Each time we come to the middle of the Great Fast, we are greeted by the Holy Cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For truly, our Lenten journey is a trying one if we are making the effort we should. More prayers, more fasting, more prostrations, and so on. By this time the Church realizes our difficulties, our struggles, and our weariness, and so gives us the Cross as an oasis in the middle of our journey. We are comforted by the wood of the Cross. We fall down before it in adoration.
We sing to it as the source of our salvation.
An unknown author said, “O mighty Cross of the Lord, manifest thyself: show me the divine vision of thy beauty, and grant me worthily to venerate thee. For I speak to thee and embrace thee as though thou wast alive.” Yes, a living Cross has been given to us so that we may see the true reason for its existence. The Cross that held our Savior in death became a source of life. The Cross that became the path from death to life through the death-resurrection of Christ now is before us in the center of the church, in the center of the fast, in the center of what should be our life.
In the Vespers of this Third Sunday, the beautiful verses are filled with so many expressions of God’s grace and joy that we should meditate on them almost sentence by sentence.
“Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee.” Do you see the light of grace given to us? Do you see that it is not the wood or the metal that gives the light, but the light of God’s grace?
“Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away: we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy.” A new path stands before us, a path of life and joy never ending. This is the true way of the Cross, not to death, but to life.
“Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy.” Now we see the purpose of our efforts in fasting, in prayer, in almsgiving. The Cross is also a reward for the work of the fast. The Cross is a protection and a source of God’s mercy as well, but only if we are committed to honoring it as we honor the Lord Who hung upon it.
“Hail! life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory.” Through the Cross we also see Paradise offered to us once again. Though lost by our
forefathers Adam and Eve by the tree of which they ate, now a tree offers to us a return to that Paradise through the Lord Who has given us the path, the enjoyment of eternal glory.
“Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, succor of the faithful, rampart set about the Church.” The Cross also becomes the door to Paradise, that gateway that opens for those who have chosen to carry their cross as we have been called to so by the Lord. The Cross is the succor, the protection of the Faithful, a defense against the enemies of the Church by which the Church is kept invincible.
May the Holy Cross show us the way to salvation.
Four stikhera for Great Vespers for Saturday before the Sunday of the Life-Giving Cross:
Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee. With love inspired by God, we embrace thee, O desire of all the world. Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away: we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy. Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy.
Hail! life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection.
Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, succor of the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.
Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who fell from the choir on high through the envy of the murderer of man, when of old with bitter pleasure ye tasted from the tree in Paradise. See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near! Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our succor; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
The knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross. St. Gregory the Great Says, "The Cross is wood which lifts us up and makes us great ... The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue."
St John Chrysostom: “God does not create a cross for man. No matter how heavy a cross a man may carry in life, it is still just wood, and it always grows from the soil of his heart.”
St. Nikolai Velimirovich: “What does it mean to take up your cross? It means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, bitter though it may be, that is offered. Do great catastrophes fall on you? Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was. Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined? Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies? Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did” (from the Complete Works of Bishop Nikolai [in Serbian], Book 12, p. 23; translated from the Serbian by Marija Miljkovic).
Many complain against technology. Many accuse modern technology for all the woes in the world. Is technology really to blame, or those who create technology and use it? Is a wooden cross to blame if somebody crucifies someone on it? Is a hammer to blame if a neighbor breaks his neighbor’s skull? Technology does not feel good or evil. The same pipes can be used for drinking water or the sewer. Evil does not come from unfeeling, dead technology, but from the dead hearts of people.
Used with permission, from the weekly digest of Cleanse Me By Repentance, a Lenten devotional collection prepared by St. Tikhon’s Seminary, authored by its faculty, students, and alumni.
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Archbishop David (Mahaffey) of Sitka and Alaska