On the Third Sunday of the Coptic month of Hatour, our Mother, the Holy Church, nourished us with a passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke 14:25-35 in which our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that the cost of being His disciple, the cost of being a Christian in this world, is a total and complete commitment to Him. This total commitment to Christ necessarily begins with self-denial, as our Savior teaches us, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27).
Self-denial, therefore, is a necessity in the life of the Christian. When people hear this word, they become frightened, because they believe self-denial leads to fatigue, temptations, and difficulties generally. To be perfectly honest, that is true, but more importantly, self-denial also leads to love, perfection, and holiness. If a person cannot learn to deny himself, he cannot love, because love by definition is sacrifice. And, tragically, if a person cannot love, he can never be holy. How can we share in the life of God Who sacrificed His own life for us if we are not able to sacrifice our own desires?
Practically speaking, this means being dedicated in our relationship with God, our Father, and the Holy Church, our Mother. It means we have to sacrifice our time in prayer and reflecting Christ’s light throughout the world. It means sacrificing bodily tiredness for the service of our brothers and sisters who could use our help. Self-denial essentially means a continual self-sacrifice to the point that it is not something we do, but rather, something we become. By God’s grace, our lives should be transformed into one continual offering to God, and only then will we understand what it really means to be human.
This type of life is not only for the holy monks and nuns, it is for every person who carries the Name of Christ, because He Himself modeled this life for us and continually shows us the way by His example. In this Fast, for example, we’re learning to eat less and pray more. We’re learning that, as a consequence of eating less, it is easier to fight against our passions, things like lust, anger, jealousy, etc. We’re learning that, instead of vegging out in front of some kind of electronic device, whether it be a television, tablet, smartphone, computer, etc., we can perhaps help out a little more at home or in our community, or share the Gospel with a friend or neighbor.
This self-denial is part of the cost of discipleship. As the saintly Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Sourozh, Anthony Bloom, wrote in his meditations, the cost of discipleship “means a gradual overcoming of all that is self in order to grow into communion with that which is greater than self and which will ultimately displace self, conquer the ground and become the totality of life.” In other words, being a Christian is all about getting rid of the ego, the self, and making way for our Lord Jesus Christ. It is joyfully proclaiming with the Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20).
As long we strive to live this kind of life, we will be close to Christ, because this is how He lived. The Holy Apostle Peter described His service in the Book of Acts: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Ac 10:38). Our Savior went about doing good, because He lived a life of self-denial. ☩