Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Sign of Hope
Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross
14 September, 2008
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.

Today, we are celebrating the Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross in memory of the time when Saint Helena, the mother of Saint Constantine, the Emperor, found the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in the fourth century. Afterwards, the Cross was exalted in the Church in Jerusalem. The raising of the Cross, and the lowering it, and the blessing of the four directions that we did at the end of Matins before the Divine Liturgy is a repetition of what happened in the fourth century in Jerusalem.

When we are raising the Cross, and blessing the four directions like this, we are repeating what we are always repeating, actually, every time there is a blessing of water, and so forth. We are blessing all the directions, the four cardinal points of the earth. We bless these directions because we are asking the Lord, through the power and protection of His Holy Cross, to bless and protect the whole world, the whole of His creation, and everyone in it. That is why we are doing this. That blessing includes ourselves.

Very often, we have a tendency (probably our compartmentalised, western thinking has affected most of the people in the world by this time) to celebrate past events without remembering that the normal, Orthodox way of celebrating every feast is to remember that we are there. In our worship, time is always compressed into the “now”. When we are saying these prayers in the Divine Liturgy, for instance, if we listen closely, we will hear the prayers towards the end of the Eucharistic Canon which show us that we are behaving as though the Second Coming already has happened. We are celebrating the Second Coming as a past event because, gathered here together as the Church, we are standing in the presence of our Saviour, at His Table, at His Throne, in His Kingdom. We are in His presence. Whenever we are in His presence (especially at His Divine Liturgy), we are standing with Him as if everything were finished already.

The Lord is the End of our lives, the Purpose of our lives. What happens besides does not matter so much. It is living in love with Him that is the whole purpose of our lives. Nothing else matters. We are celebrating and worshipping our Saviour who was crucified on the Cross. This Cross that is in our midst is standing in the place of the real, true Cross. This Cross takes us to the real Cross on which Christ was crucified. Any Cross takes us to the real Cross on which Christ was crucified, and that real Cross takes us to Christ, Himself. In the same way, all these icons take us, through the saints that are re-presented to us on the icons, to Christ, Himself. You and I also, in how we are living, can help to bring other people to Christ, Himself. We, Orthodox Christians, are expected by the Lord to be able in His love to show Jesus Christ to other people by how we live. Indeed, people “on the outside” have such an expectation of us as well, even when they do not truly understand what this means. This is the Orthodox way : living Christ.

The Apostle Paul is reminding us today about the paradox of the Cross. In the days of the Roman Empire, the cross was the most gruesome way to die. It was worse than hanging, worse than gas chambers, worse than the electric chair. It was the worst way to die because it was long. It was real torture. Normally, a person would hang on the cross and die three or four days later, all the while suffering unimaginable pain. Therefore, as the Apostle reminds us, before Christ, the cross was the sign of complete defeat, death, and hopelessness. Because of Christ, the Cross became, paradoxically, the sign of hope, the sign of life, and even the sign of love. The Apostle Paul says that people who do not understand this think that we are crazy. They think that we are silly, and that maybe we could even be checked into some sort of a special hospital (and sometimes I wish I could be).

It is too bad that other people will think that we are crazy. However, they think that our Lord is strange, too. Since they did to Him what they did to Him, we cannot expect better treatment, says the Apostle Paul. So we offer everything to our Saviour. If people do not understand us, and do not particularly like us because we are Christians, that is all right. What do we do, then ? We do not pout and sulk in a corner ; we pray for the person. We say : “Lord, have mercy” repeatedly for that person, and offer that person to the Lord. We keep on living the way we are supposed to live because there is no way at all to force people to like us. There is no way to force people to like Christ, to love Christ, to accept Christ. To be an Orthodox Christian really is a voluntary act for each one of us. It is a voluntary act because we have encountered the love of Jesus Christ, and we wish to live in that life-giving love of Jesus Christ.

This is what the Cross means to us. Yes, it means suffering. Sometimes we will suffer along with Christ, no doubt. However, it is the sign of hope for us because through this Cross comes life : life eternal (not just some sort of temporary return to life). Through the Cross comes life eternal in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which He has offered to us all : eternal life in His Kingdom with Him, being nourished on His love, forever.

Brothers and sisters, on this feast, the Cross is being exalted here in n today, and at the same time in Jerusalem today (and this “today” is in the fourth century as well as being in the 21st century). The Cross has been blessing the whole world from the very beginning. The love of Jesus Christ continues to be spread by those who love Him. Let us ask the Lord to renew our love for Him so that our love may shine in such a way that other people around us may encounter Him. With Saint Herman, the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, let us “from this day, from this hour, from this minute, love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.