Dear brethren, today is already the Third Sunday of Holy Lent, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Life-Giving Cross. The priest decorates the Holy Cross with flowers and places it out for veneration by the faithful. Respect and reverence for the Cross is as old as Christianity itself. St John Chrysostom writes: “In the middle of the Holy Fast, the Church takes the Holy and Life-Giving Cross and presents it to the people for veneration. Today is the day of veneration of the Holy Cross”.
Another Father, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, writes: “While the Fast weakens the body and makes it useless for sin, the pure and spiritual veneration of the Holy Cross lifts up our minds to the Kingdom which is above us”. The veneration of the Cross always reminds us of our Lord, and of the hope of the Resurrection. The Cross, concerning which our Lord spoke to His disciples so descriptively just prior to His Passion, is for us the symbol of Christian duty. It shows us how to act.
Our duty is a cross, and each cross of the Lord is an additional duty for us. Our duty is to follow the exact teaching of our Lord. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”. People in our day are not willing to bear burdens and crosses. Yet they are more than willing when it comes to rights and demands. In the United Nations, for example, with high-sounding expressions and empty words, men speak about the rights of the people – men who never respected any human right! But Christianity involves duty. Christ said: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served unto, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many”. To one who was considering becoming one of the Lord’s followers, Christ said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest His head on”.
While we can and should sacrifice our rights and privileges, we must never shirk our duties. How often is the opposite the case. Men so easily forget their duties, while remaining so adamantly imperative and demanding concerning their rights. A good example of the case in point is our own children. They inform us, “You must send me to college, I must go away for a vacation, I need a car, I must have money”. But let a parent ask something of his child, and the response is almost sure to be, “This is my life; it is none of your business”. The word “responsibility” does not exist in the vocabulary of the child. But life is a duty, a cross, the Cross of the Lord. He set us an example to follow. “The Lord ascended His Cross first”, writes St. John Chrysostom, “leaving us an example, a pattern for all who would follow”. And here is the curious thing about man. While he thinks that the Cross of Christ is so heavy, the road so steep, that he invents many excuses as to why he cannot accept the Cross of Christ, and finally rejects it; yet the same man is so eager to accept such secular crosses as smoking, drunkenness, gambling, and immorality, which totally and catastrophically destroy him.
Christ assures us that His Cross is light, that it elevates all who lift it, all who will accept it. Christ calls all who are weary of their secular crosses to take up His light yoke: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. Men do not heed the Lord; they listen to the words of the world, which lead them to believe that our Lord’s Cross is so heavy that it is unbearable, that the Lord’s commands are too strict, that man loses his freedom in service to Christ. He can no longer enjoy himself. Thus, many deceived people reject the Cross of the Saviour and bear burdens that are heavy indeed.
We do not say that it is easy to be a Christian; the way of the Cross has difficulties. Yet the way of the Cross leads to the Resurrection, while the way of the world leads to destruction. At first secular crosses offer pleasure, but in the dregs of enjoyment is hidden poison, deceit and pain. Also, we must remember that we are not called upon to travel the way of the Cross alone; our Lord Himself is with us every step of the way. Just as Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus with His Cross, even so does the Lord, so the Lord helps all who sincerely wish to carry His Cross. Those who bear secular crosses, however, are without help, without grace; they are alone, deserted, with the heavens as brass and the earth as iron.
Dear brethren, the Cross is such an immeasurably precious message, my pen and my language are much too poor to give it. I can only assure you, if you bear the Lord’s cross you have nothing to fear; He Himself will walk beside you every step of the way. Saint Anthony was suffering much from temptation; when it finally passed, he prayed, “Lord, where were You in my hour of temptation?” And the Lord answered, “Anthony, I was closer to you at that time than ever before”. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that when persecution broke out in Jerusalem, and the Christians were scattered all over the Mediterranean world, “the hand of the Lord was with them”. Saint Peter adds, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”.
Dear brothers and sisters, if you are struggling to bear some sort of worldly cross, throw it from you quickly; sooner or later it is bound to lead you to catastrophe. Do not be deceived- your end is certain destruction. Venerate with humility and piety the honourable wood of the Cross, asking its protection in all circumstances. He who ascended that Cross will give you the perseverance to bear His cross with joy, and will free you from the cross under which you have been labouring. Learn with St. John Chrysostom the meaning of the Holy Cross. He writes, “Through the Cross, redemption and regeneration for all things”. We adore Thy Cross O Christ, and Thy Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify. Amen.
Taken from Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions