At the end of today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark, our Lord says, “There are some who will not taste death until they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power.” The fathers tell us He is speaking of Peter, James, and John, who saw Him shining with the uncreated light of His glory on the mount of Transfiguration. At the time of His incarnation, leading to His Passion, and to Pascha, His victory, where He tramples down death by death on our behalf, He appeared to be nothing more than just a man. When He comes again, He will come in glory – He will not be mistaken for anyone else, He will not appear to be anything more than just a man. At that time, He will come to judge the living and the dead – each one of us will appear before Him to give an account of our lives, of all we have said and done, and of all we have failed to say or do. The righteous will enter into the joy of the reward the Lord has prepared for them; the unrighteous will depart into suffering. No one, the fathers tell us, will be sent to hell. Rather, it is the weight of our own sins, unconfessed and unrepented, that will keep us from rising to be in the presence of God.
There is a way for us to follow that will lead us into the kingdom of heaven, into the paradise of the presence of God. That is the way of the Cross; and we do well to consider it as we come to this, the midpoint in our journey through Great Lent, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious Cross. The Cross is where the victory was obtained for us; and the Cross is the way we must go to leave this world behind, and enter into the Kingdom of God. “Whoever would follow Me,” our Lord says, “must deny himself, and take up his Cross.”
What does it mean to deny ourselves? Blessed Theophylact writes that we can learn what it means to deny ourselves by considering what it means to deny another. What do we tend to do when we see the suffering of another person? Do we intervene? Or do we go our way, and say nothing? To deny ourselves is to say nothing when it is us who are suffering – to consider ourselves as to be of no value in this world, and so to endure whatever comes our way in this world without protest, without complaint.
What does it mean to take up our Cross? It means to be willing to suffer, even die, for Christ. At some times, and in some places, this means a martyr’s death. Yet even when it is not a literal death, we are called to be willing to endure the ridicule and rejection of a “social” death – to be cut off from those who live in the world around us because we choose to follow the way of life we have been blessed to receive in the Church, rather than to live according to the ways permitted in the world. We are meant to be witnesses to Christ, to show Him present in the world because He is living in us – and so we live according to holiness, and not the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
“Before Thy Cross, we bow down to Thee in worship, O Master; and Thy holy Resurrection, we glorify.” Grant us grace, O Lord, that we may not deny Thee, but may deny ourselves, and take up the Cross of holiness, and make the journey through Great Lent to Thy glorious Pascha, and so be found worthy, in Thy mercy, to enter into Thy kingdom. Let us glorify Thee in word and deed, so that our souls may be saved; and we may bear witness to others, that they also may be saved.