Source: The Orthodox Church in America
Throughout this week, we continue to our celebration of the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy and Lifegving Cross of the Lord. At the festal Divine Liturgy this past Sunday, we venerated the “life-giving wood” of the Cross, and hopefully we are continuing to do so in our domestic prayers, alone or with our family members, through the Leavetaking of the Feast on Sunday, September 21.
The Apostle Paul confesses, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” [Romans 1:16]. At the very heart of the Gospel is the Cross of the Lord, and this is what Saint Paul is not ashamed of. Thus, whenever we commemorate the Cross, we are reminded of this and of the profound words we hear at every Liturgy after we commune with the Lord: “...for through the Cross, joy has come into the world.”
To understand just how this bears upon our own lives, there is a powerful passage about the Cross in Saint Innocent Veniaminov’s book, Indication of the Way Into the Kingdom of Heaven, that I would like to share. It is an excellent example of how the saints speak and write with a total honesty about our human weaknesses and propensity toward sin, while simultaneously expressing the incomparable consolation of God’s mercy and grace. They never discourage, but encourage—though we may have to squirm a bit at first when we read their assessment of our present condition.
“When the Lord is pleased to reveal to us the state of our souls, then we feel sharply that our hearts are corrupt and perverted, our souls are defiled, and we are merely slaves of sin and passions which have mastered us and do not allow us to draw near to God. We see that even our supposed good deeds are all mixed up with sin and are not the fruit of true love, but are the products of various passions and circumstance ... and then we most certainly suffer ... in proportion as the Lord reveals to us the condition of our souls, our interior sufferings increase….
“But in whatever situation you may be, and in whatever suffering of the soul ... do not despair, and do not think that the Lord has abandoned you. No! God will always be with you and will invisibly strengthen you even when it seems to you that you are on the very brink of perdition. God will never allow you to be tried and tempted more than He sees fit. Do not despair and do not be afraid. With full submission surrender totally to Him. Have patience and pray. God is our loving Father. Even if He permits a person to fall into sin it is only in order to make him realize his own impotence, weakness and nothingness ... to teach him never to trust in himself and to show that he can do nothing good without God. It is to heal his soul that the Lord lays crosses on a person .... to make him like Jesus Christ ... to perfectly purify his heart in which He Himself wishes to dwell with His Son and His Holy Spirit.”
The words of Saint Innocent are timely in an age of “self-sufficiency,” when we are convinced that we can handle all the situations of life with a bit of ingenuity, cleverness, and “expertise.” God is sometimes forced to break through our self-sufficiency with the crosses to which Saint Innocent refers above. There are situations in life that we then realize how only by God’s saving grace can we be strong enough to pass through a furnace of suffering or hardship strengthened and grateful for His enduring love for us.