And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life (soul)? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Mark 8: 34-38; 9:1 (Gospel from Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross)
In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the English translation of the Bible that is read in our churches is the Revised Standard Version (RSV). This is also the translation that is used (unless otherwise noted) for all Bible references for the Prayer Team reflections. The original Gospels were written in Greek, and so to really study the Gospels one would benefit from knowing Ancient Greek, or a good “interlinear” version of the Bible. That’s because, as they say, something can get lost in translation. And in today’s Gospel reading, there is one word that when mistranslated that changes the entire meaning.
The word that is translated as “life” is the Greek word “psihi” which means “soul.” Mark 8:36-37 should read, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his SOUL? For what can a man give in return for his SOUL?” And the answer is “nothing, the soul is the most valuable thing we have. It’s the only thing we will have for eternity.”
While we are working hard to “gain the whole world” we can forget to work on the state of our souls. Let’s be honest. Most of us are obsessed with the “world.” We spend hours every day working to make a living so we can afford a house and put food on the table, and buy clothes for our kids and save for retirement. We go to bed many nights worrying about our jobs, our homes, our kids, and our “security.” We think about tomorrow and next week and next month and our golden years. But how much do we think about eternity? How much do we worry about the state of our souls? How much do we think about the things of God? And how much joy is there in our spiritual journeys?
At the half-way point of Lent, the Church reminds us that the source and center of everything is the cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because the cross and Resurrection lead us to eternal life. A college degree and a good job may lead us through this life. But the cross is what leads us to everlasting life. Because if someone wishes to follow after Christ, he doesn’t grab his stock portfolio and his possessions, maintain control of his world and have nice icons of Christ on the wall to look at. He denies himself, he takes up his cross and follows. (Mark 8:34)
Many people do not even understand what the soul is. When a human being is created, we know that male and female matter come together and the miracle of life occurs when God puts Himself in the midst of that matter, interweaving it together and depositing Himself in it as well. The conception of a human being is like a little “trinity,” a man and a woman and the Lord come together to create a new life. The body grows around the soul, it houses the soul, and it protects the soul. The soul contains our God-like qualities, like our moral compass, our faith, our dignity, and our sense of hope. The heart beats and is the vital component to sustaining life but love flows from a soul set afire by the Spirit. If a person’s love grows cold, it is not a disease of the heart but a disease of the soul. When we die, the soul separates from the body. The body is buried and decays, and the soul returns to God for judgment. It is judged worthy to enter Paradise and be with God for eternity, or it is judge unworthy and is consigned to eternal condemnation and suffering.
There is nothing that a person can give in return for his soul. Because the soul is our God-like quality, it is of infinite value, just like God. Yet, it seems like there is constant temptation to “sell our souls.” What do I mean by that? We are constantly challenged to sell out our dignity, to change our moral compass, to give up our faith, and to put our hope in the things that are material and temporary. Why would we think of selling the thing that has infinite value for any short term gain? Most of us have been to at least a few funerals. We see that nothing is taken with us when we die. Everything is left behind. Except for the soul, and our record of how we cared for it. Everything is left behind except the God-like soul and our record of how we cherished God inside of us.
The term “spiritual life” refers to the life of our souls. Most of us focus our days around our “material life” and we forget about the spiritual life. We worry about growing our resumes and our bank account and we forget to grow our souls.
Don’t strive to gain the world at the expense of your soul. Don’t forget to grow the spiritual as you grow the material. For the spiritual is all that will be left when the material is gone. And the soul, and its record of faith, will be all that is left of us when we die.
In all of our churches today, there will again be the procession of the Holy Cross. A tray of flowers will be carried in procession over our heads. Traditionally daffodils are used, as they are the first flower to bloom in the spring. Let us remember two things as the cross passes over our heads. First, that we are to give our first fruits to the Lord. And second, as the flowers are a symbol for the new life of spring, may we continue to commit ourselves to a sense of new life in our souls as we reach the half-way point of the Lenten journey.
The fiery sword is not guarding the entrance to Eden anymore. For it was extinguished in paradoxical manner by the tree of the Cross. The sting of death and the victory of Hades have been stricken. And You, my Savior, came and cried out to those in Hades: Enter again into Paradise. (Kontakion, Sunday of the Holy Cross, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Spend time each day growing in your spiritual life!