"The Paradox of the Cross"
The Paradox of the Cross
March 14, 2004
The Christian faith is filled with paradoxes. The first will be last. The humble will be exalted. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
In today’s Gospel we hear of yet another paradox from our Lord: “Whoever desire to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).
This is the paradox of the cross. St. Paul says that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18). From the little experience I have had in the overseas mission field, I have seen that the power of the cross is manifest most powerfully where faith and suffering meet head-on.
I would like to share a few examples with you from the mission trips I have been on in both Kenya and Albania.
About two years ago, a team of students from Holy Cross along with some others, including my wife and Dr. Spero Kinas, went on an OCMC summer mission trip to Kenya. For a month we lived in a remote village in Western Kenya, where we helped to build a school, while the doctors offered medical care and the seminarians offered catechism lessons.
Mama Theodora, a native Kenyan, is a leader of the village who opened up her humble home for us 20 Americans to have a place to stay for a month. She and her children welcomed us and treated us with the most loving and caring hospitality.
After a week of living in Mama Theodora’s home, we found out that just a week before we had arrived, her 21-year old daughter, Brenda, had been stung by several bees and died. I could not believe it when I found out. How could Mama Theodora show such love, warmth, and hospitality to us so soon after her daughter died?
I tried to imagine my own mother in the same situation. I imagined, what if I died and a week later my mother had to welcome 18 strangers to stay in her home for a month? It wouldn’t happen. My mother would be so stricken with grief that she would not be able to accept the guests.
This mystery of Mama Theodora’s and every other faithful Kenyans’ joy amidst terrible suffering is a great paradox to the world. Only the truth of the Gospel and the power of the cross can unlock the mystery of this reality.
Mama Theodora offered all of us a powerful witness of what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ. And I observed the same kind of self-less witness taking place during the 6 months I served in Albania as a missionary.
During the Communist years Albania suffered greatly. From 1967 until 1990, all form of religion was outlawed. There were over 1600 Orthodox Churches in Albania before Communism; less than 5% still stood when Communism collapsed. Those churches which still stood were converted into gymnasiums, libraries, and schools.
The priests were forced to leave the priesthood and find other jobs to support their families. If they were caught performing services or sacraments of the Church, they would be imprisoned, tortured or executed. When Communism collapsed, only 22 priests were still living.
For decades Albanians lived in fear. If they were caught doing praying or doing their cross in public, they would be arrested and thrown into prison. The faithful were not even aloud to have icons in their homes. Around Pascha, elementary school teachers would ask the children if they had chickens at home that laid red eggs. If the children said yes, they would call the police on the parents to have them punished.
Since Archbishop Anastasios has taken over leadership of the Church, his main focus has been to rebuild churches, educate and ordain priests, and to restore the image of Christ in the Albanian soul.
Blind and Deaf Boy
I’d like to share a story with you which shows how the Church in Albania has grown so rapidly during the last decade, and how miracles have been accomplished with a ministry of patient and persistent love—not the sentimental and superficial love of the world, but the sacrificial love of the cross.
Story of blind and deaf boy in shelter for handicapped children…
I share this story, because I feel that it reflects the ministry of the Orthodox Church in Albania—a ministry that serves its people with the sacrificial love of the cross.
I thank God that I have had the opportunity to live among such people as in Kenya and Albania, for they have helped me very much.
They have taught me the way of Christ, the way of the cross. They have taught me the power of patient and persistent love—the love of the cross.
Through the example of faithful Orthodox Christians in Kenya and Albania, I have begun to understand what it means to take up one’s cross, to follow Christ, and to put the love of God above everything else, even if it means sacrificing our own comforts.
This is what Mama Theodora did for us, this is what the Orthodox Church is doing for the people of Albania, and this is what Christ did for us on the cross.
Whether in the mission field of Kenya, Albania, or America, let us take up our cross, follow Christ, and offer the love of Christ—the patient and persistent love of self-sacrifice—to all those who are in need. Amen.