Homily by Fr. Myroslav Vons on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 16, 2023

To achieve something, you must constantly work on yourself. In spiritual life, it requires constant training — frequent confession, approaching Holy Communion worthily, sincere prayer during the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and holidays, fasting, and giving to charity.

Homily by Fr. Myroslav Vons on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Gospel we read today may be quite challenging for the modern person to grasp. What do we immediately envision when we hear, ‘Take up your cross’? Probably pain, suffering, a long journey, tears, sorrow. And then we read, ‘Deny yourself’ — what do we think then? Slavery, submission, loss of one’s identity. If we only think in these terms, our hands drop, and we involuntarily say, ‘Oh, this path is not for me.’

However, to understand this Gospel, let’s turn our gaze to the apostle Paul’s message to the Galatians, where we read, ‘… I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…’ Strong words that will help us grasp the Gospel. So, says the apostle Paul, ‘…to live for God.’ What does it mean to live for God?

The Gospel of Mark immediately provides us with an answer — take up your cross, which means your entire life, and follow Christ step by step. And not just follow, but walk in His footsteps, doing the same things that Jesus Christ does. Let’s ponder this: the Lord doesn’t tell us to take our crosses, our lives, and come to Him, saying He’ll wait for us here, or catch up to Him. No! He says, ‘Follow Me. I bear the cross and go ahead, and you go after Me and do likewise.’

We also read, ‘Let him deny himself.’ And again, we find the answer in the words of the apostle Paul, who says that ‘to deny oneself’ means that the most important place in my life is occupied by the Lord: ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ To deny oneself means to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save us. Together, during the Holy Liturgy, we pray the ‘Symbol of Faith,’ saying that we believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. This means believing in the words He speaks to each of us: ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28–30).

Three things will help us follow Christ. First, self-discipline. Can a soccer team win a season by training only four times a year? Can a boxer become a champion by training once a year? Can we be healthy if we eat healthy food only once a year? No, to achieve something, we must adhere to a regimen, be disciplined. Do it every day to achieve success. So, let’s ask ourselves: can a person confess only four times a year to become spiritually strong, to follow Jesus Christ? I think not. To achieve something, you must constantly work on yourself. In spiritual life, it requires constant training — frequent confession, approaching Holy Communion worthily, sincere prayer during the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and holidays, fasting, and giving to charity. These are the factors that will help us bear our cross and follow the Lord.

I remember a story. Once, a father’s son came to him and said, ‘In my opinion, children should be given the freedom to think freely, not set boundaries, let them do as they wish, and when they grow up, they will learn to make the right decisions. I believe this is the only correct way for them to grow and realize their potential.’ To which the father replied, ‘Let me show you my wonderful garden.’ When they arrived, his son exclaimed in surprise, ‘But there are only weeds here.’ To which the father replied, ‘I used to have many beautiful flowers here, but this year I decided to leave the garden without interference, to let it grow as it wishes, and later it will reveal its potential.’ The son smiled and said, ‘Thank you, Dad, for setting boundaries for me.’

The second thing is to be truthful, to speak the truth to oneself and others. We often speak half-truths. For example, ‘Why didn’t you go to church on Sunday to thank the Lord?’ — ‘Because I had a tough workweek and wanted to sleep.’ However, on the same day, I find time to be with friends. Or, I didn’t go to the church on the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos and didn’t congratulate my Heavenly Mother on her birthday because I had a lot of things to do and no time. However, if there were a sports game, an opera at the Opera House, or a performance by a famous singer, I’m sure I would have found the time.

We often lie to the Lord. We come to Him, pray, and say, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ But at the same moment, we do not forgive other people; we hold anger against them. We often say, ‘Lord, help me, and I promise I will come to You, pray, and go to confession.’ But as soon as the matter is resolved, we withdraw. If we choose to follow Christ, it is essential to live in truth. Because living in truth means living with God. For Jesus Christ Himself says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6).

It reminds me of an old priest who sees a few children sitting around a cute puppy. He approaches and asks, ‘What are you doing here?’ The children respond, ‘We are making up lies, and the one who wins gets the puppy.’ The priest, in shock, says, ‘What kind of game is this? At your age, I couldn’t even think of lying to anyone.’ Then one boy says to another, ‘Let’s give him the puppy. He won!’

The third thing is to choose a good example to follow. The Lord says, ‘Follow Me.’ He is the leader. He always goes ahead of us. He is the one who, through His life and His words, shows us how to behave. Christ was humble. Christ loved His neighbor. Christ was not afraid to speak the truth — He called sin, sin. He did not hypocritically say one thing and do another. The Lord God is the perfect example to follow. Therefore, we must also be an example of kindness, strong faith, and love for others.

Lastly, once a priest met his friend who was making soap. They began talking about God and faith. The friend said, ‘I don’t understand the purpose of your faith, your Church. In the world, there is still chaos, war, cruelty, injustice. The Church has existed for over a thousand years. You have been a priest for a long time, praying, preaching, teaching, but nothing seems to change. So, what’s the point of all this?’ The priest didn’t reply. Then, on the road, they saw a few dirty people. The priest said, ‘Look at these people — you make soap and advertise that your soap helps to be clean. But these people are dirty. So, what’s the use of soap? Why do you work and make an effort?’ His friend responded with indignation, ‘Father, of course, soap is useless if you don’t buy it and use it.’ ‘Exactly,’ replied the priest, ‘it’s the same with our faith. It has no power or meaning if we don’t use it every day in practice.’

I wish all of us not to be afraid to take up our cross and follow Christ. May the Our Mother of Perpetual Help, never leave us and always be with us in the joyful and sorrowful moments of our lives. Amen.

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