Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One road

"There is but one road to the Kingdom of God--a cross, voluntary or involuntary."
~St. Theophan the Recluse, The Art of Prayer, p. 231

I think there are several things to be said about the quote on several different levels.

First, the difference between this attitude and the attitude which I have sometimes seen which says, "If you're doing Christianity right, everything will be fine. You'll have a nice family and a nice house and a nice income. If you're suffering, you're doing it wrong" (paraphrasing here, obviously) strikes me very sharply. In fact, the two thoughts are almost completely opposite. On the one hand, you have the idea that if you're following God's will, material success and happiness will come to you. On the other hand, you have the idea that if you are following God's will, you will be carrying a cross. You will be suffering. I cannot help but believe the second idea over the first. For one thing, we see it played out over and over again in the lives of the holiest of people. Can we really say that St. John the Baptist, who ate locusts and honey and lived in the desert, was lacking--he who baptized the Lord? St. Paul says, so specifically, "Time would fail me to tell of Gideon and of Barak, and of Samson and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets....Women received their dead raised to life again and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy)." (Emphasis mine.)

It is both daunting and encouraging to realize that it is not only the spiritual heroes of old who have a cross, but that I do as well. It is daunting because I am so unready, so weak, so sinful. I don't want to have a cross. I don't want to suffer and struggle. But there it is. Unless I take up my cross, with a glad heart and good grace as well, accepting the Lord's will, I will never gain heaven. And yet it is encouraging because I know that I am not alone. The people who look as if they have everything--not necessarily in the material sense--those who are musically talented, and pretty, and outgoing--they too have a cross. I don't know what it is, but I know that it is there. I know they are fellow-travelers. And I can hope to reach out and pull them up when they need it. I can hope for God's grace on my path because it is only through Him that I can carry whatever I must.


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