My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF HOLY LENT: THE SUNDAY OF THE VENERATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
(On this day the service of Orthros [Matins] concludes with the solemn veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross; the ceremonies are closely parallel to those at the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) and the Procession of the Holy Cross (1 August). The veneration of the Holy Cross on this Third Sunday in Lent prepares us for the commemoration of the Crucifixion which is soon to follow in Holy and Great Week, and at the same time it reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ: as the Synaxarion at Matins says, "Through the forty-day Fast, we too are in a way crucified, dying to the passions."
In the service for this Sunday the Holy Church glorifies the Holy Cross and the fruits of the death of the Savior on the Cross. She will carry out the Holy Cross into the middle of the church for veneration, and is why the Sunday is called The Veneration of the Cross...
The purpose of instituting the Holy Cross in the service on the Third Sunday in Lent will be revealed as a beautiful comparison by the Holy Church to the Tree of Life in Paradise, the tree which sweetened the bitter waters of Marah, the tree with the canopy of leaves under whose shade tired travelers seeking the eternal promised land may find coolness and rest. Thus, the Holy Church offers the Holy Cross for spiritual reinforcement to those going through the ascetic effort of the fast, just as food, drink and rest serve as bodily reinforcement. This spiritual reinforcement is given as the representation of the love of God to man for whom the Son of God turned Himself over to death on the Cross. It is especially necessary in the middle of our effort because now our ascetic efforts already have lost much of the freshness of its power and however yet cannot hopefully enliven itself for the near and successful ending of our ascetical effort. Having concentrated all that is the most severe and sorrowful in the worship services of the previous weeks, especially during the first, that may both frighten the sinner and apparently touch the hardest of human hearts, now in the middle of the large and difficult arena of the Holy Forty Day Fast the Holy Church offers the Holy Cross for great comfort and encouragement as needed for raising the flagging strength of those fasting. Wherefore nothing can both console, encourage, and inspire the fatigued, or perhaps even the Christian weakened in spirit so much as the presentation of the eternal divine love of the Savior Who turned Himself over to the struggle on the Cross for the sake of our salvation.
For such a purpose the Holy Church offers the Cross on the Third Sunday of Great Lent from of old. Many hymns of praise for this Sunday were composed by Joseph and Theodore of the Studite Monastery. Everything in the worship service of this day: the Most Holy Cross, solemnly carried from the altar to the middle of the temple, the singing of the Stichera for venerating the Cross, the Epistle, recounting the suffering of the Savior on the Cross as the means of our reconcilement with God, the Gospel, reminding the Christian about everyone's duty to bear their cross in life, following the Crucified One on the Cross,-everything that promotes the deep stamp of the Cross of Christ on the heart of the believer, as a sign of our salvation, as our Mighty, God-given power, saving us on earth and opening to us the entrance to the high place of our Fatherland, as the highest and more powerful reinforcement of believers among the ascetics of the Holy Forty Day Fast. If the Lord suffered on a Cross for our sake then we also should practice asceticism increasingly in fasting, prayer and other efforts of pietyfor His sake, discharging from ourselves and destroying in ourselves all that interferes with these efforts. With the aim of our greater enthusiasm for patience in efforts of piety, the Holy Church on the present day comfortably reminds us beforehand about the coming nearer "to the light of the peaceful joy of Pascha", hymning, in the troparia of the canon, the Holy Cross and the suffering of the Savior on it, together with His joyful Resurrection and inviting the faithful "with pure mouths" to sing "the song of joyfulness"-Irmos of Holy Pascha. (Source: Handbook for Church Servers of Sergei Bulgakov)
Please note: How did the bitter waters turn sweet at Marah? After Moses led the Israelites through the miraculous Red Sea crossing, described in the Bible's book of Exodus (15:25), they went into the wilderness of Shur--in the north-west of the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelites travelled for three days without finding water. When they finally came to a place with water, which they named Marah, they decided to camp there. But they could not drink from the waters at Marah because the taste was too bitter. They complained to Moses, who asked God what they could drink. Then God showed Moses a tree, "which when he had cast into the waters the waters were made sweet".
From the Lenten Triodion:
To destroy the curse of Adam, Thou dost assume our flesh, free from the stain of sin; and in Thy surpassing love, O Jesus, Thou are crucified and slain. Therefore we venerate in faith Thy Cross, the spear, the sponge, the reed and nails, and we pray to see Thy Resurrection.
As we celebrate today the joyful veneration of Thy Life-Giving Cross, O Christ our Savior, we prepare ourselves for Thy Most Holy Passion; for Thou in Thine Almighty power hast brought to pass the salvation of the world.
Cleansed by abstinence let us draw near, and with fervent praise let us venerate the All-Holy Wood on which Christ was crucified when He saved the world in His compassion.
Thy Cross, O Lord All-Merciful, is honored by the whole world, for Thou hast made the instrument of death into a source of life. Sanctify those who venerate it, O God of our father, Who alone are Blessed, and Greatly Glorified.
Seeing the Precious Cross of Christ placed this day before us, let venerate it and rejoice in faith; with love let us greet the Lord Who by His Own free choice was crucified upon it, asking Him to grant us all uncondemned to adore His Holy Passion and to attain the Resurrection.
HOMILY ON THE THIRD SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT. ON CARRYING YOUR CROSS
By Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov
"What does it mean to take up our cross? The cross was an instrument of shameful execution of commoners and captives deprived of a citizen's rights. The proud world, a world at enmity with Christ, deprives Christ's disciples of the rights enjoyed by the sons of this world. "If you are of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Whosoever kills you will think that he does God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me" (St. John 15:19; 16:2-3). Taking up our cross means magnanimously enduring the mocking and derision that the world pours out upon followers of Christ--those sorrows and persecutions with which the sin-loving and blind world persecutes those who follow Christ. "For this is thankworthy," says the holy Apostle Peter, "if a man for conscience toward God endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For even hereunto were ye called" (1 Peter 2:19, 21). We were called by the Lord, Who said to His beloved ones, "In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (St. John 16:33).
Taking up our cross means courageously enduring difficult unseen labor, agony, and torment for the sake of the Gospels as we war with our own passions, with the sin that lives in us, with the spirits of evil that vehemently make war against us and frantically attack us when we resolve to cast off the yoke of sin, and submit ourselves to the yoke of Christ. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood," says the Holy Apostle Paul, "but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12). (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). After gaining victory in this unseen and laborious warfare, the Apostle exclaimed, "But God forbid that I should glory, save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14).
Taking up the cross means obediently and humbly submitting ourselves to those temporary sorrows and afflictions that Divine Providence sees fit to allow against us for the cleansing away for our sins.Then the cross will serve us as ladder from earth to Heaven. The thief in the Gospels who ascended this ladder ascended from out of terrible crimes into most radiant heavenly habitations. From his cross he pronounced words filled with humility of wisdom; in humility of wisdom he entered into the knowledge of God, and through the knowledge of God, he acquired heaven. "We receive the due reward of our deeds," he said. Lord, "remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom" (St. Luke 23: 41-42). When sorrows encompass us, let us also, beloved brothers and sisters, repeat the words of the good thief--words that can purchase Paradise! Or like Job, let us bless the Lord Who punishes us, Who is just yet merciful. "Shall we receive good at the hand of God," said this sufferer, "and shall we not receive evil?" "As it hath pleased the Lord so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 2:10; 1:21). May God's promise, which is true, be fulfilled in us: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him" (St. James 1:12)...
"...What does it mean to follow Christ? It means studying the Gospels, having the Gospels as the only guide of the activity of our mind, heart, and body. It means adapting our thoughts to the Gospels, tuning the feelings of our heart to the Gospels, and serving as an expression of the Gospels by all our deeds and movements, both secret and open. As we said before, only the person who has escaped deceit through "voluntary humility" (Col. 2:18), who has desired to obtain true humility of wisdom where it abides--in obedience and submission to God--into obedience combined with complete self-denial, has taken up his own cross, and accepted and confessed this cross to be his own.
Beloved brothers and sisters! Bowing down bodily to worship the Precious Cross of the Lord today according to the rule of the Holy Church, we bow down also in spirit! We venerate the Precious Cross of Christ--our weapon of victory and banner of Christ's glory--each confessing from his own cross: "I have received the due reward of my deeds! Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!" By recognizing our sinfulness with thankfulness to God and submission to His will, we make our cross--that instrument of execution and mark of dishonor--an instrument of victory, a sign of glory, like unto the Cross of the Lord. Through the Cross, we open paradise to ourselves.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God