Friday, September 23, 2011

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for September 18, 2011

The Arabic original can be found here.

Beloved, today on this Sunday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Honorable Cross, you heard this passage from the Gospel that talks about the Cross. From it you can derive an understanding of the Cross of Christ and of his Cross in our life. The Church chose this passage from the Gospel of Mark chapter 8, and Mark has 16 chapters so it is the middle of this gospel. It is a symbol of the Cross’ place in the Church which is always, as you see, placed in the center of the church. Moreover, it is placed at the center of being and it is placed in the center of our life and the center of our heart. Those who believe in the Cross, that is, in the One Crucified, and those who do not believe in the Cross, they live at the center of our life-- this cross, the Cross of Christ, who is the Creator of being.

If we meditate upon this passage from the Gospel and its place in the eighth chapter, we see that there is a chapter that precedes it wherein the Lord Jesus talks with his disciples and prophecies to them that he will suffer and die and rise on the third day. Peter was amazed by these words and said to him, “God forbid that this happen to you.” The Lord Jesus replied to him, “Get behind me, Satan. Your words are the words of men and not the words of God.” After that comes the passage where Jesus says, “Let him who wants to follow me deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Saint John Chrysostom says, “Christ was not satisfied to prophecy to his disciples about what would happen to him. Instead, he called them to the very same path, if they wanted to follow him.” He cites the words of the Lord in the Gospel of John: “A grain of wheat that falls to the earth, if it does not die, it will not bring much fruit.” He adds, “Christ not only prepares them for his death, but for their death as well!”

We know from the holy fathers that self-denial is the hardest thing for a human. Who is able to deny himself? What does it mean for a person to deny himself, if he wants to follow Christ? A person can push away and avoid the temptations of this life, but for him to deny himself, to hold himself of no account, for him to not cling to his own will and opinion, this is something very difficult. Something that helps a person in this work—according to the monastic fathers—is for him to cut off his will. Cutting off one’s will in other words is obedience and submission. But obedience to whom, in the end? To God’s word, to God’s will!

Let us obey our leader. It is only a kind of training, that is a practical way for us to be able to obey God. This is the true faith, not for us to obey the experts of the world and what people say, but to have conviction, to believe, and to live the world of God, the commandments of the Lord Jesus. However, it is not enough for a person to obey and it is not enough to submit. Saint Cyril of Alexandria says, “In order for a person to be able to obey and to deny himself, he must love, he must have love of God and love of neighbor.” Love alone helps us to deny ourselves and to sacrifice for the sake of others.

Thus, beloved, the Cross reminds us of this truth, the truth of obedience to the word of God and the truth of great love. In this way we come to resemble the Lord Jesus Christ who was obedient to the point of death, death upon the Cross. Amen.

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