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Bearing the Holy Cross

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
       On Prayer, Fasting and Bearing the Cross By Archbishop Averky A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and abstinence, to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2005
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         On Prayer, Fasting and Bearing the Cross

      By Archbishop Averky

      A life of fasting, properly understood as general self-limitation and
      abstinence, to the annual practice of which the Church always calls us with
      the Great Lent, is really that bearing of the cross and self-crucifixion
      which is required of us by our calling as Christians. And anyone who
      stubbornly resists this, wanting to live a carefree, happy, and free life,
      is concerned for sensual pleasures and avoids sorrow and suffering - that
      person is not, a Christian.

      Bearing one's cross is the natural way of every true Christian, without
      which there is no Christianity.

      Sincere prayer unites man and God. But nowhere can prayer be as fervent and
      effective as in God's temple, for there the Awesome Bloodless sacrifice is
      constantly offered "for all people and all things," there c ceaseless
      prayer is made on behalf of all the faithful, there "the very air is
      Holy," in the words of one of our devoutly wise bishops.

      It was not in vain that our God-bearing Fathers from of old called the
      temple a "school of virtue."

      Money! Money! Power! Honor! ? these are the temptations which,
      unfortunately, many people are unable to resist.

      This is the source of all the disputes, disagreements and divisions among
      Christians.

      This is the root of people's forgetting the "one thing needed" which is
      proposed to us by the true Christian faith and which consists of prayer,
      acts of repentance, and sincere, unhypocritical charity to our neighbors.
      The Holy Church always calls us to this, but especially now, during the
      Great Lent!

      What is required of us Christians is not some kind of "exalted politics,"
      not lofty phrases and hazy philosophy, but the most humble prayer of the
      Publican: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!", acts of repentance, and
      doing good to our neighbors, which proceeds from a pure heart.

      And it is for the practice of all of this that the Church has established
      the Great Lent!

      How powerfully, colorfully, graphically, and convincingly, with what ardent
      inspiration is all of this spoken of in the divine services of Great Lent!

      No one anywhere has such a wealth of edification in this regard as do we
      Orthodox in our incomparable Lenten services, which, to their shame, the
      majority of Orthodox in our times do not know at all.

      Truly never before has the cross of each person who wants to be a true
      Christian been as heavy as in this time of the triumph of falsehood which
      we are experiencing.

      Never before on this earth has there been such a huge number of people who
      freely and easily, without any shame, without any pangs of conscience
      "call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for
      darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20).



      The following spiritually very beneficial
      Chapters come from the book
      "The Royal Way of the Cross of Our Lord,
      Leading to Eternal Life"

      Before Thy Cross we bow down O master! The
      Royal Way of the Cross of our Lord leading
      to Eternal Life. Saint john of San francisco

         Very important spiritual material for
      every sincerely devout Orthodox Christian

      You can obtain this spiritually essential
      book it at;  http
      ://www.monasterypress.com/wayofthecross.html

      Published  originally by Optina Monastery in
      1889 from the 1709 version by St. John
      (Maximovitch) of Tobolsk.



      Chapter VI

      Why is the Cross Necessary to the
      Christian?


      Stavrophila’s eagerness to accept the cross
      increased a bit, for she saw how it was
      endured with such patience by the Lord
      Jesus Himself and His most gracious mother,
      and she realized she could not escape this
      burden. She began to wonder, however, why
      sorrow was so inseparable with the
      Christian life, and asked the Angel: "Why
      did it please the Lord to place His chosen
      ones in sorrow and allow none of them to
      reach the Heavenly Kingdom without the
      cross?"

      Angel: It should be enough for you, young
      maiden, to know that it pleases the heavenly
      Father, and you should not ask why. As you
      know very well, all that happens, happens by
      His Divine will, and has been arranged
      wisely. But nevertheless, I will not refuse
      to solve your perplexity, for this will
      serve to strengthen your helpless heart.

      Stavrophila: This is why I took the liberty
      to question you about it. For I do not doubt
      that all that has been sent and permitted
      by the merciful God has an all-wise purpose.

      Angel: Therefore take heed! According to
      the all-wise divine decree, the life of the
      chosen ones is often disturbed by sorrow
      during their sojourn on earth. This fleeting
      life is the road to the heavenly Kingdom,
      and according to God’s great foresight, men
      undergo daily grief so that they will not
      come to love the road itself, but the
      kingdom. Therefore, this life is troublesome
      so that men, while enjoying the comforts in
      this life and becoming captivated with the
      beauty of the road itself, would not linger
      on these pleasures, but pass by them
      quickly; while enjoying themselves on the
      way, they would not forget what is awaiting
      them in the kingdom to come. Everything in
      this world is diluted with the bitterness
      of sorrow, so that men would not consider
      the sweetness of this life to be the
      highest blessing. If the Lord would comfort
      you every day with actual fortunes, giving
      you all in abundance, and would not send
      any sorrow and suffering your way in this
      quickly passing life, you would consider as
      the greatest blessing all that the Lord
      bestows upon us here, and would not wish for
      anything more from Him.* [Bl. Augustine,
      About Psalm 43] Therefore He dilutes the
      sweetness of this life with the bitterness
      of sorrow so that we might strive for true
      and salutary blessedness.

      Stavrophila: Oh, what sorrow is upon the
      human race! How bitter is the world, yet one
      loves it!

      Angel: How much more the attachment would
      be if it would be filled with pleasure! The
      world is troubled, but is desired by all.
      What would happen if there was not such
      great turmoil? If the attachment to this
      impure world is already so great, how much
      more would it be to a pure soul! How would
      we gather the flowers of the world if there
      would be no thorns to injure one’s hand!

      Stavrophila: Truly then, not only are the
      cross and suffering useful, but they are
      necessary. Otherwise foolish people would
      leave* The heaven of heaven belongeth to the
      Lord, but the earth He gave unto the sons
      of men (Ps. 113: 25).

      Angel: But even should you realize that the
      all-gracious heavenly Father, while holding
      in His right hand joy and sorrow, has
      arranged that one who bears the sorrows of
      this life wisely shall find joy in the next
      life; and one who seeks only worldly
      pleasures here, awaits sorrow in the life
      to come. As day and night alternate in the
      sky, the day preceding the night, and the
      night bringing in the day, so one who
      received his full measure here will find it
      empty there. For one whose days in this
      life shine continuously with worldly joy
      awaits permanent darkness in the coming
      eternity. Yes, Stavrophila, no one will be
      able to enjoy peace here and there. Abraham
      affirmed this when he told the rich man:
      Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime
      receivedst thy good things, and likewise
      Lazarus evil things; but now he is
      comforted, and thou art tormented (Luke
      16:25). How awesome are Thy works! In the
      multitude of Thy power shall Thine enemies
      be proved false unto Thee (Ps. 65:2). Who
      would not be frightened at this parable
      about the rich man, given over to hell
      because of his love of worldly pleasures?
      Not for unjust deeds was he condemned to
      suffer in the eternal fire, but for a life
      full of sensual pleasures. Therefore, those
      who seek only material blessings (earn)
      God’s (denial), while those who do not
      accept the cross are subjected to eternal
      torment. Did not the Lord say in the Gospel:
      But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have
      received your consolation. Woe unto you
      that are full! For ye shall hunger. Woe unto
      you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and
      weep (Luke 6: 24,25)?

      Stavrophila, listening to the Angel with
      great astonishment, said: "(If) we did not
      know that everything has been arranged
      all-wisely by the Lord’s providence, how
      could one’s mind comprehend these
      destinies?"

      Angel: Do not be surprised by the Lord’s
      ways. In matters concerning mankind there is
      no joy which is not diluted by sorrow. When
      a woman is about to give birth, she is sad
      because her hour of suffering has come; but
      when the child is born, she forgets her
      suffering, because she is happy that a child
      has been born into the world (?). The grief
      of the passing sadness increases the coming
      joy; in the same way, health is deemed more
      precious after an illness. If the farmer
      does not labor to plow his land, he cannot
      expect a good crop. Therefore the common
      saying, "There are no roses without thorns."

      Stavrophila: You have persuaded me. I am
      eagerly ready to accept this truth and to
      spread it among others.

      Angel: In addition to the sorrows of the
      cross, the Lord, your God, is testing to see
      if you love the Lord with all your heart
      (Deut. 13:3). For in fire gold is tested and
      worthy men in the crucible of humiliation
      (Sirach 2:5). Have you not heard as the test
      of what the potter molds is in the furnace
      (Sirach 27:5), but righteous men are tested
      with sorrow? The Lord does not test good
      people with pleasure, but He tests them and
      sends them grief in order to prepare them
      for Himself; (but those who are consoled by
      comforts here, indulging in sensuality, are
      left by the Lord to further suffering.)
      Recall what is said about the temptation of
      the righteous: chastened a little, they
      shall be greatly blessed because God tried
      them and found them worthy of Himself. In
      the time of their visitation they shall
      shine and shall dart about as sparks
      through stubble (Wis. 3:5-7). Therefore
      those enduring grief and suffering show
      themselves worthy before God. As the Lord
      said in the Gospel, And he that taketh not
      his cross, and followeth after Me, is not
      worthy of Me (Matt. 10:38).

      Stavrophila: But what need does God have to
      test people, if He knows everyone’s virtue
      without sending them any grief?

      Angel: God does not test people because He
      somehow did not know them before. The reason
      for sending sorrow to the righteous is to
      show others great patience. Many do not
      understand the spiritual disposition with
      which the saints honor God, (many think that
      they serve Him in the present life in order
      to acquire happiness; but the cross and
      sorrow show the love of their devotion for
      God). So did Satan think that the righteous
      Job worshipped God in order that he might
      receive material goods. While he could not
      find anything during the time of Job’s
      (good fortune) in which to accuse him before
      God, he resorted to this slander, Does Job
      fear God for nought? Hast Thou not put a
      hedge about him and his house and all that
      he has on every side (Job ???). Being rich,
      he uses virtue to gain requital. But what
      did the Lord do? In order to show that
      God’s saints do not honor Him so that they
      would be rewarded, He took away all of
      Job’s properties, leaving him to poverty and
      letting a serious illness fall upon him.
      While Job lived among his riches, not many
      knew what kind of man he was; but when this
      good warrior was stripped of them like
      clothes thrown on the floor, his godliness
      was uncovered and astonished all observers,
      so that even the Lord of all angelic powers
      praised his courageous deeds and proclaimed
      him a victor.* [St. John Chrysostom,
      Discussion with the Antiochians]

      Stavrophila: Now I understand how important
      the examples of courageous men are – so that
      we would honor them and follow their
      praiseworthy fortitude.

      Angel: Patience is the greatest and most
      chosen of virtues, but righteous men cannot
      achieve it without experiencing grief.
      Patience is a (kind)endurance of the
      suffering given to one and of accidental
      sorrow. The Lord loves the pious and
      courageous man in a fatherly way, and
      because of His great love for them sends
      them sorrow, suffering and deprivation so
      that they might acquire great strength.
      There is not much strength in a tree that is
      protected from the wind; one left
      unprotected grows strong and puts in deeper
      roots as it withstands the gusts. (Without
      an enemy courage weakens, but its strength
      is revealed through patience, and it is made
      evident how great it is and how much it can
      endure). The virtuous man is at a loss if he
      is given no opportunity to strengthen his
      patience.

      Stavrophila: I agree that the Lord shows
      paternal concern toward us, but at times His
      hand weighs heavily; one endures occasional
      disgrace and abuse from a stepfather, not
      from one’s own father.

      Apparently you seek a mother’s caress, you
      seek the comfort of the shade and do not
      wish to experience grief, sickness and
      sorrow. Do you not understand that patience
      enjoys suffering? Do you not remember the
      words of our caring Father, As many as I
      love, I rebuke and chasten (Rev. 3:19). God
      works through His chosen ones like a wise
      teacher with all his pupils, demanding great
      labour from those whose expectations are
      great. In the same manner, monastery
      superiors test their experienced monks. St.
      John Climacus (The Ladder, Let. 4, Ch. 27)
      wrote that at one monastery there lived a
      housekeeper, a strict monk, abstinent and
      meek, as seldom are found. Once the superior
      of the monastery, without any reason,
      pretended to be angry with him and gave the
      order to banish this monk from the church.
      The executor of the instruction, knowing the
      innocence of the housekeeper, spoke
      privately with the abbot, explaining the
      monk’s innocence. The wise abba answered,
      "I, too, know that he is innocent; but as
      it is cruel to take bread out of the mouth
      of a hungry child, so does the director of
      a soul bring harm to himself and to his
      disciples if he does not give them the
      chance to acquire the crown; this crown can
      be endured at any hour by patiently enduring
      annoyance, dishonesty, humiliation and
      abuse. If the superior of the monastery is
      able to act wisely, how much more would the
      Creator of the whole act. He who enclosed
      His kingdom with oceans and the sky like a
      wall, when He improves His children by
      sending them hunger, sickness, poverty, and
      difficult circumstances. [Check where quote
      ends.] One final remark – the crosses are
      being sent by the Lord so that your crowns
      and rewards might multiply through them;
      because the rewards multiply by the number
      of temptations and grief. For I reckon that
      the sufferings of this present time are not
      worthy to be compared with the glory which
      shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).




      Chapter VII

      The Lord Bestows the Cross According to
      Each Person’s Strength


      Stavrophila continued to question the
      Angel. Human strength is not equally
      allotted, and what is easy for one is
      difficult for another person, she noted. So
      how is everyone able to carry the cross?
      There are many people who are frail and
      helpless and are heavily burdened just in
      caring for themselves; and how did young
      people carry their cross?

      Angel: You are going astray and drifting
      far from the truth, Stavrophila. Have you
      not read, There hath no temptation taken
      but such as is common to man; but God is
      faithful, Who will not suffer you to be
      tempted above that you are able (I Cor.
      10:13)? If people do not burden their
      animals with a load larger than they are
      capable of carrying, do you think the Lord
      would send more temptations and misfortunes
      to a man than he could endure? [St. Ephraim
      the Syrian, Instruction About Patience] The
      helmsman knows how to load a ship to a
      certain measure so that it will not overturn
      during a storm because of insufficient
      cargo, nor plunge to the depth of the ocean
      because of excess weight. So the Lord
      bestows the cross of temptations on His
      chosen ones that they would not be easily
      captivated by worldly abundance, but would
      safely reach the haven of eternal glory.

      Stavrophila: I recognize my error; I spoke
      without thinking. But as the Prophet cried
      out to the Lord, Blessed is the man whom
      Thou shalt chasten, O Lord; and out of Thy
      law shalt Thou instruct him (Ps. 93:12), I
      beg you to enlighten my ignorance.

      Angel: The Lord is all-wise and true, and
      hast ordered all things in measure and
      number and weight (Wisdom of Solomon
      11:20). He knows exactly what one’s
      shoulders can and cannot bear; therefore he
      metes out grief and sorrow (within their
      limits), so no one will have to carry a
      cross too heavy or too light. The Lord sees
      how and which cross is being sent to each
      person. It is as if He holds a scale, with
      the burden of the cross on one side and the
      strength of the carrier on the other,
      balancing both sides so as not to give
      anyone more than he can bear. The holy
      David asks, Wilt Thou feed us with the bread
      of tears, and wilt Thou give us for drink
      tears in measure? (Ps. 79:6) The Lord does
      burden us with sorrows, but not to such an
      extent that we are overwhelmed by our under their weight.

      Had God not already ordained in the Old
      Testament, If the unrighteous should be
      worthy of stripes, thou shalt lay him down
      before the judges, and they shall scourge
      him before them according to his iniquity.
      (Deut. 25:2). God was even solicitous about
      the number of stripes a guilty one was to
      receive, forbidding more than forty. So, my
      timid one, why are you afraid? Why, even the
      very hairs of your head are all numbered
      (Luke 12:7), and not a hair of your head
      shall perish (Luke 21:18) without the
      consent of God. The Lord weighs the soul of
      each person and gives the cross necessary
      for each one to be rewarded with equal
      crowns in heaven.

      The Apostle Paul reminds us, For our light
      affliction, which is but for a moment,
      worketh for us a far more exceeding and
      eternal weight of glory (II Cor. 4:17). Who
      then can complain that he is given hard
      times, more than he can endure? A man can
      impose a burden on another man if he does
      not know his strength, but if he knowingly
      gives a burden that is too heavy, that
      would be cruel. Our merciful and wise Lord
      does not act in this way.

      Stavrophila: I believe you, but why then
      does our carnal mind always grumble and
      complain, believing that it has to endure
      more than it is able?

      Angel: For to be carnally minded is death
      (Rom. 8:6); our fallen nature incorrectly
      judges the kindness of God. Look even to
      the managers of wrestling matches as to how
      one should comprehend the ways of the Lord.
      They do not permit one to thoughtlessly and
      casually enter into the ring, but they
      carefully screen and compare the age and
      strength of each individual contestant, and
      only then assign who should fight with whom
      – the young are matched with the young, a
      mature man with a mature man. In a like
      manner, consider the Lord’s actions. He
      truly knows the strength and endurance of
      each man who enters this world of discord;
      only He knows that one man should fight so
      much against the flesh, another that much
      against the attack of satan, and that a
      third should endure many attacks of a
      varied nature. Here is another commonplace
      example – the strength and durability of
      different dishes are also tested
      differently. Stronger ones are tested with a
      harder blow, weaker ones with a lighter
      one; a master of crystal barely touches it
      with a finger, while he strikes a silver
      dish harder. A bell is hit with a hammer,
      and whichever bell weighs more gets hit
      harder, since one knows it is strong and
      will not break. So the heavenly Father sends
      crosses and sorrows to people according to
      their strength – the weak and helpless He
      tests lightly; the firm and manly He tests
      harder. Do not fear then that someone is
      given a terribly oppressive cross, for all
      crosses come from the fatherly hand of the
      Lord. [??] Lord is oppressing them and that
      they cannot endure it.
      [Section is missing here. Page 39 in russian
      Stavrophila’s comment]

      Angel: People talk as people, judging
      matters from a human view, but their eyes
      are not open to God, without Whose consent
      no harm can come. The carnally minded do not
      realize that grief is sent by the merciful,
      all-wise, and just Father. Or do you think
      that the heavenly Father, provoked by unjust
      anger and rage, does not see, does not
      judge, and does not care whom He strikes, or
      how many of the long-enduring and heavy
      crosses He bestows? He does not despise, nor
      is He angry with anybody; but He judges
      everyone’s strength as if on a scale. He
      foresaw for centuries which bodily
      suffering, illness and grief would be
      beneficial for whom and when; and therefore
      in His wisdom, arranged the year, month and
      day for certain troubles to befall a man in
      order to save his soul. So, do not be
      frightened, child of the Lord! Do not call
      your Father cruel, Whose grace gives
      comfort through the Prophet to all whom
      believe in Him: Fear not: for I have
      redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy
      name; thou art mine. And if thou pass
      through water, I am with thee; and if thou
      go through fire, thou shalt not be burned;
      the flame shall not burn thee. For I am the
      Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, that
      saves thee (Esaias 43: 1-3).





      Chapter VIII

      The Words of Jesus – "If any man will come
      after Me" – mean that one should not have a
      weak, but a strong attitude toward the
      bearing of the Cross


      When the Angel stopped talking, Stavrophila
      put another question to him with great
      boldness: "What does the Lord mean when He
      asks that all carry the cross, saying, If
      any man will come after me, let him deny
      himself, and take up his cross daily, and
      follow Me (Luke 9:23)? If the cross is so
      important that one cannot free himself by
      any possible means, it would mean that all
      people would have to carry the cross,
      whether they wanted to or not."

      Angel: That is true. The Lord did not want
      to make it mandatory and say, "You will have
      to bear the cross willingly or unwillingly,"
      but He said, "anyone who wants to follow
      Me." He does not force or compel, but leaves
      it to one’s individual will, whether he is
      willing to bear the cross for the love of
      Him; and therefore he says for the willing
      to follow Him. When one is forced to do
      something, often one becomes predisposed
      against it. Offering the listener the
      freedom to choose something attracts more
      people. Also, a short proposal is more
      powerful than a forceful order. Stavrophila,
      the Lord Jesus Christ is not so much
      calling upon accepting the cross, the
      grief, burden, suffering, and torment, which
      would necessitate force, but on the
      contrary points to the unspeakable
      blessings, which by themselves can attract
      you; as His rewards are so great, so grand,
      that people would voluntarily come to them.

      One who offers gold and silver would not
      have to force anyone to come to him – all
      the more, there is no force when the offers
      are the blessings of heaven. Truly, if the
      essence of those blessings would not be
      sufficient for you to come voluntarily, you
      would be unworthy to receive them [St. John
      Chrysostom, Commentaries On Matthew, Homily
      55].

      Stavrophila: So, because of this alone no
      reasonable person will reject the cross. For
      the Lord Himself said, I am the light of
      the world: he that followeth Me shall not
      walk in darkness, but shall have the light
      of life (John 8:12). And what are people
      seeking that they could not find in the
      Lord? Do they seek fame or honor? The glory
      is great if you follow God (Sirach 23:37).
      Do they seek pleasure? The Psalmist cries
      out to the Lord, Thou has made known to me
      the ways of life, Thou wilt fill me with
      gladness with Thy countenance; delights are
      in Thy right hand forever (Ps. 15:11).

      Angel: Not all listen to this message. Many
      people (O, woe to them) who are willing to
      bear with great difficulty the heavy and
      bitter burden of jealousy and other evils,
      refuse to carry on their shoulders the
      beneficial yoke of Christ and His easy
      burden. They prefer to suffer under the
      heavy burden of their many sins, instead of
      accepting the yoke of the Lord which will
      lead them into heaven [Bl. Augustine,
      Convers. III].

      Stavrophila: The sinners act this way, but
      I think that the servants of the Lord who
      are God-fearing accept the cross eagerly.
      Angel: Believe me, Stavrophila, there are
      many that love the heavenly Kingdom, but
      few who bear the sorrows. All like to be
      joyous with Christ, but few wish to suffer
      even a little on His account. Many follow
      Him until the breaking of bread (the
      Mystical Supper), but few are willing to
      drink the cup of sorrow. Many glorify His
      miracles, but not many follow Him on that
      road of abuse and the cross. O, how few are
      following Christ the Lord! However, there
      is no one who would not wish to come to Him.
      All would like to rejoice with him in
      merriment, but no one wants to follow Him;
      they want to rule with Him, but do not wish
      to suffer with Him. They do not want to
      follow the One with Whom they would like to
      be.

      Stavrophila: Why is this so?

      Angel: Truly, the words of the all-wise one
      often come to pass, Every slothful man
      desires, but the hands of the active are
      diligent (Prov. 13:4). You wish to know what
      this means? The lazy one wishes to rule
      with Christ, but does not wish to endure
      anything for the sake of Christ; he loves
      rewards, but not the struggle itself. He
      desires the crown without a fight, glory
      without difficulty, the heavenly Kingdom
      without the cross and sorrow.

      Stavrophila: Where does this internal
      struggle of the will, which is tempting us,
      come from? Does man have a will which wants
      and another which does not want? The soul
      commands the hand to move, and obedience is
      so easy and swift that the execution
      immediately follows the command, although
      the soul is the soul and the hand is part
      of the body. Yet if the soul gives a command
      to itself to desire goodness, truly and
      wholly, the execution of this desire does
      not always follow, although it is one and
      the same being, the commanding one and the
      performing one. What is this marvel? Why, I
      ask myself, does the soul command itself
      but does not carry out this command? For if
      the soul would not desire this, it would
      not command it, so why not execute it?

      Angel: This is not a marvel, Stavrophila,
      but a weakness of the soul, which on the one
      hand is motivated by the truth, but on the
      other hand is oppressed by bad habits.
      Therefore, it is not capable of devoting
      itself completely to goodness. It does not
      completely want, and so does not fully
      command; it only commands as much as it
      wants, and its commands will not get
      executed to the point of its unwillingness.
      In man there are two wills at work, and what
      is missing in one part comes forth in the
      other. Sometimes the thought of blessed
      eternity will attract the soul toward the
      heavenly, but the sweetness of earthly
      blessings pulls it toward earth. Both
      attractions represent the soul, but since
      it does not fully strive toward true
      blessedness, there is great suffering
      because of division in the soul; while
      desiring the heavenly, habits turn it
      toward the earthly [Bl. Augustine,
      Confessions, Book 8, Ch. 9,10].

      Stavrophila: It also happens sometimes that
      I eagerly desire with all my heart some
      blessing but, and I don’t know why, I
      suddenly abandon it or delay it to some
      other time, and then very rarely is the
      good deed carried out in the way which I had
      anticipated.

      Angel: Such is the weakness of our human
      soul which is the most inconsistent of all
      instabilities. Our unsteadiness in the
      desire for blessedness is such that even if
      one wants it, we still strive so
      unwillingly toward it that one can hardly
      call it a desire. Surely man walketh about
      like a phantom (Ps. 38:8), thinking that he
      is doing good, when in reality he did not
      even reach the beginning of blessedness.
      Therefore, Stavrophila, on the road to the
      cross you should first of all learn and
      care to follow the Lord with a courageous
      soul and a strong will; for to follow Him
      and go to Him is nothing else but a
      voluntary act [Bl. Augustine, Confessions,
      Bk.8]. The desire must be courageous and
      complete, though, not with a divided will
      turning here and there. There is no room
      for rebellion, or to lose courage and
      weaken. The Israelites were praised For
      they swore with all their heart, and they
      sought him with all their desires; and they
      found Him! And the Lord gave them rest
      round about (II Chron. 15:15). Imitate this
      and follow Him.

      Stavrophila: My soul has longed to desire
      Thy judgments at all times (Ps. 118:20). I
      desire the road of the Lord, the holy path
      of the cross, the road to salvation. But how
      much more can I desire to carry out what I
      wish for?

      Angel: The Lord Jesus Christ said, without
      Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). It is not
      possible to come to the Lord if you do not
      follow Him, the One Who can give you
      strength. So what does one need to do? Pray
      and call upon God: Take me with Thee, the
      smell of Thine ointments is better than all
      spices (Sol. 1:3).

      Stavrophila then begged the Lord: Let Thy
      words come true by me, And I, if I be lifted
      up from the earth, will draw all men unto
      Me (John 12:32). Draw me near, draw me to
      Thy path, O Lord, and let me be guided by
      Thee, and let me follow Thy footsteps, for
      (Thy) ways are good ways, and all (Thy)
      paths are peaceful (Prov. 3:17). Attract me
      in any way, if I am unwilling, so that I may
      become eager; animate me when I lose
      courage so that I might become courageous.
      Guide me and I will follow Thee, not only
      I, but my younger sisters with me. I greatly
      desire to bring them here so that they
      might, together with me, take up the yoke
      of the cross.

      Angel: Aren’t you expecting a lot from your
      sisters? Did they not proudly reject to
      honor the cross together with you? Aren’t
      they the reason that you deviated from the
      road and became lost? How are you going to
      persuade them now to take the cross upon
      themselves and carry it not one day, not
      two, but for there entire lives? Let me
      tell you now, Stavrophila, they are not
      going to listen to you.

      Stavrophila: Nevertheless, I very much hope
      that if they will hear everything you told
      me, they will not refuse to follow the Lord
      with me.

      Angel: Go and try! But I know they will not
      listen to you, since their hearts are hard.
      But go and bring them here. I shall be here
      at the same time in the morning and will
      teach you again about the path of the
      cross.

      With this, the Angel became invisible, and
      Stavrophila found herself close to her
      country estate.





      Chapter XIV

      Self-denial Is the Best Preparation for the
      Cross

      "Let him deny himself and take up his cross
      daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).


      The Lord’s Angel continued: "I have
      described enough crosses of the worldly
      people to you, and you yourself are partly
      able to understand that your sisters did not
      as much deviate from the cross as they
      exchanged an easy and not lasting cross for
      a most oppressive and eternal one, for which
      they will not only receive punishment, but
      will be subjected to eternal death. Leaving
      them for the moment, let us concentrate our
      attention on your acceptance of the cross.

      Stavrophila: There should be nothing more
      joyful for me. Although I am ready to accept
      the cross, some fear fills my heart, and I
      can see that I am in need of some
      affirmation.

      Angel: Man does not enter the road of the
      cross without preparation. Did not the Lord
      say, Let him deny himself, and take up his
      cross daily (Luke 9:23)? Although these
      words seem to refer to one action, three
      actions need to be understood: self-denial,
      to carry one’s own cross, and to follow
      Christ [St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on
      St. Matthew, Homily 55]. The very first and
      most necessary condition for the struggler
      is self-denial; without this, no one can
      receive the cross, for even if he receives
      the cross he is not able to continually bear
      it. All who wish to follow the Lord are
      commanded by Him to leave everything,
      Whoever of you does not renounce all, He
      said, adding, Let him deny himself. It is
      not that hard for a man to give up his
      property so as to deny himself; it is
      easier for everyone to give up what he owns
      than what he is [St. Gregory the
      Theologian, On the Gospel, Disc. 23].

      Stavrophila: But how is one to understand
      these words, that a man has to deny himself?
      How can one relinquish oneself in one’s
      eyes, when one’s consciousness does not
      permit man to think about himself as not existing, nor that he is not the man he
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