Folks, there’s just one use for a cross. No ambiguity. No “shades of meaning.” The only use for a cross is to kill someone. Sorry for the stark language right off the bat, but there’s just no way to dress this up to make it more palatable. Crucifixion means somebody is going to die!
No wonder we avoid the idea so much.
But should we? After all, the famous saying on Mt. Athos, that monastic republic in Greece where a multitude of saints have lived and taught, says “If you die before you die, then when you die you won’t die.” I never will forget the look on a few faces when I used this quote in a Bible Study class. They were confused as to the connection between living for Christ and the clear teaching of the scripture and the Fathers that we are to live for Christ by “dying” to ourselves!
Look at our lesson in Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2:
Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
All too often we read this passage and “see” that wonderful list of the Fruit of the Spirit, but “forget” the wisdom that comes after the list. But make no mistake, there will be no Fruit where the ground isn’t prepared for a healthy “plant” and tilled and fertilized “soil.” And learning how to get good “fruit” in your life, spiritual fruit, that is visible “evidence” of your wakefulness and focus on your spiritual health is what these devotionals are all about!
St. Paul is trying to get his parish in Galatia to abandon the all too easy and individualistic piety of religion as mere “rule keeping” and have them wake up to the much more difficult but much more rewarding life of a Christian awake to the purpose of his or her existence in the first place. And notice what Paul says is key to having the Fruit of the Spirit in your life. He tells the Galatians and us that the first step is that “those who belong to Christ HAVE CRUCIFIED the flesh with its passions and desires.” Whoa, Paul, we all know what crucifixion means! It means somebody is going to die!
And that’s what Paul means as well! He means that someone who belongs to Jesus has become aware that if the Fruit of the Spirit is going to be seen in his life then those passions and desires that are the very opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit have to “die” in my life. They have to be crucified. And here, St. Paul isn’t saying that the physical is bad and needs to die. What he means when he says “flesh” is that aspect of human living that is temporary, self-centered, addicted to pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and enslaved to desires that become my master instead of my servant. That “flesh” has to be crucified if there is ever going to be a heart healthy enough to bear Fruit of the Spirit.
But that is going to mean that I will have to value the Fruit of the Spirit more than my faulty desires and untamed passions. I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life laboring to stay awake to the wisdom of tamed passions and purified desires if I’m ever going to be consistently a bearer of good Fruit! Just look at that list of the Fruit of the Spirit! Isn’t that what we all say we want? OK then, we have to wake up to what is necessary to bear such fruit in our lives. And the price is that those lesser passions and desires have to die, SO THAT they can be transformed and “resurrected” as servants to my life and not my masters!
Why do you think the Church and Her liturgies, Her prayers, Her disciplines all center around catching up every part of my life to serve Christ: Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch, and even Smell are arrested by Orthodoxy to refocus my life toward God and away from the eternal “death” of a self-centered life. I was made for more! I was made for eternal life!
Today, are you ready to “crucify” the passions and desires that are disordered and unruly? The way to do this is to wake up from a focus on those passions and to refocus your attention to Christ. He’s the True Human married to Divinity that shows you how to be Orthodox on Purpose!