to the call of Christ, the Good Shepherd. In order to respond we must do two things: deny ourselves and take up our own cross.
The Holy Apostle Paul writes something quite interesting to the Galatians: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (6:14). St. James the Apostle writes: know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God (4:4).
The sign of the Son of Man is the Cross. Christ is the Cross-bearer and if we are to follow Him we must also become cross-bearers. But we cannot become cross-bearers unless we first deny ourselves. We must learn to say as did our Lord Christ in the garden just before His Passion when He said to His Father: Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt (Mt 26:39). We pray the same prayer when we pray the Lord’s Prayer saying: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What is not said yet understood is that if God’s will is to be done then we must renounce our own will or - better yet - align our will to the will of God.
The Gospel is very clear: If we wish to live for God we must die to the world. This is clearly seen in the words: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Nothing is more precious than one’s own soul. Nothing should be so precious to us that we cannot renounce it, take up our cross and follow Christ. To be a Christian means to be like Christ and with Christ.
True and wise are the words written on the walls of St. Paul’s Monastery on the Holy Mountain: If you die before you die then when you die you won’t die.
May our Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers of His most pure Mother and all the saints, have mercy upon us and save us.