Once a monk asked a certain elder ascetic if the imitation of Christ is possible. The elder’s answer was brief and clear. Whoever is dominated by the things of the world, is unable to imitate Christ. Whoever, however abandons everything for Christ, is granted to imitate Him and to keep His commandments.
Beloved, readers, the Christian life usually seems destructive to the world. And this occurs, because the world is ignorant of its wealth and doesn’t try to come to know it. The denial of the secular train of thought in our behavior and our choices comprises the presupposition for the imitation of Christ and the sense of its spiritual wealth.
No one was reconciled with God without the power of the cross. For one to carry his cross means to deny himself and to be ready for death for the sake of virtue and of truth. The imitation of the passion of Christ begins with baptism, which, as the Apostle Paul says, is a likening of the death of Christ. The imitation of the passion of Christ comprises the firm indicator of Christian life.
The passion of Christ has a very deep meaning for the believer’s life. Without our own participation in this, the entrance into the resurrection and the life of Christ is impossible. The imitation of the passion of Christ is impossible. The imitation of the passion of Christ is realized by copying martyrdom. Many Christians during the period of the persecutions hastened joyfully to be martyred. The imitation however of the passion of Christ is realized metaphorically. Thus we have the martyrdom of conscience, which is realized in peaceful periods. Athanasios the Great writes that when the persecution stopped and Anthony the Great couldn’t satisfy his longing to be martyred for Christ, he returned to the desert and daily underwent the martyrdom of conscience.
But also more generally the life of believers in Church is not independent of the cross and the passion of Christ. Baptism is the indicator of new life. For this life the believer is armed with chrism and fed with the Divine Eucharist. Thus the mysteries of the Church from the beginning offer the believer the grace of God and introduce him to the communion and imitation of the divine life. The Apostle Paul was shown to be a model of life as he lived the mystery of the kingdom of God. He did not come to the faith of the Nazarene in order to gain benefits, but in order to be crucified together with Christ. He undertook a martyrdom of life for the Church subjecting his flesh, forbearing with dedication to Christ, preaching the Gospel to the world of idolatry, bearing the name of Christ, worthily before the powerful, being crucified daily as regards sin.
Love for Christ, struggle for the Gospel, concern for the salvation of people, patience in trials, ascesis for the deadening of the “old man”, are the framework within which the Apostle lived. He calls his life a Cross. Christ acted and dominated in him. Saul had now died. A new person, had been created with the grace of God. “For I through the law have died to the law, that I might live in God”, he writes in his epistle to the Christians of Galatia.
The Cross of Christ became in Paul’s heart the border between the two worlds of the flesh and of the spirit.
If he was saved, he does not owe this to the justification of the Law, but to the crucified life of Christ and to the grace which came from it. With baptism he was crucified with Christ. He no longer has any relationship with the world. His whole life changed, his character, his soul. The fanaticism was altered into love, legalism into freedom, faith into the power of the word into obedience to the will of God, the pharisaic self confidence into publican-like repentance. He filled with wisdom which made him humble and obedient unto death. He lived the example of Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Everything in himself became Christ’s, and Christ’s became his. He lived in the flesh, like all people, but he lived “in faith of the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20). He had become a communicant of the crucifixional death of Christ and had died as regards sin. For this reason he often commands all of us to crucify our members, if we wish to live in God. “Therefore deaden your members upon the earth, fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and avarice… cast off everything, wrath, anger, wickedness, blasphemy, foul speech…Therefore put on, as chosen Saints of God and beloved, innards of compassion, goodness, humble mindedness, meekness, long-suffering…” (Col. 3:5 – 12.) Without deadening the passions and the cutting off of every sinful condition, the grace of God does not come. After the crucifixion of sin the experience of the resurrection comes.
As members of the mystical Body of Christ we have with baptism identified our being with Christ. We became through baptism partakers of His crucifixional death and “our old man” of sin was crucified like Christ also upon the Cross. “Whoever of us was baptized in Christ, was baptized into his death” (Rom. 6:3). We voluntarily came to our personal crucifixion. We handed over the body of our sin to death so that it become inert and so that it does not force us to become slaves and servants of this. Of course the deadening of the body does not mean biological deadening, but the transubstantiation, sanctification, transfiguration, sanctifying. The struggle for cutting off the passions is crucifixion. How much sweat and how much forcefulness is needed for the body of sin to be abolished and for the believer to enter into the road of the work of the commandments of God. If however we are not crucified together with Christ we will not be resurrected. There does not exist greater happiness than for Christ to be dwelling in our heart and for us to be able with a sense of His presence to say like the heavenly Apostle: “while I no longer live, for Christ lives in me”.
My brethren, the cross of Christ is not simply an important event of the past which cuts history like a landmark. It is an event constantly present in the world which reveals the love of God. It is the majestic revelation of divine loving care and the peak of the energies of God for mankind’s deliverance.
Before the cross of Christ every person is invited to take a position. Because no one can remain indifferent. The denial of the delivering offering of Christ, the rejection of the “ransom”, which He offers for the expiation of captive humanity, would mean unforgivable ignorance for the tragic condition of corruption – in which man exists. It would mean pharisaic haughtiness for the value of our works and life. It would mean finally an ungrateful disposition before sacrificed love.
Life by imitation of Christ is perceived as complete self abandonment to the will of God. In this case the will of God is identified with man’s will or the will of man is identified with God’s will. And precisely here lies the difficulty but also the majesty of Christian life. Man is freed not only from his passions and sins, but also from his mechanical kindnesses and virtues. These often trap him in his ego and keep him unfortunately far away from God.
The work of the Church in the world is identical to the work of Christ. Like Christ, thus also the Church reveals to the world the truth of God. This truth is power and life. And the Church as the bearer of power and light has a dynamic and renewing mission. As members of the Church we ought to not be trapped in our own self nor to turn away from the world, but to give the witness of God’s love everywhere. But neither is it allowed that we identify ourselves with the world, because then we lose our identity and abandon our mission.
My brethren, the journey of believers in the world is denoted by the cross and the resurrection of Christ. But also the deeper meaning of history is not found otherwise, except only in the perspective of the cross and the resurrection.
by Katerina Tsakiri
Translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis from Πειραϊκή Ἑκκλησία