The Cross in Our Life

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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 HYMNS FROM THE SUNDAY OF THE VENERATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
Third Kathisma. Eighth Tone

Upon tasting the fruit of the tree in the Paradise of Old, I was stripped naked, and death was brought in by the enemy. But now the tree of the Cross has been set upon the earth. It clothes people with life and the whole world has been filled with joy. As we behold the Cross venerated, O People, let us all cry out in faith and with one voice, "His house is full of glory."

OIKOS

Giver of Life, we the faithful praise and venerate Your Cross and Your Burial. You have bound Hades, O Immortal One. As God Almighty, You raised with You the dead. You shattered the Gates of Hades, You destroyed the dominion of death. And so, we mortals, in yearning, glorify You: You, the Resurrected, Who brought down the deadly dominion of the enemy and raised all who believe in You. The world was freed from the darts of the serpent. You freed us from the delusion of the enemy, for You alone are Mighty, Reverently do we praise Your Resurrection by which You have saved us, O God of All.

FESTAL KONTAKION

Reader: The fiery sword no longer guards the gate of Eden, for the wood of the Cross has extinguished it in a most unusual manner. The sting of death and the victory of Hades have been destroyed. You came, my Savior, crying out to those in Hades, "Enter again into Paradise."

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Reader: 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 Holy Resurrection; for behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection. For in enduring the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.

FESTAL EXAPOSTILARION. Second Tone

Let us venerate the precious Cross of Christ which we have seen placed before us today, and rejoice, full of faith. Let us in hope embrace Him Who was willingly crucified upon it. Let us ask the Lord to deem us all worthy to venerate the precious Cross, and that, uncondemned, we all attain the Resurrection.

DOXASTIKON (PROPER). Eighth Tone

The Lord of all taught us by parable to avoid the proud thoughts of the evil Pharisees. He instructed us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should. He became a model and example, emptying Himself even unto the Cross and death. Let us offer thanks with the Publican and say, "O God, Who suffered for us and yet remained impassive, deliver us from our passions and save our souls."

THE LAUDS

O all venerable Cross, you are the foundation of the Church, the strength of kings, the pride and salvation of Monastics. By the Divine Grace of Him Who was nailed upon you, our hearts and minds are enlightened today, as we venerate you. And the dominion of the enemy has also been destroyed, and the curse abolished.

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THE CROSS IN OUR LIFE
By His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph [Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocdese]

Many heretics of our time don't believe in the Cross, even if they may call themselves Christians. Some pop stars and actors wear the cross, but by the witness of their lives we can assume that they don't put much value in the Cross except as an empty symbol. There is nothing new under the sun and there have always been accusations against our Church. In the second century, Christians were accused of practicing incest, of being cannibals, of being ignorant and of being bad citizens. The most dangerous accusation was that the Christian teaching was unreasonable. This idea purported that the Incarnation was nonsense; God would not lower Himself to become a tiny baby or to be crucified as a common thief.

At the peak of these accusations was that Christians worshipped a crucified animal. In the excavation of the old city of Rome, a stone was discovered which pictured a crucified person, who had the head of donkey. This picture was drawn to ridicule the Christians who worshipped someone who had been crucified.

In response to all these accusations, Christians pointed to the injustices. There were no secrets among Christians. Christians were good citizens and Christianity was a reasonable belief. The death of Christ was the Supreme Sacrifice! The Cross is not just a symbol or piece of material in our life. "For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Without the Holy Cross of Our Lord and deep understanding of our faith, we manifest the same accusations. Faith and knowledge must go together. Faith alone leads to superstition and knowledge alone is limited to facts. The process is called transformation which means transfiguring ourselves to a better understanding of faith and better life in light of the Holy Cross.

Our prominent Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (AD 115), struggled to disprove and refute two contemporaries of the Christian faith:

  1. Orthodox Judaizers, who were relapsing to the Old Testament thinking that Jesus was merely a Prophet who was above passion and crucifixion. They found the Old Testament a relaxing religion in which the Cross did not exist.
  2. The so-called Docetism, which asserted that Christ had not really come in the flesh and was not really crucified; He only appeared to be crucified.

These two heresies resisted Orthodoxy throughout the history of Christianity taking different forms. History reveals how foolish and scandalous the Cross seemed to many religions; to Jews, Judaizers, Gentiles and Muslems.

These heretics still exist in our age because many are convinced that the Prophets and the Son of God are above the punishment of crucifixion. To them, only condemned persons are affixed to the cross to await death. These tendencies were always disproved by the fact of Jesus' birth in the flesh and Jesus' death on the Cross. Jesus' death on the Cross marked the end of the Law of the Old Testament (Galatians 3:13).

Jesus was lifted up on the Cross as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness. What is this serpent which was lifted up by Moses? What is the meaning of the typology? If we go back to the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, we will see that the people became impatient in the desert and that they spoke against God. Thus, the fiery serpent was sent among the people so that many of them died. These poisonous snakes were a kind of divine judgment on the people's rebellion against God. So, Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Everyone who was bitten when they saw it would live. This could be seen as spiritual testing: persecution, difficulty, trial. This whole process is one of self-denying.

Jesus used the symbol of the healing snake as representing His Crucifixion and Resurrection which heals us from death and sin. The verb "lifted up" has a double meaning to the Cross of Jesus and to His Glorification in His Resurrection and Ascension.

From His analogy, the crowd understood that Jesus spoke about His death, but for the masses of people, Messiah and death were incompatible. When Jewish nationalism was on the rise, the expectation of a Messiah acquired political overtone. The people (Jews) expected Jesus to be a national leader, a mighty king who would deliver the Jewish people from the Roman yoke and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel. The crowds and even the disciples that gladly listened to Jesus shared in the understanding of Messiah. They continued to hold these hopes until the very end. The people wanted Jesus to be a king who would not hesitate to use the sword for the realization of their nationalistic dreams.

Jesus predicted His death and He identified Himself with the suffering servant of Christ. When He predicted His death, Jesus pointed at the same time to His Resurrection. The Resurrection reveals what was achieved on the Cross. Saint Paul said: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).

Christ's death on the Cross brought salvation (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:16) and hence, it was the basis for Christian hope. It is the sign of the Supreme Sacrifice and the Resurrection; it signifies life rather than death...

Deny yourself and carry your cross daily. To build a godly life you must understand the depth of carrying your cross daily. Read the Holy Bible but don't read the Holy Bible by itself. Communicate with the Person of Jesus! This is your life! Read the Holy Bible slowly and carefully. Read it and pray it at the same time. The experience of Church is in the Holy Bible! The life of the Church is in reading, living and praying altogether. Christ remained silent when Pilate asked Him about the accusations against Him, because He presupposed that Pilate did not understand His Theology. Silence has the greatest power to teach. It is the strongest defense. This kind of Theology needs peace and silence. The Holy Theotokos kept silent. Protect your families by keeping silent. Carry your cross of poverty, sadness, agony, anxiety, despair or sickness. Carry your cross of the vices gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, negligence or pride. We must struggle and not give up. Give a word of encouragement. The same Grace is given to all in baptism and in communion. God can heal all. These crosses lead us to crucifixion, disillusion and pain, but His Cross, the true cross, leads us to joy and salvation.

[This essay by Metropolitan Joseph originally appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of DIAKONIA, the newsletter of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America.]

(To be continued)

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PRAYER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT

Lord, Lord, Who have delivered us from every arrow that flies by day, deliver us from anything that lurks about in darkness. Accept the lifting of our hands as an evening sacrifice. Make us worthy to traverse the time of night blamelessly, untouched by evil, and redeem us from disturbance and fear caused by the devil. Grant contrition to our souls and concern to our minds about the accounting at Your awesome and just judgment. Nail down our bodies with Your fear, and deaden our earthly members, so that even in the quiet of our slumber we may be enlightened by the contemplation of Your ordinances. Keep away from us every indecent fantasy and harmful desire. Awaken us in the time of prayer rooted in the faith, and thriving in Your instructions; through the good will and goodness of Your Only-Begotten Son with Whom You are Blessed, together with Your All-Holy and Good and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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

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

+Father George