St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish


18 September 2011
by Fr Roberto Ubertino

The Cross is not an invention of Christianity. St Athanasius wrote a book on the Incarnation. It is about who is Jesus. He speaks about the belief of the Orthodox Church that God truly became human. What is striking in his theological thought is that for him, in the incarnation God takes a body so that he can be in solidarity with us, he takes a body so that he can be on the cross with us. He becomes man to be crucified because the human being is on the cross. What was God who is good to do? He keeps repeating this question in his book. For Athanasius the cross is the place where we come to know who is God but the cross is also the place where we see who we are.


When God appears, so does the human being. He becomes man, you could say, by being crucified. What was God who is good to do? He is crucified on the cross because the human being is on a cross.


I remember Father George who was a priest -psychiatrist who recently died saying, “Scratch the surface on any one and you'll find a universe of pain you couldn't imagine.” It's not because we are Christian that we, unlike everyone else, have to be on the cross.


Your neighbour is on the cross, your atheistic professor is on the cross ,the guy with the perfect life is on the cross, the bus driver is on the cross, everyone is on the cross . Because of this, St. Maximos the Confessor said it best, “God taking upon himself by his own sufferings the sufferings of each one and always suffering in proportion of each one’s suffering does this until the end of the world.” Blaise Pascal said somewhat the same “Christ is in agony until the end of time”


Now when we hear the gospel of this morning about renouncing our selves and taking up the cross we may ask ourselves so what is the good news in that?


Others have used this Gospel to keep people oppressed, understanding that this gospel is about being tough on yourselves because after all God is tough on us. Or To glorify suffering or to justify injustice…the poor suffer now but have heaven when they die…You and I may ask If we are in fact all on the cross any way why are these words of Jesus good news?


The reason why we resist to take up the cross Is because we don’t really hear the invitation of the Lord. “Take up the cross and follow me” we don’t hear as good news the invitation to come and join ourselves to him, to become one with him. It is because we don’t love him and don’t really believe in him. 


It is true, it is a fact, that try as hard as we can we can’t avoid the cross. We have no choice between the cross and a cross-free life. Society, culture and each of us through the choice of sin have created a world where the cross is inevitable. The Lord in the Gospel today is inviting us to redeem the necessity of the cross by being on our cross in the same way he is crucified with us. X2 Theosis becoming like God is the subject of a lot of big cigars orthodox theological conferences. But listen to what St Maximos the Confessor speaks about the way we become like God: “In the same way, we will become like God by imitating God who loves each one, healing their suffering by suffering with them.” This is what Athanasius means when he says, “we put on endisamenos the faith of the cross.”


It is truly God who has taken our body who is on our cross. Because of this, we become like God by joining ourselves physically to him through baptism and the eucharist. The cross ceases for us as a simple necessity and with Christ the cross becomes the place of utter freedom; it becomes the place of utter freedom by imitating on the cross how God loves, as St Maximos teaches us.


Try this. In yesterday’s newspaper we read that a British couple hired a surrogate mother to carry their baby to birth. A prenatal test revealed the baby might have Down syndrome, so the couple required the surrogate mother to abort the baby. Which she eventually did.


Another couple I know gave birth to a child with Down syndrome. That child is now 16 years old, and you can imagine the many hurdles this family has gone through—including having people ask them why they let her be born, having her classmates and teachers reject her, having medical complications, and many more.


Both families were on the cross of the suffering that comes from Down syndrome. But the couple I know, a Christian couple, deliberately chose to love and accept the suffering that came with it. Both the suffering and the love have been much more than they ever knew.


As someone recently remarked about them, they looked luminous.


Mother Maria of Paris has said that the question is not whether we will be on the cross. We will. The question is, will we be the unrepentant or the repentant thief?

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