Mid-Lent: The Holy Cross

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Father Alexander Schmemann

The third Sunday of Holy and Great Lent is called "The Veneration of the Cross." At the Vigil of that day, after the Great Doxology, the Cross is brought in a solemn procession to the center of the church and remains there for the entire week--with a special rite of veneration following each service. It is noteworthy that the theme of the Cross which dominates the hymnology of that Sunday is developed in terms not of suffering but of victory and joy. More than that, the theme-songs (hirmoi) of the Sunday Canon are taken from the Paschal Service--"The Day of the Resurrection"--and the Canon is a paraphrase of the Paschal Canon.

The meaning of all this is clear. We are mid-Lent. On the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt, its burden becomes more burdensome, our fatigue more evident. We need help and encouragement. On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Pascha grow in their intensity. Lent is our self-crucifixion, our experience, limited as it is, of Christ's commandment heard in the Gospel lesson of that Sunday: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (St. Mark 8:34). But we cannot take up our cross and follow Christ unless we have His Cross which He took up in order to save us. It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others. This is explained to us in the Synaxarion of the Sunday of the Cross:

"On this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the honorable and Life-Giving Cross, and for this reason: inasmuch as in the forty days of fasting we in a way crucify ourselves...and become bitter and despondent and failing, the Life-Giving Cross is presented to us for refreshment and assurance, for remembrance of our Lord's Passion, and for comfort...We are like those following a long and cruel path, who become tired, see a beautiful tree with many leaves, sit in its shadow and rest for a while and then, as if rejuvenated, continue their journey; likewise today, in the time of fasting and difficult journey and effort, the Life-Giving Cross was planted in our midst by the holy Fathers as to give us rest and refreshment, to make us light and courageous for the remaining task...Or, to give another example: when a king is coming, at first his banner and symbols appear, then he himself comes glad and rejoicing about his victory and filling with joy those under him; likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is about to show us His Victory over death, and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending to us in advance His scepter, the royal symbol--the Life-Giving Cross--and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet, inasmuch as it is possible for us, the King Himself, and to render glory to His Victory...All this is in the midst of Lent which is like a bitter source because of its tears, because also of its efforts and despondency...but Christ comforts us who are as it were in a desert until He shall lead us up to the spiritual Jerusalem, by His Resurrection...for the Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is the tree that was planted in Paradise, and for this reason our father have planted it in the midst of Holy Lent, remembering both Adam's bliss and how he was deprived of it, remembering also that partaking of this Tree we no longer die but are kept alive..."

Thus, refreshed and reassured, we begin the second part of Lent. One more week and, on the Fourth Sunday, we hear the announcement: "The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill Him, and when He is killed, after three days He will rise again" (St. Mark 9:31). The emphasis shifts now from us, from our repentance and effort, to the events which took place "for the sake of our salvation."

"O Lord, Who made us anticipate today the Holy Week foreshining brightly by the resurrection of Lazarus, Help us to achieve the journey of the fast.

Having reached the second half of fasting, Let us make manifest the beginning of life divine; And when we reach the end of our effort, May we receive the never-fading bliss."



Saint Gregory the Theologian argued that a "price" or "ransom" was not "paid" to the Father or to Satan, as if either would demand, need or expect such a price as the "precious and glorious blood of God." Saint Gregory says, rather, the following: "Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or had any need for it but by His dispensation? It was necessary that man should be sanctified by the humanity of God; it was necessary that He Himself should free us, triumphing over the tyrant by His own strength, and that He should recall us to Himself by His Son Who is the Mediator, Who does all of the honor of the Father, to Whom He is obedient in all things...Let the rest of the mystery be venerated silently" (Oration 45,22).


"All of the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church of Christ are intimately tied to the Cross...In Holy Baptism, everything is done under the sign of the Cross. In Chrismation; the same. Repentance is a "second Baptism," a "Baptism of tears." Holy Unction or Holy Oil is an augmented Baptism of tears of repentance. Holy Matrimony is a Baptism into life together as husband and wife. Ordination (Priesthood) is Baptism into service to the Church. Without the Cross, the Holy Eucharist would be utterly unimaginable. Reflecting on the Mystery of the Cross as Eucharist [i.e., Thanksgiving], Saint John Cassian the Roman, asserts that this Mystery (Sacrament) will be performed eternally by Christ the High Priest in the Kingdom of Heaven, for Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross can never be forgotten even unto ages of ages.

To a true Christian, the Cross of Christ cannot but evoke a reciprocal, grateful, compassionate, and sacrificial love for the Lord, together with yearning to be crucified with Christ. After all, the Cross wordlessly prays about that very thing. In bearing a Cross upon one's breast, or signing oneself with the sign of the Cross, or crossing one's arms over one's breast, we Orthodox Christians testify that we are ready to carry the Cross without complaint, to carry it humbly, voluntarily, and joyfully, for we love Christ and want to share in His suffering, for His sake. The Cross of Christ not only calls us to voluntary suffer, but also shows us the example of undeserved travails crowned with the higher honor, the Crown of Thorns upon His Holy Head. And the whole 'Karamazov" question...how can the suffering of innocent children be justified...is resolved so clearly and profoundly simply by just looking upon the Savior, the Innocent One, nailed to the Cross. However, the Cross is not simply a symbol of suffering. It is also a symbol of victory, and of the triumph of love and truth. It is also a symbol of the eternal joy that follows temporary suffering, a joy that nothing can ever take from us. The Cross truthfully promises us that every little tear will be wiped away, that all sorrow for Christ's sake, will turn to joy, that the droplets of tears, blood, and sweat a Christian sheds before his death will become diamonds, rubies and pearls of inexpressible beauty to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Cross calls us to spiritual struggle, and promises us help, victory, triumph, and the Glory of the Resurrection.

When a Christian dies, others, his relatives cross his arms over his chest, and form his fingers into the sign of the Cross. At the grave, the final Cross is erected. The Dread Judgment will begin with the appearance of the Cross of Christ. (Source: Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist)

(To be continued)



Lord and Master of my life, cast away from me the spirit of laziness, idle curiosity, love of power and vain talk.

But grant me, Your servant, the spirit of moderation, humility, patience and love.

Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters.

For You are Blessed forever. Amen


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
the sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George