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.
THIRD SUNDAY OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT: VENERATION OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS
"Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the Light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee. With love inspired by God, we embrace thee, O desire of all the world. Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away; we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy. Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us they servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy."
"Hail! Life-Giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of Angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection." (Great Vespers on Saturday Evening)
Four times a year we celebrate and venerate the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Holy Orthodox Church refers to the Third Sunday of Holy and Great Lent as the Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.
The Holy Church gives us the Cross at this point, the halfway point, of the Fast to inspire us. The Cross is given to show us the direction in which we are headed; that we are headed to the Crucifixion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Holy Resurrection. On Holy and Great Thursday the Synaxarion is read: "On Great Friday is celebrated the holy saving, and awful Passion of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. For us He willingly endured the spittings, the scourgings, the buffetings, the scorn, the mocking, and the purple robe; the reed, the sponge, the vinegar, the nails, the spear, and, above all, the Cross and death." After the Fifth Gospel we chant the following hymn: "Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who suspended the land in the midst of the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, Who is the King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery, Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings, Who freed Adam in the Jordan. He was transfixed with nails, Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us Thy glorious Resurrection."
On August 1st the Procession of the Precious Cross. This feast was established jointly by the Greeks and Russians in the time of the Great Emperor Manuel and the Russian Prince Andrei, as a memorial of the simultaneous victories of the Russians over the Bulgars and the Greeks over the Saracens. In both battles, the soldiers carried crosses, from which a heavenly radiance shone forth, with the army. It was therefore instituted that, on August 1st the Cross be carried from the Church of Agia Sophia, first around the interior of the church and then through the streets, to give the people the chance to venerate it, as a memorial of the miraculous help given by the Cross in earlier wars. This was not just any cross, but the True Precious Cross itself, which was kept in the church of the imperial court.
The feast of the Exaltation on September 14th recalls more especially the finding of the True Cross by Saint Constantine's mother, Saint Helen. As the news of the discovery spread through the Holy City of Jerusalem, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Saint Makarios, carried it up into a pulpit: and when the people saw it lifted on high, they all began to cry out, again and again, Kyrie eleison, 'Lord, have mercy'--an event recalled in the divine service of the day, with the frequent repetition of Kyries at the ceremony of the Exaltation.
On the Third Sunday of Holy and Great Lent, the Veneration of the Holy Cross, we are reminded that the whole of Holy and Great Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ.
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 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 the Lord experienced during His Passion--being humiliated in a shameful manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfillment of our hopes: 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 Lenten 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 Feast of the Holy Cross precede the coming of Our King of kings, Jesus Christ. It warns us that He is about to proclaim His victory over death and appear to us 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 King, Who shall manifestly triumph over the powers of darkness.
The present feast has been placed in the middle of Holy and Great 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 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 Divine hand to the spiritual Jerusalem on high by the power of His 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 Cross, we shall never encounter death but shall inherit life eternal.
In Sunday's Gospel, we hear Our Lord say: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." This verse from the Gospel starts with a decision that each of us must make with the words, "Whosoever will come after Me." This decision is an action of our free will. Saint John Chrysostom illustrates the words of the Lord with the following: "I do not force, I do not compel, but each one I make lord of his own choice."
Saint John Chrysostom states also that this must be a choice for good things, otherwise the Lord would compel us to make this choice. Saint John goes on to say that this choice does not eliminate hardship from our lives with the following: "To hinder you from having any trial at all those hardships, yet such is not for My will for your sake, that you may yourself contribute something, and be more approved." In other words, the hardships that we endure in this life as followers of Christ are the work that we must perform of our own free will for the building up of the Gospel and the Church in order to receive the blessings of God.
God's love, God's power can change each of us, sanctify each of us, give each of us new life, the eternal life as it happened with thousands and thousands, millions of people before us. The Cross of Christ tells us about amazing God's love, that God became man, died on the Cross because of love for us, so that through His death we would be saved from evil and the despair of sin and death. The Cross has been given to us now as a hope, as confidence that we are beloved to God, that all we consider impossible is possible with God.
Let us all pray that each and every one of us will be willing to pick up and embrace the way of the cross, that we may follow the ways of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which are foolishness to this world, but which will sweeten our life in immeasurable ways. Amen. (Sources: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, The Saint Gregory Palamas Outreach, The Prologue from Ochrid)
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.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God