Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Bearing the Cross and Forsaking All to Follow Christ

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The cross is a symbol of pride and joy in the same way that a flag symbolizes a patriot’s loyalty and citizenship, a logo symbolizes an athletic team’s motto of toil and perseverance, and a banner symbolizes a hero’s achievement and victory. The cross is all of that and more for Christians. The cross comes at a personal cost, but the end result is success and jubilation.

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? (Luke 14:25-30)

Bearing one’s cross is the first step in making a firm commitment to follow Christ. Why did our Lord use this metaphor? The holy cross has two perceptual nuances, while realistically, they are sequential: (1) Endurance, and (2) Triumph. In the verses above, the Lord presents a blueprint of discipleship, a status to which we are all called. In this forum of discipleship, believers make a self-endowment based on faith. However, inability to finish the pursuit is actually the inability to keep the commitment. Those who mock are diabolic forces interfering with your progress and impacting your eternal salvation if you are not thoroughly guarded by sound doctrine and determination to keep your faith in Christ and trust in the grace of God.

Bearing one’s cross requires forsaking all. Christianity is not intended to be a life of luxury and ease. Forsaking father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and one’s own life, are the antecedents of bearing one’s cross and following Christ. Forsaking all requires a rejection of one’s comfort zone. A Christian life is engrossed in rugged terrains, as not only lambs amongst wolves, but also lambs amongst every wild beast—lions, hyenas, snakes, and vulchers. These are not people with whom you have grievances, but these are demonic forces and principalities of darkness instigating discord and fury amongst the earth’s inhabitants that are God’s prized children (Cf. Ephesians 6:12). These are not just people, but also erroneous and misleading ideologies and heresies.

Bearing one’s cross requires following Christ without hindrances, objections, and clutter. Forsaking a life of complacency, lukewarmness, and apathy are the precursors to bearing one’s cross and following Christ. St. Cyril of Alexandria commented on why the scribe that professed the desire to follow Christ was rejected:1 "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20). St. Cyril explains that this man’s mind was filled with impurities and evil. Where was Christ to lay His holy head in this man’s heart? It was already cluttered with other distractions. The other man was a disciple, called to the apostleship, but requested to first bury his father—not that his father had already died, but his request was rather to care for his father until his death. Thus, this disciple was also rebuked. St. Cyril further expounds on this matter that God did not command us to follow the Ten Commandments (Cf. Exodus 20), which include honoring one’s father and mother, and then, to discard this important mandate that upholds a promise. In this case, Christ reminded this disciple that the superseding commandments first instruct us to love God above all else, then, parents. Nonetheless, if the parental figures refuse to accept the faith in Christ and holy baptism unto eternal life, these already possess a dead mind; thus, leave their concerns to other relatives, and pursue the evangelical call. Therefore, Christ said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:22).

Bearing one’s cross requires endurance until the end. Endurance of the cross requires spiritual forte developed by faith and conviction. One must study the Scripture and follow a firm spiritual canon. Pray with zeal. Fast with consent. Submit with love. Serve with fervor. This is how the three saintly youth endured the fiery furnace (Cf. Daniel). What is the fiery furnace, but the fierce and raging worldly appetites? Christians are called to reject these enticements regardless of how high the intensity is raised. This is how the martyrs and confessors were able to suffer persecution and forsake their lives for the sake of their love for Christ and their commitment to their faith in Him. Till this day, the world bears eyewitness that our contemporary martyrs and confessors continue in this legacy.

The holy cross is our pride and joy, our flag of loyalty and heavenly citizenship, our motto of toil and perseverance, and our banner of achievement and victory. Let us celebrate the holy cross every day of our lives and proclaim its glory to the ends of the earth.

To God be all the glory, forever. Amen.

God bless you.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

1 St. Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke, Homily 58

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