Holy Apostles Orthodox Church - Vancouver, WA, 2009
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross. Perhaps we say these words quickly to ourselves, as we do at times perhaps when we read the Holy Gospels, overlooking the importance of every single word. For within our tradition and in accordance with the Holy Gospels, not one word is wasted. There are no idle words with Christ. We hear these words in the hymnography of the Church and we repeat them to ourselves: “Life-Giving Cross.” These particular words are chosen because our very life depends on bearing our cross and our very life depends on the life lived by Jesus Christ and His dying on the Cross which gives us life. We cannot have life without the cross and I wish for us to reflect on this today.
We are so easily comfortable. Things go well in our life and we are pleased. We find comfort in having no discomfort. But then God allows us to experience loss or uncertainty and then we are worried – relying on our own thoughts, our own reasoning and not trusting in God's providence for our lives. Perhaps our parents are not leading Godly lives and we feel despondent. Perhaps our children are choosing paths not in accordance with the Holy Saints. Perhaps our own passions bring us grief. As the Apostle says, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” We are in constant warfare and struggle. This is our life. If we have abandoned this struggle, we are in trouble. God, who is Spirit, is absolute virtue and goodness. Yet, we have, through sin, made it good for nothing. And, as St. Gregory Palamas says, “how could anyone at all be spiritually renewed and reconciled with God, unless sin and the life according to the flesh has been abolished? The Cross of Christ is this abolition of sin.”
This is our joy today because by the Cross we are spiritually renewed! Yes, spiritually renewed! Isn't it ironic and foolish sounding that we are renewed by the Cross – something so painful. Yet, truly we are renewed by the Cross for it is saving power to us. Yet, our cross and the Cross of Christ, is paradoxically, our painful grief while we live on this earth. We grieve because of our sins, because of our passions, because of pain and disappointment in our life, but we have joy today because the Cross of Christ has given us a way out. We don't have to remain in despair. We have only to call upon Christ and emulate His “LIFE-GIVING CROSS” and we will be certain to find life, to find goodness, to find joy, even in the midst of pain and suffering, for Christ has said that His Cross is the abolition of sin. It doesn't mean that our pain and suffering will disappear, but it does mean that Christ's Cross is able to transform it into something that is fruitful, something that will give us a taste of His Grace.
And on this day we should reflect upon our own passions. It is only when we are working on uprooting our passions, confronting our thoughts, and cleansing our “inner man” that we are able to approach the mysteries of the Cross. When we begin to search for the divine treasure, which is within our own selves hidden and we consider the Kingdom of God within us, we are able more to see this vision of the Cross and what it truly means. Through prayer, a certain warmth is born in our heart which chases away evil thoughts like flies, instills spiritual peace and consolation in our soul, and bestows sanctification on our body.
And what do the Holy Fathers tell us today on how we attain to the heights of the Cross? Put your hope in Christ. Keep your hope away from unjust gains and do not be attached even to honest income. Put your income to good use and let the poor share in it as much as possible. Try to acquire humblemindedness and call upon God with a contrite heart to help against this passion. Are you troubled by the thought of love glory? Do not try to appear superior to others when you speak. Practice your virtues in secret, only looking to God to be seen by Him. By practicing all these things, we respect the cross of Christ and we participate in its mystery.
Brothers and Sisters, we have to keep on struggling. We have to think rightly. We have to continually remind ourselves that we live in this world but are not of this world. The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those who are being saved it is eternal life. We work in this world. We are continually around people who subscribe to worldly philosophies. If we do not check ourselves often, we will find that we have fallen prey to thinking not according to the Gospel, not according the Cross of Christ, but according to something else. We need prayer, we need confession, we need influence from the things of Christ so that we have strength to counterbalance all that we receive in the world.
Today let us not overlook the great treasure we have been given in the Cross of Christ. It is a great treasure. I encourage you not to go home and just forget about the Liturgy today and what it is we are celebrating. Our Church gives us a fast day so that we are humbled by the message of the Cross. Let us use this day as a sober reminder of our life as Orthodox Christians and that we are followers of His Cross until we leave this earth. May we have the grace and strength to be in this knowledge until we take our last breath.
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