Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται.
LITURGY OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless One. We venerate Your Cross, O Christ, and Your Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify; for You are Our God, we know no other; it is Your Name we invoke. Come, all you faithful, let us worship Christ's Resurrection; for behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection. For enduring the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.
On March 17th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Alexios, the Man of God; Saint Patrick, enlightener of Ireland; Saint Theosteriktos the Confessor; Holy Martyr Marinos; Saint Ambrose, deacon; Saint Paul of Crete; Saint Gertrude, Abbess of Nijvel; Saint Gabriel the Lesser of Garesja.
SAINT ALEXIOS, THE MAN OF GOD. Varied are the paths along which God leads those who desire to be pleasing to Him and fulfill His Law. In the time of the Emperor Honorius (393-423 A.D.), there lived in Rome a high imperial dignitary, Euphemianus, very eminent and very rich. Both he and his wife, Agalais, lived lives pleasing to God. Although he was rich, Euphemianus sat down to table only once a day, at sunset. They had an only son, this Alexios, who, when he was grown up, was compelled to marry. But, on the night of the wedding, he left not only his wife but also his father, took a ship and went to the town of Edessa in Mesopotamia, where the wonderful Face of the Lord Himself, sent to King Abgar, was kept. Having venerated this Face, Alexios dressed himself in simple clothing and lived for seventeen years as a poor man in that town, constantly praying to God in the porch of the church of the Mother of God. When he became known as a holy man, he shunned the praise of men and so went off and took a ship that was going to Laodicea. By the providence of God, the ship went off course and took him right to Rome. Regarding this as a cross from God, Alexios decided to go to his father's house and there, unknown, continue his life of self-denial. His father did not recognize him, but from charity allowed him to live in his courtyard in a little shack. There Saint Alexios spent seventeen years, living only on bread and water. Molested by the servants in many ways, he persevered to the end. And when the end drew near, he wrote a few words on a single sheet of paper, held it in his hand, lay down and breathed his last, on March 17th, 411 A.D. Then a voice was heard in the Church of the Holy Apostles, saying to the Emperor, who was present, and the Patriarch: "Look for the man of God." Shortly afterwards it was revealed that this Man of God was in Euphemianus's house. The Emperor, the Patriarch and their whole escort came to Euphemianus's house and, after lengthy questioning, discovered that the poor man was the Man of God. When they went into his shack, they found him dead with his face shining like the sun. His parents discovered from the paper that he was their son Alexios; and his bride, who had lived for thirty-four years without him, that this was her husband, and they were overcome by immeasurable sorrow and grief. But then they were comforted, seeing how God had glorified His chosen one. For, on touching his body, many of the sick were healed, and a sweet-myrrh came forth from it. He was buried in a coffin of marble and emerald. His head is preserved in the church of Saint Laurus in the Peloponnese in Greece.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 1);32-38
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 2:14-17
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"Do we have anything to endure? In this no one is lacking. Everyone's arena of endurance is vast, and therefore our salvation is at hand. Endure everything to the end and you will be saved." (St. Theophan the Recluse)
THE VENERATION (ADORATION) OF THE HOLY AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS
[Saint Mark 8:34-38; 9:1]
This Sunday commemorates the venerable and Life-Giving Cross and the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ Our Lord. The Holy Cross as such takes on meaning and adoration because of the Crucifixion of Christ Our Savior upon it. Therefore, whether it be in hymns or prayers, it is understood that the Cross without Christ has no meaning or place in Christianity. The adoration of the Cross in the middle of Great and Holy Lent is to remind the Orthodox faithful in advance of the Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Great Sacrifice to same mankind. Therefore, the Passages from the Holy Scripture and the hymnology refer to the Holy Passions, the Sufferings, of Our Savior: The passages read this day repeats the calling of the Christian believer by Christ to dedicate his/her life, for "if any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (v. 34-35). This verse clearly indicates the kind of dedication and commitment which is required by the Christian in three steps:
- To renounce his arrogance and disobedience to God's Plan.
- To lift up his personal cross (the difficulties of life) with patience, faith and the full acceptance (obedience) to the Will of God without complaint that the burden is too heavy;
- Having denied himself and lifted up his cross leads him to the decision to follow Christ.
These three voluntary steps are three links which cannot be separated from each other, because the main power to accomplish them is the Grace of God, which man always invokes. The Adoration of the Holy Cross is expressed by the faithful Orthodox Christians through fasting, almsgiving, and the forgiveness of the trespasses of others. On this Sunday the Adoration of the Holy Cross is commemorated with a special service following the Divine Liturgy in which the significance of the Holy Cross is that it leads to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and our Redeemer.
As we have "crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24), and will have mortified ourselves during these forty days of the Great and Holy Fast, the precious and Life-Giving Cross is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression. The Holy Cross reminds us of the Passion of Our Lord, and by presenting to us His Divine example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience what Our Lord experienced during His Holy Passion-being humiliated in a shameful manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams: the heavenly inheritance and Eternal Glory.
As they who walk on a long and hard way and are bowed down by fatigue find great relief and strengthening under the cool shade of a leafy tree, so do we find comfort, refreshment, and rejuvenation under the Life-Giving Cross, which our Fathers "planted" on this Sunday. Thus, we are fortified and enabled to continue our Lent journey with a light step, rested and encouraged.
Or, as before the arrival of the king, his royal standards, trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king himself appears in a triumphant parade, jubilant and rejoicing in his victory and filling those under him with joy, so does the Feat of the Cross precede the coming of our King, Jesus Christ. It warns us that He is about to proclaim His victory over death and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection. His Life-Giving Cross is His royal scepter, and by venerating it we are filled with joy, rendering Him glory. Therefore, we become ready to welcome Our Heavenly King, Who shall manifestly triumph over the powers of darkness.
The present holy feast has been placed in the Middle of Great and Holy Lent for another reason. The Fast can be likened to the spring of Marah whose waters the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness. This water was undrinkable due to its bitterness but became sweet when the Holy Prophet Moses dipped the wood into its depth. Likewise, the wood of the Cross sweetens the days of the Great Fast, which are bitter and often grievous because of our tears. Yet Christ comforts us during our course through the desert of the Fast, guiding and leading us by His hand to the spiritual and Heavenly Jerusalem by the power of His Holy Resurrection.
Moreover, as the Holy Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is placed in the middle of the Fast, as the ancient tree of life was placed in the middle of the Garden of Eden. By this, our Holy Fathers wished to remind us of Adam's gluttony as well as the fact that through this Tree has condemnation been abolished. Therefore, if we bind ourselves to the Holy and Life-Giving Cross, we shall never encounter death but shall inherit life eternal.
The Holy Icon of the Feast
The most common holy icon associated with the Veneration (Adoration) of the Holy Cross is the same icon used on the Feast of the Elevation (Exultation) of the Cross on September 14th. In the holy icon, Patriarch Macarius is standing in the pulpit elevating the Cross for all to see and venerate. On each side of the Patriarch are deacons holding candles. The elevated Cross is surrounded and venerated by many clergy and lay Christians, including Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor and Saint Constantine.
Another holy icon related to this feast depicts the actual service of veneration that is conducted in the churches on the Third Sunday of Holy Lent. In the center of the holy icon is the Cross. It is on a table surrounded by flowers. Above the Cross is the image of Christ is a partial mandoria representing His Glory. He is blessing those who have gathered to venerate the Cross, the rulers, clergy, monastics, and laity.
At the conclusion of the Orthros (Matins) the (traditional practice in association with a vigil) or of the Divine Liturgy, a special service is conducted. The Cross is placed on a tray surrounded by basil or daffodils and is taken in solemn procession through the church to the chanting of the Thrice Holy Hymn. The tray is placed on a table before the people, and the hymn of the Feast of the Cross is chanted. As the priest venerates the Holy Cross, the priest then chants, "We venerate Your Cross, O Christ, and Your Holy Resurrection we glorify." At the conclusion of the service, the faithful Orthodox Christians come and venerate the cross and receive the flowers or basil from the celebrant priest.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn). First Tone
"Save, O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance; grant victory to the faithful over their adversaries. And protect Your commonwealth by the power of Your Cross."
Please note: Fasting, of course, is not merely an exercise in abstinence. It also consists in performing good deeds. The Church insists on this aspect of fasting in Lenten hymns. It is evident, for instance, in the following liturgical text: "While fasting, brethren, in our bodies let us also fast in our spirits, let us destroy every alliance of deceit, let us give bread to the hungry and let us bring the poor and the homeless into our homes."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God