Thursday, June 25, 2009

Veneration of the Cross

“What profit is it to a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ1
Glory forever!

In this context, the word soul means life, and literally what the Lord is saying is, “There is no price of earthly exchange, no commodity, no position on earth that is worth the losing of one’s everlasting life.” “What profit is it to a man to gain the whole world and to lose his own life, his own soul, for what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Now when we are young, we feel like there are certain exchanges we are willing to make. I remember a young woman once, just past adolescence, and she said, to me, “Well, I come to church two or three times a month.”
And I said, “Dear, you need to be there every week.”
And she said, “You know I have to have a social life.”
As her life went on it was tragically impacted, and still today she is not happy because she exchanged something for that which would enrich and give health, and life, and joy, and peace to her soul. She made a bargain with hell, she made an agreement with death. She thought she was just going out staying out late one Saturday night every two or three weeks, getting drunk, and coming home too tired to get up for church. What she was really doing was worshipping the devil on Sunday morning.

As one gets a little older, one thinks of things that one wants so badly that one will lie, cheat or steal to have them. I remember in the old days, the days when I was very strong and vigorous, and when I was also impetuous, three occasions when men came to me and said, “Father, I need to talk to you about something.”
“Well, you see, my wife and I, we don’t get along well anymore. She doesn’t understand me. She doesn’t help me. She doesn’t support me.”
And I would say, “What’s her name?”
And the guy would say, “Well, you know my wife’s name_____” Shirley, Emily, whatever.
And I’d say, “No. The one who understands you. Who’s helping you, who’s supporting you – what’s her name?”
“Well, how did you know that?”
“Well, I’m not stupid.”
And then I’d get up, and I’d punch the guy in the stomach, I’d slap the guy in the face, and I’d say, “Go home and take a cold shower. Look around at what you’ve got, and get this out of your head.”
It sounds like I was a mean man. Matushka and I were flying into the airport in Kansas city, back about… I don’t know how long ago, for some event there. And I met a man in the airport who came up and threw his arms around me and said, “You saved my marriage. You saved my life. Remember when you slapped the poop out of me?”

The thing is, we all can think as we’re, let’s say in our late youth, of things for which we would exchange our soul, or take the risk, or bargaining that there’s going to be time to repent, that there’s going to be time to change, time to say we’re sorry. So we make a deal with death, a contract with hell. We exchange something for the glory of God.

As we get older, you know Jung said that “all questions” – and I’m not recommending Jung, he’s just a theorist of psychology – “all questions after forty are spiritual questions.” Well, that’s in another century when sixty was an old age. I would say now that all questions after sixty are spiritual questions. What do we mean by that? We mean that by the time you get to my age and your bones are aching, and your back is aching, and maybe some terrible thing has happened to you, by that time you start to realize that death is at the door. It may not come to visit you at sixty, or sixty-five, or seventy, or seventy-five, of eighty, or eight-five, of ninety, or ninety-five. We’ve buried people from this church who were over ninety-five years old. But death is at the door. He’s just waiting for his invitation from God to come in and claim his pray. The time is drawing near. As it says in the Great Canon, “My soul, my soul, arise. Why are you sleeping? The judgment is at the door and soon you will be confounded. But awake and cry aloud to Christ our God. Awake and cry aloud to Christ our God.” The Lord is telling us that, and he’s giving us the intuition in our bodies as we get older, that death is inevitable. If we are doing those things which are necessary to allow God to save our souls, it has no fear for us. Yes, we have plans. We have ideas. I’d like to see my grandchildren grow up and get married, and have their own children. But I might also see them suffer from something that would break my heart. And God knows what is best, what’s right for me. And God knows that if I don’t see them grow up and get married and have children with my fleshly eyes here in this world, but if I save my soul by taking up my cross and following Him, that I’ll see them every minute, closer than I am right now. I’ll see them from heaven.

You know, my grandchildren have this thing on the computer and they’ve grown less interested in it as they get older, so Grandpa is the keeper of the cyber animals. It’s called Webkins. And there’s these little toy animals you buy, and then you feed them, and you play with them, and you plant gardens, and you grow vegetables and you feed them the vegetables. The kids can’t get to the computer very often during the week, so Grandpa gets on the computer and makes sure they don’t die while the kids are away from home. And I said, “That’s what heaven is like. Your grandparents and your great grandparents and all the saints, they’re looking down on you and when you forget to plant the seeds, when you forget the harvest your vegetables in life, when you’re preoccupied with something else, they’ll be praying for you. And that will help you and it will take care of the needs you have.

And so, brothers and sisters in Christ, what could be more precious, more important to us, than to do those things that are necessary to save our souls? Do you want to be a captain of industry, a general in the military, a commander of the police force, a mayor of your city, a king, an emperor? In Jesus Christ we share in God’s own kingship. Do you want to be a wealthy man, a powerful magnate, a Donald Trump who can speak to people with a nasty voice and insult them, and then smile at them? With Christ, you have the riches of the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be healthy and strong? Vigorous again without pain and suffering? In heaven there are no tears, no sickness, no sorrow, no sighing. What possible thing that you could gain on earth by serving the devil, by making a contract with death, an agreement with hell, could possible outweigh the riches, the treasure, the greatness, the marvelousness, the eternal joy that is promised to us in the kingdom of heaven?

And so today in the very middle – this is the middle of the forty days, you realize that, this is the twentieth day; and this Wednesday is the middle of the entire fast period, of the forty six days – so we’re in the middle of the middle of things; and in the middle of the middle of things, the Church doesn’t tell us, “Jesus is going to die. Be sad. Weep. Mourn.” The Church holds up, not a cross with a bloody corpus on it, but a cross surrounded by fragrant basil leaves, a cross surrounded by flowers, to tell us that the cross is the source of our victory, of our triumph, of our glory, not the cause of our pain. The Lord says, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, let him take up his cross, and follow Me,” and He says of that cross, “Come to me all ye who travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.” The yoke of Christ is the cross of Christ that you bear not only around your neck but that’s engraved in your thoughts and in your heart. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

So brothers and sisters in Christ, let us look on the flowery cross, let us smell the fragrant herbs, let us see the cross elevated high, and let us not fear that death is at the door, but let us rather give glory to God who has caused us through death to transcend all the broken promises of this world and to enter into life and joy everlasting. Let us like the thief at the eleventh hour who saw our Lord hanging on the cross, cry out to Him, “Remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ.
Glory forever.

No comments: