Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross (Old-Style)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Sign of Victory
Feast of the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross (Old-Style)
27 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.

In celebrating the Elevation of the Holy Cross today, we are in the very city of Jerusalem when the patriarch is elevating the Cross, which has been newly found by the Empress Helen. He is blessing the whole universe with the Cross (as we already did last night), blessing in all the directions and asking for God’s mercy on all His creation, and on all human beings, in particular.

The finding of the Holy Cross with its restoration to us is a sign of hope. This paradox is perpetually before us. The Cross, which is a sign of death for the world (we just now have been present at the Crucifixion of Christ in the reading of the Gospel), is a sign of hope for us believers who know what came after – the Resurrection of Christ. This Cross is the sign not of death, not of defeat, not of despair, but of life, and victory, and hope. In fact, this Cross on which our Saviour, Jesus Christ died, is a sign of God’s love for us.

As the Apostle Paul was telling us today, we human beings are always looking for some sort of concrete sign and demonstration of God’s love. The Lord has given a concrete sign and demonstration not just with words (which are very cheap and changeable), and not with some sort of philosophical system or other (that is also changeable and fickle). He gave us the sign of the Holy Cross. The sign of the Holy Cross is the sign of the victory of life over death, of love over fear, the victory of good over evil. This Cross is our sign of hope.

However, the Cross only means something to us because we know Him who died upon this Cross, and who rose again on the third day. It is because we know that God is love, and that He has shared His love with us in this life-giving way, that we can understand the real meaning of this Cross for us. Saint John of Damascus explains : “The Cross by itself is just a piece of wood ; but when it is in reference to Him who died upon it, this Cross in our midst today takes us to the true Cross on which Christ suffered”. That Cross takes us to Christ, Himself. The Cross is not an end in itself. Everything, for the Orthodox Christian, refers us to Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Every time we serve Matins, we sing that “God is the Lord, and He has revealed Himself to us” (see Psalm 117:27). How has He shown Himself to us, except by what the Apostle John has written : “God is love” (1 John 4:8). When He is revealing Himself to us as Lord, and God, He is revealing Himself to us as Love. It is this love which is His nature that brought Him to the Cross, and it is this love that brought Him to the Resurrection from the dead on the third day. It is this love that brought about the Ascension into heaven. It is this love that brought about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all the disciples and apostles on the Day of Pentecost. It is this love that sustains you and me here, now, today. It is this love in which we live because it is the love of Jesus Christ. It is in this love that we know Jesus Christ. He has shown His love to us repeatedly. He continues to show His love to us repeatedly.

As the Apostle said this morning (I am paraphrasing), the way we go about our lives is foolishness to most people. It is incomprehensible to most people. The world does not understand us. However, that cannot deter us from being faithful to Jesus Christ. We are here because of His love. Because of His love, and the hope that we have in Him, we are able to live as we do : whole, and healed in Jesus Christ, persons who bear His life and His love in everyday situations, in everyday difficulties. Then we are showing the Way to people around us, to people who are lacking any hope at all that there is a way other than the word’s way. Jesus Christ said : “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). We are showing them the Way – not one of many – but the one Way, The Way : the love of Jesus Christ.

When we live our lives in Jesus Christ, living His love as Orthodox Christians, our lives bring people to Jesus Christ without our having to speak a word. Just how we live – with joy, with love, with life, with power, even – this is what brings people to Christ. It opens in their hearts the possibility that Jesus Christ could be there for them, too. It opens the door of possibility for them to come and to be with us, rejoicing in the love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. God showed us His love so much that He gave His Only-begotten Son so that He would be able to die on this Tree, and on the third day rise from the dead, victorious over evil, victorious over death, victorious over darkness. All this, He shares with us.

Brothers and sisters, taking hope from this Cross which is in our midst, let us follow the exhortation of our first, recognised North American saint, Herman the Elder and Wonder-worker of Alaska, who said : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In so doing, let us glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.