Today all over the world, Orthodox Christians in every nation gather in their churches to celebrate the Precious Cross of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. In every Orthodox Church the Cross is lovingly decorated with flowers and greenery and then solemnly carried through the church with incense and candles as the faithful sing hymns about the Glorious Cross. The pious devoutly bow down before the Precious Cross and venerate it.
The Angels accompany the Holy Cross as it is carried through our churches and the demons turn their faces away in terror and revulsion. This Cross that we honor defeated them, this Cross that we venerate has put them to shame.
But outside of our Orthodox Churches we are increasingly encountering a new Christianity which presents us with a new version of Christianity, a new Gospel … a Christianity without the Cross. A Pascha with no Good Friday. How pleasant this appears to the world and how much it is attracting followers.
This new and enlightened Christianity asks the question: Is the Cross and self-denial and struggling really necessary for Christianity? Or is this all just left over from some medieval period when Christians weren’t really enlightened?
The unfortunate cry of many of these modern Christian spokesmen is that we are a Resurrection people and have become aware that all Christ really wants is for us to be happy. The modern Christian sees himself as a more mature and advanced man who is able to see spiritual realities and understand spiritual truths in a much clearer way than his fathers. He looks condescendingly on the faith of his fathers as a sort of Dark Age of Christianity.
But the Orthodox Church and especially our suffering and misunderstood Russian Orthodox Church cries out like a voice in the wilderness, “there is no Christianity without the Cross”. Our Church stands in contradiction to the contemporary voices of Christianity. The narrow path can only be the way of Calvary, the way of the Cross. There is no other way and there never has been. The Martyrs from all centuries bear witness to this.
Our Saviour says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. There is a yoke and there is a burden but it is light and sweet. We have been taught by our culture to flee suffering at all costs, to avoid anything painful or uncomfortable.
Modern man has come to the unfortunate belief that we have a right to have a pain-free existence, we have a right to undeserved joy and peace and we will purchase these at any price.
We run after drugs, sex, material goods, entertainment and almost any distraction that keeps us from facing the reality of our emptiness. Because in truth, life is nothing but emptiness without Christ and His Cross. We were created by God in His image and likeness, and our hearts are restless until this likeness is achieved. We are lonely, deeply lonely if we try to live our life without Christ … it is unnatural!
We cannot be content with false imitations of the peace that only Christ can give. We were created to be with Christ, to be united with Him through theosis, and no matter how we may try to avoid it, our hearts are not content and should not be content with anything less. Deep in our hearts we know the truth, buried underneath piles of garbage and filth and lies, the truth shines, no matter how dim, it is there in every human being created by God.
It is precisely through Christ and His Cross that our life has meaning and purpose. Through the Cross and only through the Cross can we find peace and salvation. There is no other way.
On this Third Sunday of Great Lent the Church directs us to bring out the Cross with great solemnity as a consolation for the faithful and as a promise of the Resurrection to come.
You see the Cross of Christ is really a symbol of victory. If there is no Good Friday then there is no Pascha. If there is no Cross then there is no Resurrection. This is presented to us liturgically this week. The Church shows us the precious and life-giving Cross. We sing hymns and bow down before the Precious Cross, the trophy of victory.
The Church shows us the great mystery of our salvation, through suffering and death comes life, eternal life. The paradox of the Cross is absolutely essential for our Christian Faith.
My dear brothers and sisters, what we are presented with today here in our little church is not the comfortable modern version of Christianity but the authentic, saving Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross. We join Orthodox Christians all over the world bowing down before the Cross, we accept it and embrace it.
But this cross that we honor today, if we truly embrace it, is in reality our own cross, whatever that may be for each one of us. It could be heart disease, cancer, old age, mental illness, physical handicaps or simply being misunderstood by those around us.
So what you see today here in the center of our church is the Precious Cross of Christ but also on a personal level it is the cross that He has prepared for you before all time – embrace it, truly embrace it, bow down before it, and carry it,without complaints, without sorry, without regrets, knowing that Our Saviour Himself has designed it just for you.
What a grace-filled opportunity we are being given, to carry our cross and walk in the footsteps of Christ. We are being given the opportunity to become His disciples, for He said, you cannot be my disciple unless you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Hermitage of the Holy Cross 4/8/2016