The Lord said to His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Mt. 16:24).
What does his cross mean? Why is his [our] cross, that is, the separate cross of each person, called also the Cross of Christ?
Our cross: It is sorrows and suffering in this earthly life, and everyone has his own.
Our cross: It is fasting, vigils, and other pious ascetic labors by which the flesh is humbled and placed in submission to the spirit. These labors should correspond to each one’s strength, and everyone has his own.
Our cross: It is sinful infirmities and passions, and every person has his own! Some of them we are born with, while others we are infected with on the path of our earthly life.
The Cross of Christ is Christ’s teaching.1
Our cross is vain and barren, no matter how heavy it may be, if it is not transformed into the Cross of Christ by our following Christ.
For the disciple of Christ, his own cross becomes the Cross of Christ, because the disciple of Christ is firmly convinced that Christ unsleepingly keeps vigil over him, that Christ allows him to have sorrows as the necessary and inescapable condition for Christianity, that no sorrow could come close to him if it had not been allowed by Christ, that through sorrows a Christian is assimilated into Christ, becoming a partaker of His lot on earth, and later also in heaven.
For the disciple of Christ, his own cross becomes the Cross of Christ, because the true disciple of Christ honors the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments as the only goal of his life. These all-holy commandments become a cross for him, on which he continually crucifies his old man with its passions and lusts (cf. Gal. 5:24).
From this it is clear why, in order to accept the cross, we must first deny ourselves even to the depths of our souls.
Sin has mingled so powerfully and a profusely into our fallen nature that the Word of God does not cease calling it the soul of fallen man.
In order to take our cross upon our shoulders, we must first deny the body its lustful desires, leaving to it only what is necessary for existence. We must recognize our “righteousness” as the cruelest unrighteousness before God, our reasoning as completely unreasonable, and finally, having given ourselves to God with all the strength of our faith, we must commit ourselves to the ceaseless study of the Gospel, and renounce our own will.
Whoever has made this renunciation of himself is able to accept is own cross. With submission to God, calling out for God’s help to strengthen him is his weakness, he looks without fear or confusion at an approaching sorrow, and prepares himself to bear it magnanimously and courageously. He has hope that through it he will become a partaker of Christ’s sufferings, and attain to the mystical confession of Christ not only with his mind and heart, but also in very deed, by his very life.
The cross is only burdensome as long as it is our own cross. When it is transformed into the Cross of Christ, it takes on an extraordinary lightness, For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30), said the Lord.
The cross is placed upon the shoulders of the disciple of Christ when that disciple recognizes himself as worthy of the sorrows sent down to him by Divine Providence.
The disciple of Christ correctly carries his own cross when he recognizes that those very sorrows sent down to him, and no others, are necessary for his upbringing in Christ and salvation.
Our patient carrying of our own cross is the true vision and awareness of our own sin. There is no self-deception at all in this awareness. But whoever recognizes himself to be a sinner yet at the same time complains and cries out from his cross simply proves that he is only flattering himself with a superficial awareness of his sin, and thus deceives himself.
Patiently bearing one’s own cross is true repentance.
O you who are crucified on the cross! Know Christ—and the gates of heaven will open to you.
Laud the Lord from your cross, turning away all thoughts of complaint and murmuring, rejecting them as criminal and blasphemous.
Thank the Lord from your cross for this priceless gift, for your cross, for your precious plight, for the opportunity to imitate Christ through your sufferings.
Theologize from your cross, because the cross is the real and only school, treasure house, and throne of true theology. Without the cross there is no living knowledge of Christ.
Do not seek Christian perfection in human virtues. It is not there; it is hidden in the Cross of Christ.2
Your own cross changes into the Cross of Christ when as a disciple of Christ you carry it with an active awareness of your sinfulness—which requires punishment—when you carry it with gratitude to Christ, and laudation of Christ. From praise and gratitude, spiritual consolation appears to the sufferer; gratitude and praise become an over-abundant source of ineffable, incorruptible joy that bubbles with grace in the heart, pours over the soul, and even onto the body itself.
By its outward appearance alone, to fleshly eyes, the Cross of Christ is a cruel place. For the disciple and follower of Christ it is the place of supreme spiritual delight. So great is this delight that sorrow is quite muted by delight, and the follower of Christ feels only delight amidst the harshest languishing.3
The young Maura said to her young husband Timothy, who was enduring terrible torments and inviting her to take part in that martyrdom, “I fear, my brother, that I might become affrighted when I see the terrible torments and the wrathful hegemon, that because of my young age I might not have the strength to endure.” The martyr replied, “Hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the torments will be as the oil of gladness pouring over your body, and the spirit of dew over your bones, relieving all your pains.”4
The cross is the strength and glory of all the saints from the ages.
The cross is the healer of passions, and the destroyer of demons.
The cross is death-bearing to those who have not transformed their own crosses into the Cross of Christ; who murmur against Divine Providence, blaspheme it, and give themselves over to hopelessness and despair. The sinners on their crosses who do not recognize and repent of their sins die an eternal death, losing by their impatience true life, life in God. They are taken down from their crosses only to descend in soul to an eternal grave—the dark dungeons of hell.
The Cross of Christ lifts from the earth Christ’s disciple crucified on it. The disciple of Christ, crucified on his cross, contemplates the heights, lives in mind and heart in heaven and beholds the mystery of the Spirit in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If any man will come after me, says the Lord, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Amen.
From Volume 1 of Ascetical Experience.