He Who Bears His Cross Does Not Need Miracles

On the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, we listened to the parable of the rich and unmerciful man and the beggar Lazarus. We know this parable is one of the many parables about the kingdom of God in St Luke’s Gospel. “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16.19–22).

The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus, fresco, Rila Monastery, 1846

The rich man had everything, he fared magnificently. The Savior highlights intentionally the contrast between the two. Lazarus lived like a cursed, pustulous, destitute, famished man, a hindrance for everyone around. This shows us we ought to get used to God’s considering things differently. To the people, the rich man was blessed and Lazarus was cursed. And for God it was the other way around. And this is often the case in our lives. That is why one of Putna’s abbots, Iachint Unciuleac, said that “suffering is the sign of election.” That is why we have saints who lamented that God took the temptation away from them. And this also relates to today’s epistle: “I only boast in the cross of our Lord” (cf. Galatians 6.14). This is man according to God. The man of God knows to carry his cross. He is the bearer of God and Christ.

At the end of the parable, the rich man, seeing that he could do nothing for himself, hoped he could get something for his brothers at home. But Abraham answered that even if someone rose from the dead and told them about the realities beyond, they still would not believe him if they did not believe Moses and the prophets (cf. Luke 16.29–31). This is scary because it is true. If we do not believe in the gospel, in the prophets, in Moses, we will not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It was the same with the Savior. He wrought miracles. The people were ecstatic, exalted, but only on a superficial level because there was no place for God in them. They lived as self-sufficiently as the rich man. And unfortunately, we live in a time when people fulfill themselves. There is no place and no need for God. They are self-reliant, completely closed. The rich man is a closed man. Rich does not necessarily mean material wealth, or feasting. The scientist can be rich, in intelligence, in talents, and so can be the artist. Each of us is rich in the talents we receive, but if we boast with them, we leave nothing for God.

The artist Silvia Radu remarked about her husband, the sculptor Vasile Gorduz, who was brilliant, that great people possess a modesty that protects their talent. They don’t think they’re doing much; they’re safeguarded by their own talent. I’ve seen this in several such people. They have incredible modesty. An incredible spiritual finesse. If a man like me or someone else did what they do, we would burst open of vainglory. But they do such great things and remain modest. This is the true man. Herein lies the wisdom. No matter how many gifts he has, he is not full of himself but leaves room. Because the truth is, whatever man does, it is too little and insufficient compared to what God tells him to do. So the rich man is the man full of himself, who lives sumptuously every day and needs nothing. Unfortunately, we see this picture a lot around us, especially in the West. In other cultures, perhaps people are humbler. We have these self-righteous men who cannot be saved, not that God does not will it, but because they have no room inside for God to come. God has no place. This is hell, the absence of God, the distance from Him. God is everywhere, but it is possible He may not be within man. People create in themselves this state of being near or far from God, and they become incapable of being saved. And that is the tragedy.

Let us also take a closer look at the epistle: “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Galatians 6.12–13). This is yet another instance of the same disease. Of man not necessarily full of himself, but foreign to himself. People who are not right ask for outward signs for their or other people’s salvation. Such were those who relied on circumcision as a guarantee or sign of salvation. But this is something external. And it is what St Paul talks about here. They are not right, and their asking something of others shows their inner ailment. But here is the healing: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!” (Galatians 6.14). This is the sign of a true man, who has learned to bear his cross and live thus, as a follower of Christ. This means following Christ. The Savior said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9.23). This is the man. And this man does not expect outward signs that he is saved. His standing shows that he follows Christ and goes wherever the Master leads him.

This position is salvific in itself because it shows man’s openness. The cross means openness as well, you know. It means bearing that which you do not favor, yes, but it also means being open. As I said elsewhere, the image of the monk ready to excise his will is one of the monk’s definitions. This cutting of the will, the willingness to obey, is an openness of man. By learning to obey one another, we learn to be available to God. We tell God we are open: “Lord, save me. I want You to. And I show it to You by being open.” This is the cross. In general, any contact with God will surprise us. But I must be open. This translates in the cross as a way of living. And that allows me to be saved. This is the real man. He does not ask for outward signs or miracles but lives in God. Unknowingly, non-rationally … And if man is not accustomed to it in this life, he cannot be saved. The man who fulfills his duty correctly, who follows Christ or tries to follow Him, does not need anything else, signs or others to praise him, to follow him. Just as the Mother of God, the Savior, the saints do not need praise. They are on the cross.

This is the exhortation we find in today’s gospel: The fact that we do not receive the prophets and Moses means that we are full of ourselves, we are ailing. Healing is the cross, being open, saying, “Lord, save me.” And after that, God will start working. Every day, He will give us a few things to do. We may not realize it and live our everyday life, but when we express we want to be saved, God will forge your way. That path is the cross. It cannot be otherwise. We must die to selfishness and open ourselves to God. By living so, bearing the cross given us by God, with His help and by His grace, we can be saved. And thus, we are able to heed the Gospel, the prophets, and Moses. The cross will teach us all these. May God help us bear our cross. It is not easy to do, but it is beautiful and yields plentiful fruit. First in us and then around us. And so grace will indwell us, filling us with fragrance we then spread around.