Who Are We? - A Sermon for Palm Sunday (2022)

Who Are We? - A Sermon for Palm Sunday (2022) - Holy Cross Monastery

Today we to set out with Christ upon the path to His Crucifixion and Resurrection. There are many personalities which are met along the way of Christ’s Passion as seen in the Gospels and Hymnography. Who are we? Where do we stand in relation to Christ? This is a critical question for our salvation, because if we do not understand where we are and who we are, we will remain blind to our spiritual condition. If we are blind to our spiritual condition, then we cannot approach Christ in truth. For the God-illumined Fathers have taught us that we cannot approach Christ in true prayer unless we think ourselves sinners, sick, spiritually blind and maimed, in need of healing.

So, who are we? Every person must answer this question for themselves. Everyone must be honest with themselves, honest before their conscience, before the All-Seeing Lord Whose eyes penetrate into the hidden depths of our souls. Who are we?

Are we a Pharisee? Do we see ourselves as the most spiritual, the most enlightened, the most ascetic, the most righteous above all our brethren? Then we are on the path to hell, for we are already completely estranged from the Most Humble Christ—the King of heaven Who is fearfully worshipped by all the ranks of fiery angels—Who submitted Himself in obedience unto His parents, spiritual teachers, and even unto the sinful men who led Him to His death. If we are a Pharisee, then we must humble ourselves like St. Nicodemus, cast off vainglory, self-congratulation, man-pleasing and self-display, cut against the grain of worldly human opinion, and then we will be true ministers to Christ’s body.

Are we a Sadducee? Do we spurn the dogmas of the Faith and the traditional teachings of the Church, if not intentionally and directly, then by our negligent life? For if we engross ourselves in this life as if it is the only life worth living, then we also have spurned the reality of the Resurrection as the Sadducees. 

Are we Judas? Have we been washed by the gracious illumination of the Lord, granted spiritual gifts, and yet have become hardened, unthankful, greedy, darkened, and treacherous? If we love material objects at the expense of loving our brother, then we are Judas.

Are we Peter? Have we been granted preeminence amongst our brethren? Have we been placed in a position of authority, drawn close to the Lord, and entrusted with the treasures of the Church? Have we preserved this, or do we fall away in times of trial, when we must confess Christ, endure pain, and submit to God’s providence? Do we abandon Christ in these times? Then let us weep bitterly as he did when he saw the sorrowful yet merciful face of Christ his Lord feeling pity for his weakness.

Are we one of the other Apostles at the time of Christ’s Passion? Just after Christ explained His upcoming Passion to His disciples—explaining that He would be betrayed, mocked, blasphemed, crucified, and killed—right after this, the Apostles bickered about position, about authority, about the greatest place. Do we hear the Lord’s words every day? Do we meditate upon the Passion of Christ constantly through our reading and the hymns of the Church, and yet have fits of vainglory, desire for power, rank, and honor? Then we are like the Apostles in their spiritually immature state before Pentecost. Let the proud take a warning from this, but let the despondent see comfort here, because these were the chosen intimates of God on earth, and yet they still had to learn and grow, and Christ was patient with them.

Are we one of those who, with uncontainable jubilation and exhilaration, cry out today from irrepressible joy: “Hosanna, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” Then let us preserve this joy. Let us realize that the King of all is making His triumphant entry, humbly riding on a donkey, in order to submit Himself to all manner of pain, abuse, mockery, and death. Today we may cry out joyous praises, but tomorrow we might be railing upon Christ when we encounter difficulty, or we might be crucifying Him by deriding our brother through judgment, argumentativeness, bickering, irritation, or hatred.

Are we the Centurion? Will we be going about our humble obediences, doing our duty with zeal and devotion? Then we too will have a chance to see Christ crucified, marvel at His powerful and life-giving death, and also cry out: “Truly, this is the Son of God!” We might be called to constant labor during this week, as surely every monastic here will be, whether it is decorating, cleaning the Church, changing covers, prepping food, cleaning bathrooms, taking care of the pilgrims, comforting the brothers, absolving sins, and any other number of activities which stretch our body and soul with strain that we might grow into greater love for Christ, for God, for men. There is no job which is insignificant and cannot be a means of serving Christ. The Centurion fulfilled his obedience with dutifulness and was made worthy to confess and serve Christ as God.

Are we St. Simon of Cyrene? Will we be called upon to bear the cross of another? Then we are honored at that moment to bear the Cross of Christ Himself. For he who loves and helps his fellow human, helps and loves Christ Who is God Who became man; He Who said: “Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, you did it unto Me.” There is no help too small. There is no dishonorable labor. Christ was a humble carpenter. St. John of Damascus submitted to an epitimia in humility, cleaning the monastery outhouses with his bare hands, even with that hand which was miraculously fused back on by the Mother of God herself. He did not protest! He did not put forth his high rank of honor, neither secular nor heavenly, as he indeed had both.

Are we Simon of Cyrene, or are we one of the crucifiers? Are we—and will we continue—to carry our brothers’ crosses, or rather nail them to it? Our brother is downtrodden and depressed: if we silently pray for him, show a peaceful and glad countenance to him, say a timely word of comfort, bear his burden in patience, then we are carrying his cross, then we are Simon. But if we despise him, if we grow impatient with him, if we think he is weak and judge him as useless, then we have crucified him, then we have crucified Christ.

Our brother is over-stretched in his labors of obedience: if we sacrifice some of our time, and if we ask him if he needs help, then we are carrying his cross, then we are Simon. But if we neglect him, don’t even care about him, don’t pray for his endurance even, and if we greedily enjoy our free-time without shame and humility, thinking we deserve it, and forgetting about him, then we have crucified him, then we have crucified Christ.

Our brother is afflicted by a terrible trial, and maybe he is manifesting passionate fits visible to all: if we look upon him with sympathy, if we judge ourselves just as liable and more liable to such a state, and if we pray whole-heartedly for him, then we are carrying his cross, then we are Simon. But if we judge him, chide him, spurn him, and neglect him, hardening our heart even from prayer for him, then we have crucified him, then we have crucified Christ.

Are we one of the two thieves? Do we quail beneath our just chastisements, our spiritual afflictions, our salvific crosses? Do we get impatient, complain to God, maybe even rail upon Him, blaspheme Him, and curse Him? Then we have joined the mocking and unbelieving crowd who shamelessly cries out: “Crucify Him! If He is Christ let Him come down from the Cross, and let Him save us from our crosses also!”

Or, do we wake up, see Christ hanging upon the Cross with us and for us, understand that He suffered and suffers unjustly while we are often the cause of our own torments, and do we realize that though we have railed against Him that He still loves us, cries out to His Father for our forgiveness, and will lead us to eternal comfort, joy, and life through our trials? Then we are St. Dismas the Good Thief, he who at first mocked Christ and complained, but then woke up when he saw Christ praying for pardon even for His cold-hearted murderers, and then confessed Him as God the King, confessed his own sins, repented of his faint-heartedness, and begged for salvation as he endured his own cross.

Are we one among the murderous crowd who demonically enjoyed the sight of Christ being tormented before their eyes? Then which type of those there are we? Do we feel joy at our brothers’ pain and trials, being filled with that demonic envy which is inwardly thrilled by the pain, failures, sins, and difficulties of others because it puffs our own ego up, makes us feel better, more righteous, and less sinful? Then we are part of that murderous crowd which mercilessly cries out: “Crucify Him!” We do not care that Christ is obliterated from within our souls by inhuman malice, nor do we value the life of our brothers, cherishing them as ourselves.

Yet there were others in that crowd, some transformed like St. Dismas. St. Dismas repented when he saw the Lord praying for His enemies, and all who are moved by the non-retaliation and patience of their brothers even if they are insulted or pained by us are St. Dismas. But others need a harder lesson. Many remained unmoved in that crowd when Christ prayed fervently for their souls and endured all their abuse. However, when they saw the sun darkened, felt the earth quaking violently, and heard the rocks splitting open, then they repented. Likewise, those who are deeply ensnared by stubborn pride and evil passionate habits need a greater awakening in order to see and unite with Christ—bitter trials, humiliating passions, affliction from demons, drawn out battles, multiple thorns, feeling abandoned by grace, agony and suffocation of soul.

No matter who we are, we must repent, be affected by the love of Christ, seek to draw Him into our hearts and bodies and every fiber of our soul through humility, prayer, repentance, patience, love, long-suffering, meekness, self-control, vigilance, and spiritual warfare.

Let us mount the Cross with Christ. Let us endure misunderstanding and abandonment from human beings that we might draw closer to Christ in broken-hearted prayer. For those who have no help amongst men have the greatest comfort and help from the Invisible Comforter when they seek His nourishing grace with all their heart.

Let us endure betrayal, derision, insult, mockery, and abuse from others so that we might tangibly kiss the wounds of Christ with all our soul. No, it is not easy to be trodden underfoot by men, but if we remember that there are no mistakes in this life, and that every smallest detail, movement of creation, and every intricate labyrinth of hidden thoughts and feelings are immersed within the all-wise judgment and providence of the All-Good Lord, then we will be able to find Christ within us through contrition, pain of heart, returning to ourselves, and prayerfully seeking Him in our innermost depths.

Let us bear our small sorrows for the sake of Him Who sweat blood, was sorrowful unto death, became heavy and oppressed, was tormented by agony of soul, humbly received—He Who is the King of angels—comfort from an angel, was abandoned by his friends, betrayed by one of his intimates, felt the God-forsakenness of humanity, was mocked by those He came to heal, and was misunderstood by the majority of spiritually blind men until his very last breath.

Let us bear our cross with fortitude, humbleness of thought, and that constant cry of the heart: “Lord Jesus Christ help me! Lord Jesus Christ be with me! Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and enlighten and comfort me! Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner!”

To Him, together with His Father and the All-Holy Spirit, be worship, humility, praise, honor, glory, and power unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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