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Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ's life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior's tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. ...
Forty-two-year-old David Saunders waited on the driveway of his Hanover,
Michigan, home for his 4-year-old daughter, Danielle, to get off her school bus.
A pickup truck was stopped behind the bus. Saunders crossed the street to meet
Danielle at the bus and then the two crossed the street together and stood in
the Saunders' driveway. Suddenly he noticed that a car behind the bus was
traveling too fast to stop safely before entering the crossing zone. The car
swerved to avoid the pickup and went into the Saunders' driveway. Heading
directly for them both, Saunders grabbed Danielle by the arm and flung her away
from himself and into their front yard.
He was then struck by the car. Saunders was pronounced dead at the scene. Danielle was treated for minor injuries at a nearby hospital and soon released. The 16-year-old driver and a 15-year-old passenger were not injured. Sheriff Captain Tony Philipps said, "It was a heroic act by a father to save his child. He did everything he could, and in the process, he lost his own life."
This story reminds me of another famous father "who loved his children (the world) so much that He sent His only Begotten Son to the world" so that he can redeem his children tainted by sin and spiritually dead by paying the ultimate price: crucifixion and death in Calgary. We remember the passion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. It had been a while since Pentecost. The church is looking forward to the busy advent time and the birth of the savior. September 14th is a day for us to remember the passion and the cross one more time. Church liturgy changes that day. The morning worship will switch from Kymtha to Sleeba. We will follow the sleebo namaskaram till the Easter. In a few weeks, the church's calendar will also change with the Koodosh Etho on November 4.
Since Sleebo Festival (or the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross or Triumph of the Cross) mostly fall on week days, most of the people (especially in Americas) do not even know about this important feast of our church. The feast is believed to have originated in the fourth century, when on September 14, 326 A.D, Saint Helen, mother of Constantine, discovered the cross during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The cross is the most prominent symbol of the Christian faith. It is a symbol of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered much just to free us from the bondage of sins. Jesus ones said, "If anyone wants to be my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Taking up one's cross does not mean to carry it literally. In Jesus' day, if you saw someone walking through the city carrying a cross, it meant one thing: that person was going to die. The word "deny" means to say no to. It means to put God's will and desires above our own. Jesus wanted us to follow his way of life, to deny everything for the sake of the Kingdom and to drink the cup that he was about to drink, that is total self-denial and sacrifices, "a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion."
Prayer (An orthodox Evening Prayer):
"Rejoice, most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, for Thou drivest away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified on thee, Who went down to hell and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us thee, His venerable Cross, for driving away all enemies. O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help us with our holy Lady, the Virgin Mother of God, and with all the Saints throughout the ages. Amen."
Dr. Jacob Mathew
Sleebo Feast/Festival (September 14)
Sleebo/ the Feast of Holy Cross (September 14)
Before Holy Qurbana
|Exaltation of the Holy Cross - September 14|
Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ's life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior's tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb.
During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.
The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus' head: Then "all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on."
To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica's dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.
The cross is today the universal image of Christian belief. Countless generations of artists have turned it into a thing of beauty to be carried in procession or worn as jewelry. To the eyes of the first Christians, it had no beauty. It stood outside too many city walls, decorated only with decaying corpses, as a threat to anyone who defied Rome's authority – including Christians who refused sacrifice to Roman gods.
Although believers spoke of the cross as the instrument of salvation, it seldom appeared in Christian art unless disguised as an anchor or the Chi-Rho until after Constantine's edict of toleration.
"How splendid the cross of Christ! It brings life, not death; light, not darkness; Paradise, not its loss. It is the wood on which the Lord, like a great warrior, was wounded in hands and feet and side, but healed thereby our wounds. A tree has destroyed us, a tree now brought us life." (Theodore of Studios)
by Fr. Altier
Scripture: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:6
Isaiah 52:13-53:6 is part of what is known as the fourth of the Suffering Servant Songs. Here, we hear with remarkable precision, the prophet telling us what was going to happen to the Messiah, that He was going to suffer. And it was not just a little bit of suffering that He was going to endure. Again, when we listen to those words:
This is suffering that is beyond what the human mind can even begin to grasp.
When we think of the suffering of Christ, we oftentimes have the ability to keep it at an arm's distance, to make it very antiseptic as though it really does not have much bearing on us. We look at beautiful crucifixes with a nice brass corpus on them, and it looks more like a piece of art than a man who is dying on a cross. They are very beautiful to look at, but they do not exactly give us much of an idea of the suffering that He endured.
But when we stop to think about the fact that "His appearance was beyond that of the sons of men, and so marred was His look beyond human appearance," that begins to tell us much more of what Our Lord endured. It is critical that we have a concept of this. We do not want to get to the point where we are beating ourselves up about it or getting scrupulous about these things, but we need to have a proper understanding because the only way we are ever going to understand the love of God for us is when we understand the suffering of Jesus Christ.
The saints tell us that the measure of love is the measure of suffering that you are willing to endure for the one you love. It is also critically important that we understand Our Lord's suffering because the second paragraph of the reading that we just heard starts this way:
In other words, when we think about what Our Lord endured, as God so often does in the spiritual life, things are often backwards of what they would appear to be. So we can look at Jesus and we can hear about His appearance being marred beyond that of human form, we can hear about Him taking on our sufferings and all of these horrible things that He endured for us, but then comes the twist: It is our infirmities that He bore.
When we look at Him flogged, crowned, crucified, beaten, and all of the horrible things that happened to Our Lord, we realize that what He did was to hold up a mirror to ourselves to show to us that, as He took on all of the suffering for our sins, this is what we have done to ourselves. We need to consider this very seriously because on the day that we were baptized, God gave to us a dignity that no other creature has: the dignity to become His own sons and daughters, the dignity of sharing the divine nature, the dignity of sharing the divine life.
God made us in His own image, and remade us in Baptism in His own
likeness. And what we have done with our sins is to make our soul in such a way
that it marred us beyond recognition of who we really are, that no one looking
at us in our sin would ever be able to say, "You are a son (or a daughter) of
God. You are a member of Jesus Christ. You share the divine life. I can see it
in you." No one would be able to say that to us because sin had destroyed that
And so when we think about the suffering that Jesus endured in His human body, we need to stop to think about what we have done to our immortal souls, and to the divine life which God placed within our souls. It is we who have destroyed that image. He took on that image so that we could be restored. That is why this is so critically important for us. It is not something which is meaningless. It is not something which is a nice thing that somebody did 2,000 years ago for us. It is the single most important event in human history, and it is the single most important thing in each and every one of our lives, individually.
If Jesus Christ had not demonstrated His love for us by enduring all of the indignities that we heaped upon Him, we would not be able to have our sins removed, we would not have the divinity restored to us, we would still be in that state where our souls would be marred beyond recognition. And so the love of God for us is seen and understood only when we understand how horrible our sins are.
When we consider what Jesus really looked like on the Cross, think about a man flogged 39 times, but not with just one lash apiece. The Roman flagellum had anywhere between three and eight lashes on it. At the end of each of those strands of leather would be tied a piece of broken glass or a piece of steel or something that would cut into the flesh and added some weight. And so with each of those 39 times that the soldiers flogged Our Lord, between three and eight stripes went across Him, and between three and eight weights dug into His flesh.
The crown of thorns pierced the skin of His head and pressed into His skull with unimaginable pain. They pushed it upon His head, and then they took a reed and they beat Him. When He spoke before the high priest, the soldiers struck Him across the face. As He carried the Cross, it dug into His flesh upon His shoulder. And each time that He fell down, His knees would have been scummed; and perhaps, by the weight of the Cross, even His face would have been pushed into the pavement. The thorns in His forehead would have pushed once again into His skull.
It is only when we stop to think in these kinds of details that the nice brass-looking crucifixes that we like to hang up in our bedrooms suddenly do not look quite so pretty; but rather, the reality of what Jesus Christ endured for our sins begins to take shape. We need to meditate upon the Passion of Jesus Christ because it is only in meditating upon His Passion that we will come to understand how much He loves us. And only by meditating upon His Passion will we come to understand the price of our sins and what it is that we have done to ourselves when we see His image as a mirror of what our souls looked like before the sins were forgiven. Not a nice, gold, shiny, brass image that we have hanging on our bedroom wall, but a real human being with His flesh torn in tatters - bloody, dirty, pierced, and finally crucified.
We must make this real for ourselves. For all too long, most of us have been able to keep the Passion of Our Lord as just an annual remembrance at an arm's distance. It cannot be so because the Lord is going to look at each one of us now and say to us, "Now that I have proven to you how much I love you, how much do you love Me?" Remember that the measure of love is demonstrated by the measure of suffering. So the question really comes down to how much we are willing to suffer for Jesus Christ. If we do not recognize what He has done for our souls, if we take the forgiveness of sin for granted and it is just something that is no big deal to us, then we are going to say, "I am not willing to suffer. It was nice of Him to do that for me, but He really didn't have to." Only when we begin to see what He has done for us do we really begin to understand, not only the necessity of what He did for us, but what our response to Him, then, must be in return. What are we willing to give in return for what has been given to us?
Jesus did not count the cost, nor did He say to us, "Because I've done this for you, now I expect something in return." He does not do that. Love never counts the cost and love only seeks the good of the other. Therefore, if we are going to claim that we love Him, then we need to seek what is best for Him - without counting the cost and without looking for anything in return. In other words, we need to do for Him what He has done for us. What He wants, more than anything, is souls - starting with your own and then going out from there: your spouse, your children, your family, your friends, your neighbors, the pagans who have never heard of Him, the atheists who have rejected Him, the people who have apostatized from the Church, who profess their hatred for Him. He loves them. He suffered for them and He died for them and He wants their souls.
Saint Paul says, in his Letter to the Colossians 1:24, "I make up in my body for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church." Jesus has left for each one of us a small share in His suffering. He has given to us the dignity, not only to be able to share His nature and His life, but to share in His Passion if we are willing to do it. He extends to each one of us the Cross, and asks us if we are willing to mount the Cross with Him, to be crucified with Him, to be rejected with Him. He does not require it; He invites it. And if we love Him, we will accept His invitation because where else would we want to be than where our Beloved is? He is on the Cross for us, and if we love Him, we want to be united with Him, meaning that we need to share the same nails that will hold us firmly to Him.
How much do we love Him? Are we able to look beyond all the wounds - and how badly He was marred, beyond human semblance – to be able to see that He is God, and that God loves us so much that He took on our humanity so that we could love Him and take on His divinity? Are we willing to do for Him what He has done for us? To offer our sufferings to Him for the conversion of sinners, for the salvation of souls? Are we willing to carry our cross or do we whine and complain and moan every time some difficulty comes into our lives? Do we turn, after a small bit of suffering, and look up and say, "What did I ever do to You? Why are You doing this to me? Why are You allowing all of these bad things to happen to me?" as though we are innocent, and as though we do not really know the answer to the questions that we have just asked.
We need to humble ourselves. We need to look at the Cross, not the nice, fancy brass ones, but the ones that really portray the truth of what happened to Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago, Pontius Pilate, sitting on the Stone Pavement and speaking for all of humanity, passed a judgment on God; as did the high priests of the Jewish people when they said, "He deserves to die." We looked at God and we decided that He needed to die. We stood in judgment of Almighty God and put Him to death. Now He stands in judgment of us and He offers us life. But there is only one means to life and that is through the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Are we willing to unite ourselves with Him there? Do we love Him enough to offer back to Him what He has offered to us – a willingness to suffer in order to save souls and bring ourselves and as many as we can to eternity with Him?
by Michael Barber
The image of the cross is quite familiar to us. It is part and parcel of Christian iconography. Perhaps, it is too familiar.
Put frankly, the cross has in many ways been sanitized. To some extent, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" (2004) helped bring attention to the actual violence associated with this form of ancient execution. Indeed, the attempt to re-dramatize the violence caused deep controversy.
Some have even claimed that the film exaggerated the violence of Jesus' death. For example, some complained that the scene of the scourging, a vicious punishment carried out prior to crucifixion, was unrealistic.
Such complaints reveal just how "safe" Christian art has made Jesus' suffering. As New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre explains, a quick look at ancient sources reveals Gibson actually showed some restraint.
Ancient Accounts of Crucifixion
The reality is, crucifixion was ghastly. Here I can only offer a brief treatment of the evidence.
Josephus describes crucifixion as "the most wretched of deaths" (B.J. 7.203). The first century writer Origen calls it the "utterly vile death" (Commentary on Matthew 27:22). Cicero was horrified that any Roman citizen should crucified - in fact, he wrote that even the mention of the cross was too offensive to be mentioned:
But the executioner, the veiling of the head and the very word 'cross' should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but liability to them, the expectation, indeed the very mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man. (Pro Rabirio 16)
Seneca pointed to crucifixion to make the case for suicide. He made the case that no one would fault a person facing such a death for choosing to take their own life in order to avoid having to endure such a death.
Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross." (Seneca, Epistle 101 to Lucilius).
The Cross: An Instrument of Terror
Crucifixion was a way of terrorizing the population. It was meant as a deterrent. Oppose the might of Rome and this is what you've got coming.
Thus, crucifixion was employed against Rome's political enemies. It was meant to shame them. Joel Marcus describes crucifixion as "parodic exaltation" - i.e., it parodied the supposed exalted status claimed by Rome's enemies.
Moreover, mass crucifixions were not unheard of. In 71 BC, six thousand followers of Spartacus were crucified on the Appian as part of a Roman victory celebration al ong in 71 BCE – appear in the literature (Appian, Bella Civilia 1.120). After two-thousand survived the siege of Tyre, Alexander had them crucified next to the Mediterranean Sea (Curtius Rufus, Hist. Alex. 4.4.17).
In particular, crucifixion was the punishment of the despised - runaway slaves and criminals. The cross was so closely associated with criminals, Plutarch writes, "each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back" (Plutarch, Mor. 554).
Specifically, then, crucifixion was often used to punish rebels. It is no wonder that Jesus is linked with Barabbas--a revolutionary (cf. Mark 15:7). Indeed, Jesus' crucifixion coheres well with the Gospel accounts describing him as a "Messianic" figure. It is no coincidence Jesus was executed as "King of the Jews" by crucifixion. Such was the fate of those who appeared to challenge Caesar's political authority.
Cursed Be One Who Hangs Upon A Tree
In the Judaism of Jesus' day, crucifixion was associated with curse. Deuteronomy 21:22–23 states that anyone executed by being "hung on a tree" is cursed. This was applied to crucifixion in the Dead Sea Scrolls and by Philo.
Not surprisingly, Paul had difficulty preaching the 'Crucified One': "we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23).
In the Gospels, Jesus' crucifixion is ironic. While crucifixion is meant as a kind of mock exaltation, the reader of the Gospel knows the truth - Jesus is the true King. In fact, it is precisely Jesus' willingness to undergo this humiliation which triggers his exaltation. He exemplifies the righteous one whom God will reward for not refusing to lay down his life:
"24 If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. (Matt 16:24–27)
Why Did Jesus Die This Way?
In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas surveys the New Testament and gives the following five reasons for why the Crucifixion of Jesus was the most suitable way for our redemption (III. Q.46, Art. 3). They are worth pondering:
1. Man knows thereby how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation; hence the Apostle says (Romans 5:8): "God commendeth His charity towards us; for when as yet we were sinners . . . Christ died for us."
2. Because thereby He set us an example of obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and the other virtues displayed in the Passion, which are requisite for man's salvation. Hence it is written (1 Peter 2:21): "Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps."
3. Because Christ by His Passion not only delivered man from sin, but also merited justifying grace for him and the glory of bliss.
4. Because by this man is all the more bound to refrain from sin, according to 1 Corinthians 6:20: "You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body."
5. Because it redounded to man's greater dignity, that as man was overcome and deceived by the devil, so also it should be a man that should overthrow the devil; and as man deserved death, so a man by dying should vanquish death. Hence it is written (1 Corinthians 15:57): "Thanks be to God who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." It was accordingly more fitting that we should be delivered by Christ's Passion than simply by God's good-will.
Thomas cites Augustine: "There was no other more suitable way of healing our misery" than by the Passion of Christ" (De Trin. xiii).
by Fr. Daren J. Zehnle
On this most solemn of days, dear brothers and sisters, we have come to rejoice in a piece of wood; we exult in that wood on which hung the Savior of the world.
It is right that "we should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through him we are saved and made free."
For the ancient peoples the cross was the ultimate sign of terror and dread and in this very sign that the world sees as the greatest humiliation and degradation we see the sign of victory that has saved us! We come today to venerate and praise that instrument of our salvation, the cross of Christ.
What is the cross if not the scale that weighed the price of our salvation? The sins of us all were weighed against the life of Christ. Our life came at a very great price, indeed! This cross, the greatest scale of all, fully satisfied the bond of our damnation and released us from our ancient debt incurred through sin.
The cross is, as it were, that great lever that lifted the world and restored it to harmony with the Creator. Under the standard of the cross we find protection from evil, though it does yet realize that Christ has won the victory once for all! While we sat in darkness, the cross transformed us into children of light (cf. Matthew 4:16 and Ephesians 5:8); while we were enemies, it made us members of the household of God; and when we were slaves the cross made us children of God the Father.
It was through wood – through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – that the prince of pride subjected us to the slavery of sin (cf. Genesis 3:1-24), and it was through wood – the wood of the cross – that the Author of Humility received as his children and as his heirs of grace. Through wood, the Devil subjected us to exile, and through wood the Most High King declared us heirs to his kingdom. Through wood we were reduced to feeding swine and wanting slop, and through wood we were received into our Father's embrace (cf. Luke 15:12-32).
In short, it was through a piece of wood that we lost friendship with the Lord – the tree of knowledge through which the serpent deceived our first parents, deceiving them into thinking that they, too, in their pride, could be like God.
It was a piece of wood that put us in opposition with our Creator and so it is fitting that another piece of wood should bring us salvation. It was on a piece of wood that Moses lifted up the serpent of bronze when the Lord commanded the people to look upon it and be healed (cf. Numbers 21:4-9). In doing so, Moses gave us a sign to remember when the one true cross would come; it is a sign that the Lord has promised never to abandon us to ourselves.
You must remember, dear brothers and sisters, that on the Day of Judgment each of us must stand before the Lord to give an account of our lives. The holy cross will be carried solemnly in the arms of angels and placed before all of humanity. It will not be adorned with jewels or gold, for what could be more honorable, more precious, than the Blood of the Lamb? God himself will make this cross, this wood, shine more brightly than all of the stars of heaven.
The cross will be the new scales of justice on which we will be weighed and be found either lacking or accepted. The measure against which we will be weighed is none other than the measure of Christ's own cross: how much have you loved (cf. John 13:34)?
You can be sure of this, that those who lovingly embraced the cross throughout their lives will receive their glory. You can be sure of this, as well, that those who refused to take up the cross will know only disgrace.
The cross is a footpath to those of us just beginning on the journey of faith, a highway for those of us fighting the good fight, and a secure resting place for those who have been good and faithful servants.
For the cross of Christ is the way. "Whoever wishes to come after must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me," says the Lord. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:34-35).
To the world the cross looks like hardship and pain, but to those of us who believe, it is a fortress against the night and an oasis against the heat. The cross bears momentary death only to reward us with eternal life. It robs us of earthly things only to compensate us with things from heaven itself. It instructs us in humility in order that we too might be exalted like the Lord our Savior.
All of the world's wisdom has stood in opposition to the cross, and yet here we are. All of the world's wisdom sees the cross as a sign of defeat and failure, and yet here are. All of the world's wisdom tells us that the cross is not the way, that we must be strong and independent, and yet here we are, bending down, as it were, to kiss the holy cross.
Do not think, my brothers and sisters, that the world can be right. If you believe that acceptance of the cross or the practice of humility is a sign of weakness and failure, then you do not know the truth. For only cowards rely on brute strength, and only weaklings prey on the vulnerable. The cross is the very fulcrum which has turned the world upside down – where once there was evil sitting on the throne, now there is love.
That is what we come here to remember. For we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a scandal and to Gentiles foolishness but God's foolishness is wiser than any human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than any human strength and so, for us who believe, Jews and Gentiles alike, the cross of Christ is nothing less than the power, the wisdom and the glory of God.
O blessed cross, O holy cross, more valuable are you than all the gold of the world, more brilliant are you than any jewels of the earth, for it is through you that we have indeed been saved. May we be found worthy to carry you with our Savior, and be raised with him to heavenly glory. Amen!
Acknowledgement: Adapted from the homily of St. Peter Damian on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and of a homily of the Rev. Michael Fuller, adapted from the same homily of St. Peter Damian. Both in C. Colt Anderson, Christian Eloquence: Contemporary Doctrinal Preaching (Chicago, Illinois: Hillenbrand Books, 2005), 108-125 and 226-228.
 Entrance antiphon of the day.
Please visit Malankara World Special
Supplement on Sleebo Feast to learn more about the history, traditions,
spiritual background, articles, sermons, and homilies on Sleebo Feast. You can
find it here:
Take a look at the following articles in particular that expands on what we have covered in this special edition of Malankara World Journal:
The Power of The Cross by
Conversations on Calvary: The Unrepentant Man on the Cross by Marvin A. McMickle
Feast of the
elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, Axion Estin Holy Monastery
Three crosses Pilate fixed on Golgotha,
Two for the thieves and one for the Giver of life,
Whom Hades saw and said to those below:
"My ministers and powers, Who has fixed a nail in my heart? A wooden lance has suddenly pierced me and I am being torn apart.
My insides are in pain, my belly in agony. My senses make my spirit tremble,
And I am compelled to disgorge Adam and Adam's race,
Given me by a tree, a tree is bringing them back Again to Paradise".
St Theodore the Studite
By Rick Brand
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
"For Jews demand a sign and Greeks demand wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks." The proclamation of the God who came and died on the cross is a problem for us. The cross is a stumbling block still.
The March 4, 1991, issue of the Presbyterian Outlook has a report that Occidental College, a 103-year-old Presbyterian-related college in California, removed the two crosses from the outside of its campus chapel. The crosses on the chapel were removed because the faculty members were afraid they gave false signals to the community as to the nature of their commitment to Christianity. In a sense, the crosses on the chapel were considered a stumbling block to the kind of liberal, pluralistic, educational community Occidental College wanted to be known as. The crosses were bad for their public image.
The cross, the crucified Christ, is a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to the Greeks, and a pain for the relativistic, liberal, open-option-keeping twentieth-century person. The proclamation of the crucified Christ commits us to a very personal, a very definite understanding of the mystery and love of God.
There is a very, very old story told about a young student who came into the office of that grand old preacher of the Second World War, Harry Emerson Fosdick. The young student was agitated, worked up; he had prepared himself for this visit. He had come to Fosdick's office to announce a major decision in his life. After the pleasantries, the young man said, "Dr. Fosdick, I don't believe in God." Fosdick accepted the statement, then said, "Why don't you tell me about the God you don't believe in. Maybe I don't believe in Him either."
There are lots of different understandings, different pictures, different versions of who and what is God, and the crucified Christ commits us to one very clear understanding of God.
Some do not want to suggest to the world they have accepted the Christian understanding of a God who will die to be with His children. For there are still lots of different versions of God competing with each other in the world.
It was fascinating to me to see the results of the Grammy, the music awards, this year. For those who suggest the contemporary music is full of evil, I would point out that the only evil in contemporary music is that -- like our culture -- it reflects the variety of images of God.
The song that received the award for best written song, "From a Distance," suggests that God is high and lifted up, God is transcendent creator, God has made this wonderful world, and now watches us from a distance. God is exalted and apart from us "watching." There is God the Observer.
On the same night and at the same time, the song that won the award for the record of the year, "Another Day in Paradise," tells about a beggar in the street asking "can you help me, isn't there some place you can send me," and the man walks by "embarrassed to be there." Phil Collins' refrain is: "Think twice, another day and you'll be in paradise" suggesting you will be judged by how you treated the poor, the needy, the hungry. A musical version of Jesus separating the sheep and the goats by how they treated the poor. God as Judge of how we treat each other.
There are many other suggestions of Who God is and how God works. Yet the Christian faith preaches the crucified Christ, the God who comes to earth to show His love for creation by being willing to share and to take upon Himself our pain and our suffering.
We are always tempted to believe that God is supposed to make sense to us according to our definition of the term of logic. We fought a war against a nation and a leader whom we call crazy because he does not fit our notions of sanity. We cannot understand how he could ruin the Persian Gulf by turning loose an oil spill when our environment is so fragile and so critical. We cannot understand how he could kill his own people and gas his own citizens. He just does not fit into our mind set and so we call him mentally unstable or crazy.
We attempt to measure God by the same kind of standards. The Greeks seek wisdom. They want a God who makes sense. God as the pinnacle of their philosophical system of explanation. God as the explanation of all mysteries. And the proclamation of a God who suffers and dies just doesn't fit into that system.
Even during the middle ages, when philosophy was coming up with the five proofs for the existence of God, the crucified Christ was a problem. There is the definition that God is the best thing you can imagine. God is perfection. You can imagine God as wonderful but suffering, yet that is not the best because you can also imagine a God with all the good stuff and not the suffering. So if God is the best you can imagine, a God who comes to earth to suffer and die for those He loves does not fit in with the philosophical argument of God as the best you can imagine. We can imagine a God who does not have to suffer.
The disciples of Jesus see the man blind from birth and ask the question for all of us, "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" We want God to make sense of life for us. We want God to be understandable from our perspective; that demand for logic, for reason, is always heard in the midst of bur suffering.
"O God, why did this have to happen to me? What did I do to deserve this pain? Why did my son have to die in the Gulf when so few people died? I never smoked, I watched my weight, I exercised -- why did this heart attack hit? The Greeks seek wisdom. We seek wisdom, explanation, a God who makes sense and who makes sense of our lives, and the cross is folly to our way of thinking.
If there are those who want God to make sense, there are those who expect God to do something. We come to worship God because we want God to fix things. We take care of our duty to worship because we want God to take care of His business, which is to take care of those who worship Him.
The Jews look for signs. They look for visible evidence of the coming of the power and might of God. They want to see some action. When God comes as the Messiah the ground will shake and the skies will turn dark.
God has made Himself known to them in the past by what they remember as the "Mighty Acts of God." There are the plagues in Egypt, there is the dividing of the sea. There is the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. There is the making of the Covenant on Mt. Sinai. This God whom the Jews await as the Messiah is not a God who slips into life in some place in Bethlehem with only a few shepherds seeing angels. God will not come and live on earth for eighteen years unknown. God will not ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. They want signs. They want evidence. They want action.
The cross is a stumbling block, for it declares a God who simply came into the world to share the life of the world. To be tempted in every way that we are tempted. To identify with us so that we can be sure that "Nobody knows the trouble we've seen, nobody knows but Jesus." God comes in Jesus, not to eliminate suffering or to overcome injustice, or to establish His kingdom; God comes in Christ to bear with us our suffering. What kind of God is that?
The Crucified Christ is God's way of coming into creation and fully sharing our humanity with us so that by becoming human God might be able to share with us a gift of love and mercy which we refuse and resent from one who did not really know us. As Flip Wilson used to have Geraldine say, "Get your hands off me, you don't know me that well." You and I would resent the offer of help or salvation from one who did not know us that well. So God in Christ shares our suffering.
Douglas John Hall describes the suffering and pain of the life of Jesus this way. The young man of Nazareth, still no doubt strong of limb and certainly in possession of all His mental faculties, experiences the whole range of human suffering. As one who had to endure the fickleness and weak loyalty of His closest friends, as one who knew the loneliness and alienation from family and friends, no home, no place to lay His head, as one driven by a destiny, as one who was constantly disappointed by the failure of his closest friends even to understand what He was saying, betrayed by one He trusted, and then the full range of physical and mental pain at the cross, God came in Christ and was crucified, for only through God's solidarity with us in all the reality of suffering is God able, from within the center of life, to affect the redemption and restoration of the healing love and purpose.
The cross, the crucified Christ, commits us to the understanding of a God who became one with us in our humanity, suffered under Pontius Pilate, in order that we might become one with Him in the resurrection of New Life. Why one with us in suffering? Who knows? Perhaps God did not come just to save the wise and the clever, for not all of us are philosophers. Perhaps God did not desire to redeem us by mighty acts or signs because no one likes to be coerced or forced into anything. God shares our suffering because we all, in one way or another, know the pain and suffering of living. By sharing our suffering, God knows the suffering each of us has seen and can speak a word of hope, a word of courage, a word of comfort, a word ultimately of victory, through Christ's rising from the dead.
The cross is still a stumbling block to those who want to see God act in power and might. The cross is still a folly to those who want God to be the crowning jewel in their philosophy of life, but it is still the power to save and renew those who need a God who knows them and loves them and is willing to be with them, and who has shared their pain in order that He might be our friend.
by Selwyn Hughes
For reading & meditation: Romans 5:6-21
An ancient theologian - St. Augustine - suggested that "the answer to the mystery of the universe is God and the answer to the mystery of God is Christ." If this is so then I would like to make a further suggestion: the answer to the mystery of Christ is to be found in His sacrificial spirit, the supreme evidence of which is the cross. We will never, in our mortal state, be able to grasp the full meaning of the cross. But what we do grasp gives us a clue to what lies in the heart of the Infinite.
Theologians often discuss the various theories of the atonement. Personally, I find myself accepting any theory of the atonement that makes the meaning of the cross more vital and clear. No theory seems to me big enough to fit the facts. As Jesus broke the bars of the tomb and stepped out beyond them, so the fact of Jesus dying seems to transcend our most careful statements or form of words.
To really understand the cross one must have an attitude of mind and heart that responds to its meaning. I came across this: "To understand art one must have art within one; to understand music one must have music within one." I thought to myself, to understand the cross one must have a sacrificial spirit within one. Those who profess to know Christ but live only for self will know something of the cross but will miss its real meaning. The cross is best understood not by an argument but by an attitude.
Father, I see that if I am to fully understand the cross I must have a sacrificial spirit within me. May I linger at Your cross until Your nature becomes my nature. Then seeing I shall see. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
For Further Study:
John 15:13; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 2:24; Titus 2:1-14.
Source: Everyday Light
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
by Oswald Chambers
We too often think of the Cross of Christ as something we have to get through, yet we get through for the purpose of getting into it. The Cross represents only one thing for us - complete, entire, absolute identification with the Lord Jesus Christ - and there is nothing in which this identification is more real to us than in prayer.
"Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). Then why should we ask? The point of prayer is not to get answers from God, but to have perfect and complete oneness with Him. If we pray only because we want answers, we will become irritated and angry with God. We receive an answer every time we pray, but it does not always come in the way we expect, and our spiritual irritation shows our refusal to identify ourselves truly with our Lord in prayer. We are not here to prove that God answers prayer, but to be living trophies of God’s grace.
". . . I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you . . ." (John 16:26-27). Have you reached such a level of intimacy with God that the only thing that can account for your prayer life is that it has become one with the prayer life of Jesus Christ? Has our Lord exchanged your life with His vital life? If so, then "in that day" you will be so closely identified with Jesus that there will be no distinction.
When prayer seems to be unanswered, beware of trying to place the blame on someone else. That is always a trap of Satan. When you seem to have no answer, there is always a reason - God uses these times to give you deep personal instruction, and it is not for anyone else but you.
"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" Psalm 42:1-3
Ron Boyd-MacMillan writes in his epic volume, 'Faith That Endures':
I remember interviewing a former Muslim extremist in Egypt. He had converted to Christ in his early twenties and led a Church for Muslim converts. This is illegal in Egypt, and the fellowship was betrayed to the police. Soon this young man found himself in prison. He was tortured. An electric cattle prod was pushed into his mouth. He was whipped and hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. But all this paled into insignificance compared to what other prisoners called "the experience". He was pushed into a stone box, a cube about five feet square. No light. No latrine. And he was left there for a month, food being passed through a grate every few days. Most prisoners went mad as a result of "the experience" - but not him.
He found Christ there, and the words he used to describe his experience are still the most brilliant description of the process of how persecution actually delivers more of God:
Response: Today Jesus will be the one on whom I "fix my eyes" to accept my awfulness and His filling.
Prayer: Lord, I want more of You in my life and I'm willing to be broken to make room for You.
Source: Standing Strong Through the Storm by Paul Estabrooks. © 2010 Open Doors International. Used by permission
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