• Gospel reading
  • Epistle reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! Today is the middle Sunday of the Great Fast. We only have two Sundays after today, and then we’ll be to Holy Week! So right here in the middle of the Fast, the Church places before us the Precious Cross. This is one of the very few times in our Tradition that we make full prostrations on a Sunday morning—in our veneration of the Precious Cross. The Church places the Cross before us with two thoughts in mind. The first, to strengthen those who are struggling diligently in the Fast. And secondly, to encourage those of us who are lagging, or not taking the Fast as seriously as we should, to encourage us to vigilance by the sign of our Saviour’s Cross. We heard the wonderful Epistle from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, which identifies Christ with us, and then set Him up as both our High Priest, and the Sacrifice for our sins. Following which we heard the Holy Gospel, which calls us to take up our Cross and follow Christ. To identify ourselves with Christ, and to become a part of His saving Sacrifice. We’re receiving instruction from the Scriptures to make ourselves to be more like Christ, and we’re receiving encouragement to do so by the Cross brought out for veneration. I’d like us to see, this morning, the two thoughts in the mind of the Church—our strengthening and our encouragement—from one of the verses in our Gospel reading. The Scriptures obviously have objective reality, but the Fathers frequently interpret them within specific situations, as well. So we’ll look at how one verse from the Gospel reading can apply to our Lenten struggles. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:35) The first phrase, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it,” we can understand to be needed by the second group we mentioned above—those of us who are lagging and failing in the struggle to maintain the discipline of the Fast, which is really the tension between being in the world but not of the world. Who ever will take pity on his flesh, who ever will give his body whatever it wants, who ever will give in to his passions—this is man who is “saving his life.” Instead of focusing on preparing himself to be the throne of Christ, he’s busy enjoying the temporal things of this world. And in focusing on the passing enjoyments of this life, we give away eternal life with Christ. If our focus is on saving our life, on making the most of what we have on this earth, then we do it at the expense of life eternal. Now there certainly is this tension that I mentioned a moment ago. We’re created for life with Christ, and we’re also created to live in this world. There is a fine balance, a tension, between properly using and enjoying the things of this world, but not growing attached to them. Keeping our ultimate focus on Christ. A wonderful way to judge if we’re maintaining this tension is in quote from St. John Climacus, which I think we had in the bulletin a few weeks ago—“If anyone thinks he is without attachment to some object, but is grieved at its loss, then he is completely deceiving himself” (Step 2.11). We can properly use and enjoy the things of this world, but we do so carefully guarding against undo attachment, remembering always, that “the Lord gave and the Lord hath taketh away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20) So we have the first half of our chose Gospel verse, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it,” as a warning of sorts. A warning meant to encourage us to read on to the second half of the verse, and to emulate what it teaches us. “Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.” This phrase we can understand to be directed to those who are faithfully engaging the spiritual struggle during Great Lent. The Cross is brought out for their strengthening, and the words of our Lord are used for further encouragement. Even when we know the thing we’re doing is worthy, its nice to be reminded how good the thing is. We know our fasting is with purpose in Christ, and now we have a reminder of our ultimate goal, the promise of Christ—the salvation of our soul. In more ancient times, this verse would literally be applied to the martyrs—those who would lose their physical life for Christ. In our situation, it certainly can be applied to those who lose their lives in the sense of giving up their own will for the things of Christ. As we choose to suppress the desires that would bring us temporary pleasure in pursuit of the way of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, this is a sort of martyrdom. A martyrdom of our will. A martyrdom of our flesh. So as we lose our lives for the sake of Christ and His holy Gospel, we in fact are saving our existence for all of eternity. And as we’re continuing down the straight and narrow path of Christ that leads to life eternal, if we were to be called on to lay down our life in defense of our Faith, to literally lose our physical life, then we certainly would be expected to do so. Maintaining the tension, again, between being in the world but not of the world, is the only way to always be ready to “die”—in whatever way we’re called on to do so—for Christ. The Fathers have wisely given us this Gospel and the vision of the Precious Cross while there’s still time for repentance. So those of us who lag can have the time to prepare for Christ’s Holy Pascha, and so that those who are faithful will have the strength to endure for the rest of the race. So as we prepare ourselves now for the reception of the Holy Body and Blood of our Saviour, sacrificed for us on the wood of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, let us take most seriously the words of our Pre-Communion Prayers, applying our petitions both to the grace we receive from the Cross, and the life we receive from the Holy Eucharist. “May these Holy Things be for the overthrowing of my adversaries, the blotting out of my many transgressions, for my purification, sanctification, and provision for the kingdom and the life to come.” Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!