Take Up Your Cross

Mark 8:34-38; 9:1
Sunday of the Holy Cross

Today, on the Sunday of the veneration of the Holy Cross, we listen to Saint Mark’s Gospel and hear Jesus Christ’s challenging words about what it means to be His followers. He calls us to renounce ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, and warns us that if we seek to save our lives we will surely lose them.

These are disturbing words and remind us of the great cost involved in being a Christian. Too often we can domesticate what it means to bear our cross, forgetting that, for Christ, the Cross was something that cost Him His life. And He reminds us in this Gospel that, if we are to be His followers, it will also cost us our life.

We might wonder at this. Is not our life a gift from God, and does He not desire that we should live it to the full? Why should He expect us to renounce life? Does God really want us to be miserable? Jesus gives us a clue to this paradox by telling us that “whoever loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”

Jesus Christ came to bring us abundant life and to restore to life those who are in the tombs, as we will sing at Pascha. But if we are to receive this gift of life we need to die to our tendency to sin and to renounce our own selfishness and the many ways it has infiltrated our lives. We need to open ourselves to genuinely following Christ. What this involves will be different for each one of us, but there is no true life that does not involve dying to ourselves. And we know too that, in doing so, we receive the only life that is truly worth living.

In Paradise of old the tree stripped me bare; for by giving me its fruit to eat, the enemy brought in death. But now the Tree of the Cross that clothes men with the garment of life has been set up on earth, and the whole world is filled with boundless joy. Beholding it venerated, O ye people, let us with one accord raise in faith our cry to God: His house is full of glory.

From Matins for the Veneration of the Holy Cross

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The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark 8:34-38; 9:1:
The Lord said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”