"Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." This Gospel imperative is perfectly clear, yet all too often we simply gloss over what is demanded of us if we truly desire salvation. Step number one is that you must deny your self --which means simply that you must cease to exist as a self-centered ego desiring little more than the satisfaction of your own earthly passions and desires (even though they may not be sinful in themselves). But have you, my friends, so far taken even the first step toward this goal?
Then there's the part about taking up one's cross, which seems at first glance like a pious and proper thing to do, until we come face to face with the reality of this injunction in our day to day lives and come to realize that what is required is the eager and willing acceptance (with profound gratitude toward God) of whatever pain and suffering he may send us for the sake of our salvation. And here again--can any of us truthfully say that we have taken up our cross in this sense without grumbling and complaining, and that we are determined to endure unto the bitter end the trials and tribulations that have been allotted to us in this life?
And yet it seems to me that we would all be eager to confess that we are Christians--followers of Christ. But what kind of following is this, really? We do believe, perhaps, that He truly is the eternal Son of God Who alone reveals the way of salvation. We believe with our minds, however, while our hearts remain attached to the false promises of this world.
As for myself, I fully accept as my own the words of St. Polycarp on his road to martyrdom in Rome, "I have not yet even begun to be a disciple of Jesus Christ." May God have mercy on us all during this season of the Great Fast, and reveal to us the only Path that leads to eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom!