The Cross Sweetens the Bitterness of Life

In the morning, finding at least a minute in the midst of your normal daily tasks to stand before His countenance, you will feel how He is gazing at you lovingly and summoning you to labor. God’s blessing is with you in labor during every minute of life. The Kingdom of God, which is coming in power, is established in the heart, for Christ said: The Kingdom of God is within us – come and drink the living water of the Kingdom of Heaven

Fr. Alexander Men

The first Christians were very fond of depicting Moses in the wilderness on the walls of their churches, inasmuch as for the Church of Christ he was the prototype of salvation, of the New Testament.

In Holy Scripture it is told that after the Israelites, led by God’s prophet Moses, had crossed through the sea and been saved from slavery, they plunged deep into the barren and harsh wilderness, which seemed to many far worse than slavery, oppression, and servile labor.

For a day, a week, a month they are in the midst of rock, in the midst of burnt plains, in the midst of stony crags. The heat, of which we here can barely conceive, is unimaginable. People are perishing from lack of water; there is neither a spring nor a drop of moisture; the sea has been left behind; the scorching sky is entirely cloudless; and long is the way to the holy mountain to which they are headed, although no one knows how much further they will have to walk, their feet running with blood.

Suddenly there is a small bush with a flowing spring nearby. People fall upon it, wanting to drink – but immediately they spit out this liquid: it is as bitter as seawater. Where there were salt deposits in the earth the water had become undrinkable; this spring was called Marah, which means bitter. The people wept from resentment, anger, and despair. Just imagine, a burst of hope: in the scorching desert there is fresh, cool water bubbling from the earth – but it is bitter and undrinkable. But then the Prophet Moses plunged a tree into the water and held it therein – and the water gradually became fit for drinking.

This life-giving spring, which had been almost poisonous, reminds us of another tree that is raised in the midst of our lives: the Tree of the Cross. Today we are standing before its image. The Tree of the Cross transforms the bitterness of life into that pure, cool, living water that is the salvation proceeding from the Lord. It is no accident that He said that there are many standing here who will see the Kingdom of God coming in power. The Kingdom of God comes through the Cross of Christ, through His infinite, all-embracing love. The Kingdom of God is the peace, light, and salvation of Christ.

Yet it is possible to stand next to this source without drinking therefrom; we can walk right by it, but the water of life will nonetheless remain bitter if we live as before: in self-love, vanity, pride, and mutual condemnation. If we want the water of salvation to touch and quicken our hearts, then we must strive ardently to reject condemnation and pretention, hatred and malice, and slander – everything that poisons our lives. Then we shall see the Kingdom of God coming in power – not sometime, not somewhere, not after death – but already here in this life. Then everything will speak and witness to us of Him, of our Lord.

In the morning, finding at least a minute in the midst of your normal daily tasks to stand before His countenance, you will feel how He is gazing at you lovingly and summoning you to labor. God’s blessing is with you in labor during every minute of life. The Kingdom of God, which is coming in power, is established in the heart, for Christ said: The Kingdom of God is within us – come and drink the living water of the Kingdom of Heaven [cf. Luke 17:21; John 4:10-14].

Like the ancient Israelites, we are standing at this source, and the water seems bitter to us, for we do not have the strength of faith that would turn it from bitter to living water. The bitter water of the depressingly unvarying, wholly monotonous labors of life flows along, running into the sand; there is no glimmer of hope, and no salvation; there is despair, sickness, infirmity, sorrow, bitterness, coldness of heart, and the meaninglessness of life. This is “Marah,” the bitter water of our existence without the Cross of Christ.

But if we have the Cross and if we have faith, then everything changes, then every moment we are standing before His face, and He is touching our hearts. Only then will prayer resound, be it silent or verbal. It bursts from the heart in thanksgiving and rapturous love of God, for the Lord is with us. Thou hast come and filled us with Thy grace, visiting us who are unfit, powerless, and unworthy! The living water of the word of God, of the Cross of Christ, flows towards us to restore and quicken us, giving us the strength for the journey ahead.

Translated from Russian.

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