Carrying the Cross and Suffering in Hope

    

Jesus didn’t suffer so that we wouldn’t have to. He suffered so that we could handle suffering with him.

In other forms of Christianity, one is often told that Christ suffered and died so that we could be freed from a similar fate. A focus in Protestant theology is Christ appeasing the wrath of the Father, freeing us from a rightful punishment.

But for the Greek fathers and Orthodox Christianity, the focus is largely on Christ as the Great Physician—the God who suffers and dies so that he can wipe away our sins, cleanse us from defilement, and reunite us with the Father in him. Rather than presenting a Trinitarian nightmare in which the Father and Son are at odds, Orthodox Christology declares that Christ voluntarily lays down his life for the sake of the world—and that this is the unified, Divine will. In other words, while we are sinners, Christ dies for us.

One of my personal struggles is that of a severe and even crippling empathy. I have trouble disassociating myself from the sufferings or experiences of others, grafting their experiences into my own. In these times of distress, I can turn to prayer, petitioning God for his mercies. But in these prayers, I catch myself assuming that suffering is only a negative. While it might seem noble to ask for God’s deliverance, we should adjust our hearts and prayers in light of what I wrote already: “Christ suffered so that we could handle suffering with him.” Better than praying for deliverancefrom suffering, we must pray for salvation through suffering.

In the Christian context, hope is inextricably linked with suffering. Of this, the apostle Paul writes (Rom. 8:16–18):

The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God. And if children, also heirs—on the one hand heirs of God, on the other hand joint-heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, in order that we might also be glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy in comparison to the future glory to be revealed in us.

Paul is speaking here of “adoption” (Rom. 8:14–15). As Christians, we are adopted into God’s family. But if we are to receive our inheritance (as God’s children), we are called to suffer, becoming “joint-heirs” of the true Son of God. This, Paul explains, is why we endure the “sufferings of the present time,” living according to hope.

A falsehood spread throughout the broader Christian world today is that God adopts us into his family without anything expected of us. Or even worse, we are promised a better life, happiness, and even material wealth or worldly success. But this is really the opposite of what the scriptures promise. Paul again reminds us that “we were saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24). Our salvation is not realized immediately, nor is it a ‘flip of the switch’ in one’s mental assent of faith, but is rather a journey that begins in Baptism and is consummated on the Last Day. And until that day, we are awaiting our true salvation. From the beginning of our salvation journey to the end is a whole lifetime of trials, temptations, suffering, discipline, asceticism, struggle, and growth.

Being “saved in hope” also means knowing in whom we place our trust:

Who shall separate us form the love of Christ? Affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . But in all these things we more than conquer through the One Who loved us. — Rom. 8:35,37

While we are almost guaranteed a life marked by affliction, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword, we have assurance of victory through the love of Christ. Our hope is in him. He is our assurance, just as he is true Life.

Since we are guaranteed as much, our prayer should be to see suffering transformed into salvation. As Elder Paisios has said:

In every test, let us say: “Thank you, my God, because this was needed for my salvation.”

Similarly, Fr. Seraphim Rose:

Only struggle a little more. Carry your cross without complaining. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are. And, especially, love one another.

When faced with struggle or temptation, ask God that we might struggle a little more. Give thanks to God that we are being provided an opportunity for our sanctification and salvation in him. Look to Christ as a source of strength—as one who suffered all, and yet without sin. Consider the lives of the Saints, who have imaged Christ in their own struggles.

In the end, remember that Christ didn’t suffer so that we wouldn’t have to. He suffered, died, and conquered death-by-death so that we could handle suffering with him. Casting our lot with Christ is a calling to suffering, a calling to carry a Cross—whether great or small.

But through Christ, through the mysteries of the Church, and through our own individual struggle and ascesis, we can live as co-heirs of him, prepared for future glory.

See also
What is Happiness? What is Happiness?
Professor Alexei Osipov
What is Happiness? What is Happiness?
Professor Alexei Osipov
Whenever we talk about life, the question of happiness is always on our mind. This question is essential for our whole life and for the solution of all its problems. What kind of problems? Economic? Yes. Social? No doubt. Philosophical? Of course! Scientific? Definitely: why do we need progress in science and technology if there is no happiness?
Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism
Fr. Michael Butler, Andrew P. Morriss
Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism
Fr. Michael Butler, Andrew P. Morriss
It is important to clarify the Church’s teaching on asceticism because many voices in the environmental movement encourage a kind of ascetical lifestyle in the name of “ethical consumption.” Orthodox writers on the environment are not immune to the temptation of putting the ascetical tradition of the Church in the service of another agenda.
Third Sunday of Lent: Veneration of the Holy Cross Third Sunday of Lent: Veneration of the Holy Cross
From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Mark by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria
Third Sunday of Lent: Veneration of the Holy Cross Third Sunday of Lent: Veneration of the Holy Cross
From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Mark by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria
See that Christ does not compel a man to die on a cross against his own will. Instead He said, Whosoever desireth. The Lord is saying: "I compel no one. I invite him to something good, not to something bad to which he must be forced. Whoever does not want these things is not worthy of them."
Comments
Tim5/31/2018 1:00 pm
I pray for all my personal struggles. Carrying the cross is difficult god is the great healer. We have the Saints as examples in faith
Seraphim N.5/28/2016 1:18 am
A timely bit of encouragement on a day full of physical affliction. Thank you indeed!
Dawna Lawrence9/20/2014 3:54 pm
Wendy, your health issue sounds like mine-including the skin lesions and lack of medical understanding and care. I,too, was stricken pretty bad with the flu in March of 2009. I will pray for you. I understand what you are going through because I am in the same situation.
Benjamin Chung9/17/2014 3:33 pm
Lord has given us way to salvation from sin and death.....Lord help us to follow the WAY of truth. help us overcome our sins and weaknesses.....give us the strength and help us maintain in truth. Amen
Wendy7/9/2014 7:37 pm
I am having a hard time. I have a problem with my immune system and so does my daughter.

It is really starting to affect our lives.

But is most difficult, is that the doctors where I live are not telling the truth.

I showed them the report from an Immunologist in Russia, but they keep denying us proper, effective, and most importantly, timely medical care.

Instead of helping us, one doctor actually lied straight to my face and said that the scratching and rashes on my daughter's arms, legs, torso, was lice.

What do you do when doctors lie, and the government protects their lies?

I have struggled with this since 2009 when we got hit by Swine Flu.

I do not want money, fame, or power.

I just want medical care for my daughter and I. Just the physical ability to get up in the morning, to stand in prayer, water the garden, clean the house, take care of my family and aging parents.

I just don't understand what I do next.

I pray. I pray all the time. I pray for forgiveness of my sins. I pray for peace between nations. I pray for health. I pray for strength for doctors.

But no matter what I do, medical help never comes.

So now I pray God will take mercy on me and give the strength to carry this cross. But what I really help is just some medical help.
Wendy7/7/2014 7:04 pm
Sometimes its so easy to get lost in my personal struggles, that I forget how much more others struggle.

Unfortunately, it does not take long for news to travel about the horrors that other people are going through.

There are many crosses in the world that are much heavier than mine. Please merciful God, grant them strength and hear their prayers. Amen.
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