So, today is the feast of an obscure saint in the Orthodox Christian calendar, Simon of Cyrene. Anyone who is familiar with the oldest expression of the Christian faith knows that his obscurity is not due to modern-day racism. Orthodox Christianity acknowledges a plethora of holy men and women from the African continent as well as Europe and the Middle East. Athanasius & Cyril of Alexandria, Anthony, Macarius, and Moses the Ethiopian with other great Desert Fathers. St. Mary of Egypt is venerated on April 1st and on the fifth sunday of Great Lent. Again, the first Orthodox parish I ever visited is named for the bishop and martyr Cyprian of Carthage. Simon did carry the cross for our Lord on that fateful day on Calvary. But, not much else was recorded about him after the Crucifixion (Mark 15:21).
Because of this act recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke), Simon is to be respected and celebrated as an example of how to follow Jesus in His words; “Let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23) Self denial is critical to the Christian life as it allows us to struggle against our passions and draw closer to the Savior. Simon was compelled to carry the cross. It can be determined that he saw something compelling about the one that was to be nailed on this tree as the cross-bearer brought up Alexander and Rufus to believe in the Crucified.
We are quick to carry so many other things in our society. Flags of patriotism, clenched fist of protest, electronic devices for communication and entertainment, lucky key chains and keys for our cars and homes, purses and wallets with our earnings, and so many other things in and outside of ourselves. But these items cannot cleanse our souls and do not require us to turn our lives to holy living. If anything, we simply add the name “Jesus” and other religious words to such things to make excuses for our sins. We should not be surprised to find that we still wallow in personal and social problems that we should have overcome by now. We must carry something that can compel us to change our direction and share this compulsion with others.
Unlike St. Patrick’s Day, there is no tradition of wearing a particular color to show one’s heritage on this day. We aren’t “required” to give gifts as with the honoring of St. Nicholas. Nor is there any romantic inclinations similar to St. Valentine. Perhaps that is a great blessing of an obscure feast day; it is not over commercialized.
We can best commemorate St. Simon of Cyrene by following what our Lord taught us to do. Let us deny ourselves from our own pleasures and will and take on suffering for the sake of Christ and our fellow-man every day. Even though we may feel that we are unfairly singled out and made to suffer unjustly, Our Lord submitted Himself to the greatest humiliation for the sake of our salvation and gained the greatest name of all. In this self-denial and bearing our crosses, God will reveal His compelling love for us. When we see this under such conditions, we can best share the Gospel by the way we live, even if no one notices us by name.