Some Words About the Cross of Christ in Our lives (Suffering and Our Response to It)
By Fr. Michael Koblosh
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.(II Corinthians 4:8-10) One must tread lightly when talking about the Cross and what it might mean. The saying “less is more” is never truer than when one speaks of the Cross, for it is at the Cross -- at the breakpoint -- that God connects with us once and for all. A Mother DyingHere is a true story: a phone call from a young man to a young priest. The man’s wife, 27, mother of two small children, is dying in the hospital -- and would I, the young priest, go to see her?Yes, of course. But as I hang up the receiver, feelings of inadequacy begin to overtake me. What can I possibly say to this women? What word can be offered that would not sound pat, “religious,” artificial? How could I even begin to understand the depth of her fate, of her fear, of her suffering? “Lord,” I pray, “I don’t know what to say. Help me find and speak some small word, assuring this woman of Your presence and love.”But, as the saying goes, “Man builds, God destroys.” God has His own ideas, His own way.A hospital room, a young woman dying, an uncertain priest -- a priest who has resolved to let her talk and, perhaps pray some psalms with her. “How are you,” he says, to start the conversation. A short pause. Then, from her lips begin to flow words, words of transforming power. “Thank you for coming, Father,” she said. “I am dying, but my heart overflows with joy and gratitude that He has allowed me to witness to His love. I have come to know what His cross means and I am so happy to be a part of that. He loves me and has forgiven me everything, and I know that He will take me to Himself and that He will watch over my husband and my children. I would have loved to have seen them grow up, marry, and to have seen my grandchildren. But He has given me another way, a better way, and my soul is filled with thanksgiving and joy, and I accept His ways.”Later, going down on the elevator was like going down from the top of the mountain. The priest’s heart is filled with joy and repentance, with tears of gratitude, of humility and amazement, of tender love for everyone and everything. Lord, when we meet You, how simple, beautiful and natural everything is, so filled with radiance. And how difficult and complicated it becomes when we fall into our sins and, without even realizing it, run to hide from Your face. But when we meet You, something in us is broken, something dies. All that which seemed so important becomes so meaningless, so external, so nothing before You. “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God...Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you....” (Colossians 3:3ff.)Jesus comes to us at the breakpoint, at the Cross, at the place of pain that so desperately needs healing, yet which we seek so desperately to hide from Him. It is easy to be religious, but how difficult it is to accept His healing power and be healthy. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18) A Russian Woman On Her Knees In PrayerAnother story: Russia, 1984, Zagorsk, Holy Trinity Monastery: Russian Orthodoxy in all her mystical and spiritual power. It is pre-perestroika, and Orthodox Russia is still nailed to her cross. It is evening and hundreds of fellow Orthodox brethren are milling about the church, venerating icons and relics, lighting candles, praying...An overwhelming impression of people confessing Christ and continuing to believe in Him even in persecution and in the degrading harassment and disdain they must suffer daily for their faithfulness.From among the crowd, a woman falls to her knees and quietly but audibly utters, “Gospodi! -- O Lord!” A moment, split second, a prayer heard hundreds -- thousands -- of times. But never like this, for it came somewhere from the very depths of her soul, from the marrow of her bones, from the very pain of her suffering. I don’t know what her story was, but the power of her prayer seemed to embrace all the suffering, all that river of blood, all that ocean of tears, of fear, of terror, of pain. For me, it embraced as well the memory of my parents, of my immigrant ancestors, and many of those immigrant “old-timers” who peopled my childhood. There was a time when their world was young and full of hopes for themselves and their children. But with what dignity, patience, endurance they bore their difficulties, their fears, their sufferings, and their sorrows. An undefinable quality of peacefulness, of “joy-producing” sorrow is their legacy, a quality sometimes radiating from old icons and recognized in the lives of people one meets in life. And it is a quality whose absence leaves everything superficial, dull and lifeless. “O Lord!” At Zagorsk, I was at “home.” I was always there, even from childhood. Sharing In His Suffering And DeathJesus was crucified and died on the Cross. They took His body, wrapped it and placed it in a tomb and went home, for it was the Sabbath. But from that time till now, something is happening, some great transforming power is restoring a great peace in the hearts of men and women. The Church still wends her way through history and is often covered with blood, tears and humiliation. But the miracle of her life is that she knows -- knows in a way past all understanding -- that the blood, suffering, humiliation and tears are the Lord’s own. It is the sharing in His suffering and death that is the source of her power and of her peace. It is there that He meets her most totally, most completely. “Through the Cross, joy has come into all the world!” The transforming, resurrecting power of Christ’s Cross and “life-creating” death is being worked out all around us if we but have eyes that see and ears that hear.“Why are you weeping,” said the angel to the women who came to complete the burial of the Lord. Why are you weeping, what is your problem? Everything is forgiven, and He has taken to Himself all the tears, all the blood, all the sorrow, all the fear, all the sickness, all the defeat, and the deaths of each and everyone of us -- and He has filled it all with His peace, His joy, and most of all, His boundless, bottomless all-forgiving love. Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for I have seen your salvation -- a light which penetrates even the darkest pit of my soul, washing it in blood, and flooding it with Your inexpressible love, a love that is infinitely more powerful than death. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:1. Each person in his/her lifetime has experienced personal tragedy, moments of intense suffering, defeat.Identify such a moment.How did you cope with the event?As you reflect on it, what gave you strength to endure it? To move past it?2. Every parish has experienced moments of tragedy, of intense suffering, times of defeat among its parishioners.Identify such a moment.How did your parish react to the event?3. In what ways can a parish community help the one/ones who are suffering?4. Where in the large community, do you find suffering, depression, defeat, e.g., hospices, prisons, shelters? How can you as a parish, or as an individual, reach out to these people?
Taken from the OCA Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries