Elevation of the Life-giving Cross

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Amor Christi vincit Omnia
Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross
14 September, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:18-24 ; John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We, as Orthodox Christians, tend to speak about our life as Orthodox as if Orthodoxy were some sort of monolith or closed system. This is not all bad ; but, at the same time, we must realise that our Orthodox Faith is not something inanimate. It is certainly not a system. It is a relationship with the living God.

With Orthodoxy, there is always “paradoxy” at the same time. The Cross is an example of this paradox. The Cross, which comes to us at the present time is showing us, just as the Apostle says, that “the weakness of God is stronger than men”. The Cross is showing us that an instrument of torture and death has become a gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven, and to Life. The Lord changes things. He transforms things. He makes things that are ugly to be beautiful. He makes things that are dead to be alive. That is what He does with you and me. As the Apostle says, we, who are dead in sins, are alive in Christ (see Ephesians 2:1) because of our Saviour’s self-emptying sacrifice on the Cross. We, who are weak upon the earth, are actually, in Christ, very strong (it all depends on how we understand things). The Cross, as the Apostle is saying to us, is foolishness for the philosophers and so forth (he says “Greeks” but he means philosophers in this case). The Cross is foolishness to those who are living by logic.

However, to us, it is the greatest logic. Why else do we make the sign of the Cross on everything ? We make the sign of the Cross, bringing the blessing of Christ on everything, because He is identified with the Cross. When we are venerating the Holy Cross, the veneration does not stop at the wood of the Cross, but it goes directly to the Saviour Himself, as Saint John of Damascus tells us. Our veneration of the icons is in accordance with the same principle. All these are gateways, open doors between us and the Lord. Thus, the instrument of torture and death has become the gateway to life and joy. There is no more sorrow, but joy through the Cross.

These things are crucially important for us to understand in our life, because in our North American way of living, anything that causes discomfort or pain or sorrow is usually considered to be horrible. It is to be run away from. It is to be denied. In our day, we even pretend that people do not die. This is a very dangerous delusion. We have gone so far as to pretend that people are not dying. We must be crazy and have absolutely “lost our marbles” when we are pretending like this. People die. Then what ? We, who are alive in Christ, understand that death (bad and painful and horrible in its own way that it is) nevertheless is not the end. The Lord, the Giver of Life, who offers resurrection to us all, is giving us resurrection through this death. Through this death comes our own life in Christ, eternal life in Christ.

We are the way we are not because God wanted us to be like this : dying, sorrowful and suffering. Instead, He intended that we live in Him always. It is our own fault that we got ourselves into this predicament of suffering, being sick, and dying. It is our doing ; it is not God’s doing. People like to blame God for all these things, but we did it, and we continue to do it. The Lord, in His love, can overcome our mistakes, our stupidity, our waywardness, and the deadly consequences that come with it. He restores us to life if we accept it.

I will give you an example of how the Lord gives life, and how He overcomes the logic of this world. As we all know, there is no cure for AIDS according to medical science. However, last month when I was in Ukraine, I was visiting an orphanage. There are 250 resident children in this orphanage, which is next door to a large men’s monastery. This monastery is very close to a women’s monastery. In the men’s monastery, there are 95 monks, and in the women’s monastery nearby there are 115 female monks. The abbot of the men’s monastery, who is radiant with love, adopted all 250 children, himself. (Do you think one could get away with that in Canada ?) He adopted all these children because according to the Ukrainian government’s orphanage system, a child at the age of fifteen graduates from the orphanage and then is put out onto the street with nothing. These days, most of these children fall into the slave trade. Therefore, this loving father adopted all the children in spite of the fact that it was difficult to get permission to adopt them. I think he adopted even more than 250 children, and there are some who have grown up and married by this time. Some of the resident children have fairly severe physical disabilities for which he has obtained resources to help them surgically in western Europe. However, more than this, there are about twenty children in this monastery who were born with AIDS. They have to live in their own separate building where they are kept away from the germs of other people ; otherwise, they would quickly die. In the course of the last year and a half, six of the children have been cured of AIDS, and that has been scientifically corroborated and proven.

These children came to this monastic family of monks and nuns (because both monasteries look after the children) as wards of the state. If something as dramatic as this happens to a child who is known by the state to have been suffering from AIDS, the child must be examined by the state authorities (scientists, and all sorts of doctors) in order to be sure that what is being said is really true. When I say that there have been six children in this orphanage family that have been healed of AIDS, I am saying that it has been scientifically proven that this is the case. Since then, I have been told of a few other cases where the Lord has done this. On this Feast of the Exaltation of the precious and holy Cross of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, I am saying yet again that the Lord is greater than all our logic, and all our so-called understanding. The Lord’s love gives life. The Lord’s love overcomes death. The Lord’s love overcomes all foolishness and weakness.

It is essential for us to remember that when our Saviour was coming to be crucified, He voluntarily embraced the Cross. He was not, as we might think from most presentations of the Crucifixion, forced to put His arms on the Cross. I cannot remember precisely what I saw in the movie, The Passion of Christ, but I have been told that it is very close to the truth in how it was presented. Nevertheless, as our Saviour presented Himself to the Cross, the fact is that He voluntarily stretched His arms onto the Cross. Unlike us “scaredy-cats”, He voluntarily embraced that Cross. He voluntarily allowed Himself to be nailed to the Cross. It is important for you and for me, every day of our lives, to understand and to remember that this stretching out of His arms on the Cross was an embrace of you and of me. As He voluntarily put out His arms onto that Cross, and embraced that Cross, He embraced you and me, also.

When we are looking at our Saviour’s body crucified on the Cross, we are seeing not death and defeat, but life and victory. We are not seeing brokenness, but wholeness. We are not seeing fear, but we are seeing life-giving love, which embraces you and me. Since we have with us today Egyptian brethren, I cannot resist making the comment that Egypt is living this life-giving response to the Cross. Egyptian Christians have been being killed in large numbers on an annual basis for 1500 years or so. Especially in the last century, the death rate for being an Orthodox Coptic Christian has increased. Many Copts have left Egypt for that reason (and also because they cannot easily find a job there). The pressure is very strong. What is the response of the Orthodox Coptic Christians in Egypt now ? The response is not to take this lying down. Instead, Egyptian clergy and others have undertaken active missionary work. They are trying to show very clearly how it is that Christianity is the true, right and life-giving way. As a result of this, there are many conversions to Christianity. This is an example of the Lord’s overcoming in His love what otherwise seems to be nothing but defeat and death. Instead, there is life, and there is hope, and there is joy.

When I first went with Father Gregory to Egypt many years ago, I encountered one such person who used to be a famous football player, as I recall. He became a Christian and spent quite a long time in jail. As a result of his tortures (which were not pleasant), he lost his sight almost completely. However, he managed to escape from prison. I met him in a monastery in Egypt, where he had been ordained a priest and was fulfilling his forty days of serving the Liturgy. His relatives had come and they tried to find him in order to extinguish him ; but they did not manage to find him or to recognise him, even though he was amongst the many monks. Somehow, when one becomes a Christian or a monk or a priest, things change in the person which make it harder to for one to be recognised. This man, full of joy, was serving the Divine Liturgy while I was visiting there. I remember it very well. It is yet another example of how the Lord is working and overcoming difficulties, obstacles, things that seem impossible.

As our Metropolitan Jonah has said : “How are we going to encounter and face the pressure of Islam against Christianity ? The only way is by love – the love of the Lord”. The love of the Lord overcomes everything.

Today, our Lord is continuing the renewal and strengthening of His Church as we have the ordination of two men — one to the Holy Priesthood, one to the Holy Diaconate. These men will both be facing the Cross in their own way. They will be called, each in his own way, to embrace the Cross, and to follow our Saviour. On their own paths, they will serve the Lord in the Kingdom and they will feed the rational sheep of Christ. They have offered themselves, and they are offering themselves. It is crucially important for you and for me to be praying for them and supporting them, so that by their service they will glorify the Saviour, and they will feed and support us. Brothers and sisters, let us dedicate ourselves with confidence in the love of Jesus Christ, which overcomes all obstacles and which overcomes all opposition. Following Him, let us be obedient to Him ; let us live in Him, and let us support those who have the responsibility to lead us. All together, as one, with one heart, with one mouth, with one mind, may we glorify our Lord, God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.