Sunday, September 23, 2012

Met. Ephrem's Sermon for Sept. 16, 2012

Arabic original here, given at the Monastery of St Jacob, Deddeh.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Today is the Sunday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy and Honorable Cross. Today you heard this passage from the Gospel of Mark, which comes after the Lord Jesus' announcement and prophecy of His passion, death, and resurrection! He also says to the disciples, to the crowds, and to us, "He who desires to follow Me, let him deny himself, or let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me."

What does He mean by the expression 'he who desires to follow me'? Naturally, thre is free will. The Lord gives freedom to all who desire to follow Jesus, but when He says, "he who desires to follow Me," what does He mean?

Where do we follow Jesus? How do we follow Him? Where do we follow Jesus to?

When we read the Gospel, there is the verb 'to follow'. The disciple follows his Teacher to the end. And what is the end-- is it just death? He follows Him forever. He is with Him eternally at all times. He follows Him in his suffering. He resembles Him. He follows Him in suffering death and in His resurrection. That is to say, we Christians are called to follow Christ in this world-- in our suffering, in the death of this world, and also in what comes afterwards, in eternity, in eternal life.

The He says, "let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." The Fathers say about the phrase, "take up his cross" that it means for him to deny himself. If we want to follow Christ, how are we able to resemble him in everything, at all times? How do we deny ourselves? Naturally, we understand that oftentimes we must give up our rights, we must give up many of our desires, our passions, pleasures of this life. And how many pleasures are affirmed by modern man!

When we read, for example, Saint Isaac the Syrian, who comes to mind with this passage, how does he explain what it means for a person to deny himself? He says, "If believer desires to deny himself, to follow Christ to the end in all things, he must constantly have remembrance of death. This is not in order to be frightening. Or perhaps it is frightening for us to constantly remember our death. This is the truth, but perhaps the saint intends for us to struggle to put to death our old man, to put to death our lusts and passions. He adds something useful when he says, "For us to remember death is for us to constantly recall death and to  live in this world as strangers!"

We should not be attached to this world. We should live in it, but we should not be attached to it because we look to something better. Our aspiration when we are alive with the Lord Jesus is to live in this life and to look to another life, eternal life.

Denying the self, then, is a person dying to his ego, to his pride, to his lusts, and at the same time it is a longing to look to life with the Lord Jesus, to that better life, that life which the saints lived, to that heavenly joy, that spiritual joy.

The passage from the Gospel which you heard points toward this when it says in the last sentence, "there are some among those here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of heaven coming in power." That is, there is a possibility before we leave this life to taste the joy of the kingdom from here, to have a foretaste of this joy that awaits us all with Christ risen from the dead. Amen.

No comments: