Homily for the Sunday After the Elevation of the Honorable Cross (Archimandrite George Kapsanis)
Former Abbot of Gregoriou Monastery on Mount Athos
(Delivered in the Refectory in 1985)
A Christian without a cross and struggle cannot be. A Christian who follows an easy path cannot be. Some have thought and still think that to be a Christian is to keep some moral precepts and to have a good life, to have comforts, to have human well-being and to have a life that is humanly secured. But this is not a Christian. A Christian is one who struggles every day. He struggles to love God. He fights to love his brother. Because it is selfishness that prevents man from loving God and loving his brother, he strives to eradicate selfishness from within. He fights to eradicate the passions, which darken the human mind and capture his heart. He strives to please God. He knows the commandments of God and wants to keep these commandments in his life accurately. He seeks not to justify his ego before God, but to please the Lord out of love. This is why the Christian struggles. Not to say to God: “I am alright; I have the right to salvation” – because then he would be a Pharisee – but to say to God: “Lord, in spite of all my weakness and my sinfulness, I love You. And as an expression of my love, I try to do Your commandments and Your holy will; and it depends on You, whether You will give me salvation and whether You will give me Your Grace.”
I would like to ask you, my brethren, to pay attention to this issue, the issue of the spiritual struggle. Because it is in the tradition of Orthodoxy, of the Gospel of our Christ, that you cannot be a Christian if you do not struggle. And that is why our Orthodoxy, our Holy Church, has this entire blessed ascetic path, asceticism, which is not only for the Monks but is also for the Christians in the world. With daily asceticism, the Christian struggles to cut off his passions, to curb his passions and to please God.
In the past, because our Christians were closer to the Church and lived a more ecclesiastical life, they loved asceticism, they loved fasting, standing in the Church, the long services of the Church, prayers, vigils. But today when the secular spirit has influenced us Christians, which is a spirit of living the good life, we Christians have begun to lose this ascetic spirit, to heal our passions and our flesh and our selfishness. We no longer like these beautiful fasts, the lents, the vigils, the prayers, the self-control. We even see today – with a lot of pain of course do we see it – during Holy Week still Christians do not abstain from what is forbidden and their thoughts are not bothered by it, that during such a great and all-revered feast of the Passion of the Lord they should also participate in the Passion of the Lord without fasting and restraint.
So now, you who came to Mount Athos and saw that with the Grace of God there is a spiritual struggle here – of course you are also good Christians and you are struggling – but now even more you should be honored every day to fight for the love of Christ and the salvation of your souls. Spend a little more time in prayer. Can one be a Christian if one does not start one’s day with prayer? Let us sacrifice a little of our sleep; get up a little earlier to do your prayers, ten minutes – a quarter of an hour – half an hour, and then start your work. Don’t just do your cross. We do our cross and start our day. This is not a sacrifice for God. Of course it is better to do your cross and start your day rather than to do nothing, but God wants something more from us. He wants us to pray, He wants us to toil a little in prayer. At night when we return from work a little tired, again let us dedicate a little time to prayer, even if we are drowsy, even if we are tired. We ought to toil a little for the love of God, and with effort to show our love for God. We ought to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is not a difficult thing to eat oily food – it is also a healthy thing. But let us not do it because it is healthy; let us do it for the love of Christ. To sacrifice something from the well-being of the belly for the love of Christ. It is better that we fast and eat foods boiled in water, as the canons of the Church say. But you, of course, because you are in the world and you breathe the exhaust gases and so many germs, if you are exhausted, eat some oil on Wednesday and Friday. Let the able-bodied eat food without oil. They will have a blessing from God.
And let us teach our children the same way, because since we adults do not abstain and do not fast and do not toil for the love of God, we do not teach our children properly. And our children become selfish people, they become egotistical, and they do not want God, but they want their belly satisfied and carnal pleasures. And then, since they despise the commandments of God and God Himself, will they not then despise their parents in their lives? But when the child learns from an early age, seeing his father and mother struggling and restraining and praying, will not they also learn to struggle and restrain themselves and pray for the love of Christ? Would they not learn to glorify God with their life, but also to honor their parents, as is the will of God?
I pray the exalted Lord on the Cross to help all of us to participate in this struggle, and the Grace of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross to always be a helper in our lives.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.