Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“For the preaching of the Cross is foolishness to those who perish; but unto us who are [being] saved, it is the power of God.” And, again, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cr. 1:25). And, again, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cr. 2:2). And, finally, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Ga. 6:14).
Beloved, what is the glory of Pascha without the ignominy of the public ridicule and shame of the Cross? The joy of Great and Holy Pascha resides in, and can be ours only, through the Cross of the crucified Lord and Master, Jesus Christ! The power of the Resurrection of Christ God can only be experienced in our lives if we first suffer and die with Him on the Cross (Pp. 3:10-11). To share in the New Life of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, we must first be willing to share in His Death, which is to say, to be baptized into His Death – crucified with Him – and be raised with Him in a Resurrection like unto His (Rm. 6:1-11).
Today, the Church celebrates one of three festivals devoted to the Holy Cross of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. So important are these feasts that, should they occur on a Sunday, the Church is permitted to do that which her canons typically forbid us to do on the Day of Resurrection, which is, to bow down in humility to venerate the most sacred Cross and to adore the Master crucified thereon! “Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection, we glorify” (Tropar). Indeed, brethren, it is meet and right that we should so do for the Holy Cross spans the length and breadth of history and it stands at the very core of the Church which is the very Body of Christ God Himself, pierced as our Lord, coming forth from His wounded side; constituted, nourished, and sustained by the most sacred blood and water in the Mysteries of Holy Baptism and the Eucharist – the Bath and the Food and Drink of the congregation of the New Israel of God (Jn. 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35; Ga. 6:16)! The Cross is the eternal reference point, holding all things together, defining all things for us as Christians. It is our north star by whose light we are guided throughout our earthly days and in whose unfailing light we walk. It orients us in a world disoriented. The Cross keeps us centered when everything about us, especially in these days defying all rational thought, is out of kilter. The Cross brings us back to reality. The Cross sweetens the bitterness of this world just as it did the waters of Marah (Ex. 15:22-16:1). It mystifies those seeking signs and it defies those who try to comprehend the world using pure reason, exclusive of God. These are the ones whom Sacred Scripture says are perishing because they stand self-condemned by their unbelief (Jn. 3:18; Ts. 3:11). But, to those who believe, that is, to those who have faith in the Holy Cross and its crucified Lord – for the two are nailed together as one and so are inseparable – to those who are being saved, “It is the power [and the wisdom and the peace] of God,” notwithstanding all appearances of utter weakness to the contrary (Rm. 1:16-17)! The Holy Cross terrifies the demons; the Holy Cross heals our physical and spiritual infirmities; the Holy Cross liberates us from the concentration camp of sin and the devil, and it kills death itself!
Beloved, allow me to share some extended thoughts from St. Andrew of Crete on the Holy Cross. He writes:
We are celebrating the feast of the Cross which drove away darkness and brought in the Light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the Cross that whoever wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.
Had there been no Cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no Cross, Life itself could not have been nailed to the Tree. And if Life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The bond of our sin would not be canceled, we should not have obtained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the Tree of Life and the gates of Paradise would not stand open. Had there been no Cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.
Therefore, the Cross is something wonderfully great and honorable. It is great because through the Cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation – very many indeed, for both His miracles and His sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The Cross is honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of His victory. It stands for His suffering because on it He freely suffered unto death. But it is also His trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the Cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.
The Cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as His triumph (Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, pp. 489-490).
The Cross is Christ’s glory. It is His triumph. Do we believe that? It is this preaching of the Holy Cross and of the Saviour crucified thereon and risen – its divine revelation – which divides the sheep from the goats, the wise from the foolish, those who are being saved by embracing it and those who are perishing by rejecting the Holy One of God pierced, and “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rv. 13:8). “[F]or there is no other [sign] under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Ac. 4:12).
Beloved, the Church offers no apologies for the Cross and her crucified God. But, she does offer it as the key to the Kingdom of Heaven to all who, “in the fear of God, and with faith and love, [would] draw near!”
For ye see in your calling, brethren, how not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, that no flesh should glory in His Presence. But because of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who from God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption, that according as it is written: ‘He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord’ . . . that your faith should not stand on the wisdom of man, but on the power of God (1 Cr. 1:26-31; 2:5).
Beloved, the Cross is not something we go seeking after. It finds us soon enough. I’ve been doing a lot of pondering over the past months and I can’t help but wonder and ask myself as we have been facing a seemingly endless COVID situation and social unrest unprecedented since the riots I experienced in my youth of the 1960’s, do we understand that what we have been experiencing together is really the Cross? We sing all the flowery hymnody with which we adorn this holy and precious Feast, but do we sing it because this has been our experience, and so rejoice that joy has, in fact, come into this world – has come to us – through the Cross, or is this just words? I have watched over the last several months Christians of different flavors and various stripes dividing under the stress of what the world has laid on us, seemingly pitting us one against the other. We have allowed the world that is fallen and passing away, according to Sacred Scripture (1 Cr. 7:31; 1 Jn. 2:17), to set the tone for how we who are brothers and sisters in the Crucified One relate to one another and to determine our agenda instead of seeing this chaos in the light of the Life-giving Cross. This is a divinely given opportunity, brethren, for us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling . . . . . . together (Pp. 2:12). For the Fathers teach us that none of us is saved by ourselves. If we are being saved, it is together, as a community of believers. A community of believers divided, however, cannot be saved (Mt. 12:25; Mk. 3:24-25; Lk. 11:17)!
Are our hymns, then, eloquently regaling this most precious Cross, but words on a page or do they truly express our experience of being saved together? It is the Cross of Jesus Christ that each of us gathered here and those absent from this holy assembly have been signed and sealed with. It is the Cross that binds us together as brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, then, I wonder to myself, why do we assume (and you know what happens when we assume!) a lack of love on our brother or sister’s part if he or she happens not to agree with our assessment of the current shared situation? Each of us has been bearing the Cross. Each of us has been sharing in our Lord’s Passion, doing so as faithfully as each of us can, but I’m not sure we’re recognizing that. Is it because we have allowed the worldly wisdom to cloud our vision which, under “normal” circumstances, would not be an issue? Are we looking upon each other through the Cross or are we doing so through the filter of the world’s wisdom?
These are simply general observations I’ve made over the last five months and I’ve been mulling them over a lot lately. Today, in the light of this most auspicious Feast, we are granted an opportunity to change our world, not through the world’s rioting and protests, but through repentance and humility all because of the Exaltation of the Holy Precious and Life-giving Cross. And so the hymns we have sung in praise of the glorious conquering Cross can become our reality and not simply words on a page we sing.
This morning I read something from St. John of Kronstadt I’d like to share. He says, “Where the Cross is, there is love.”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Cr. 1:18-24Jn. 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35