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StStephenIconForWebWhen God appeared to Saint Stephen the first martyr in Heaven, He manifested Himself with glory: “he looked up steadfastly into Heaven, and he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). When God opened the heavens and appeared to the prophet Ezekiel, “It was the appearance of the glory of the Lord” (Ez. 1:28). Similarly, when God appeared high on the summit of Mount Sinai, He made Himself manifest with much glory (cf. Ex. 19:16). However, when He appeared to Moses on the earth, He made Himself manifest within the burning bush: a plant full of prickly thorns (cf. Ex. 3:2). The Lord did so in order for us to realize and comprehend that He Who is worshipped and glorified in Heaven by the saints and angels is found here on the earth within the thorns of sorrows. Just as Moses was deemed worthy of beholding God’s glory on Mount Sinai only after first seeing Him here on the earth amongst the thorns, likewise it is necessary for us to labor to find the Lord first here on the earth within the thorns of sorrows and hardships if we wish to behold the glory and bliss of His heavenly Kingdom in the next life.

How foolish and ungrateful we are! If happiness and delight are concealed within sorrows, why should we detest hardships and difficulties? Shouldn’t we rather thirst for them since through them we acquire Paradise and Christ Himself, Who is the actual source of all happiness and contentment?

When the venerable and God-bearing Saint Ignatius found out that he would be fed to the lions, he was overcome with great joy and cried out gleefully, “When will the beasts come to devour my body? I am wheat of my Lord, and I must be milled by the teeth of the lions in order to become sweet bread for my Lord. Now I am truly starting to become His disciple!”

Saint Andrew the Apostle desired for quite some time to suffer for the love of Christ. Eventually he was sentenced to be crucified. When he was brought before his dearly beloved Cross, he voiced the following with jubilation, “Rejoicel, O most-holy and precious Cross! For the longest time, exceedingly have I desired thee, and, finally, thou art about to fulfill my dream. Behold, I proceed with elation to thee. Rejoice as thou receiveth me, the disciple of Him Who hung from thee.”

Since every good thing and all glory comes to us through the Cross, come my dear Christians! Let us extol and praise it; let us venerate it reverently; let us yearn for it wholeheartedly. And when it comes to us from time to time, let us embrace it and receive it joyfully—because through it we receive many divine gifts and graces. This is the key that opened Paradise for us. We are blessed if we learn to love the cross of sorrows and if we endure difficulties with thankfulness; for then we will be pleasing to God and loved by Christ. And since we will have suffered with Christ and been crucified along with Him in this life, we will be glorified with Him in the next life (cf. Rom. 8:17 & 2Tim. 2:11-12) unto the endless ages of ages. Amen.

—from the book The Salvation of Sinners