Veneration of the Holy Cross in Great Lent

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Cross is the Sign of Salvation and Life
Veneration of the Holy Cross
3rd Sunday in Great Lent
22 March, 2009
Hebrews 4:14-5:6 ; Mark 8:34-9:1

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

The Lord, in His mercy, places the Cross before our eyes in the middle of Great Lent. He does this in order to help us remember who we are, Whom we are following, and where we are going. We have now passed through several weeks of Great Lent, and we may be finding it difficult to persevere. Perhaps we find that it is difficult to give alms to those in need. Nevertheless, this giving of help to the poor is one of the first directions of the Lord for our life. It is an expression of His love. If we love Jesus Christ, we will help people who need help. However, the Tempter likes to make us think that this is difficult. His main work is to discourage us and to help us to forget. He makes our vision blurry, and he also puts false visions in front of our eyes.

Perhaps we are having difficulty with fasting in Great Lent because we are determined to do this fasting by ourselves, with our own strength. Maybe we are determined to fast strictly because that is what the law says. If we are approaching fasting with this attitude, we will definitely have difficulty because we are then treating fasting as some sort of martial art. Perhaps I am treating fasting in the same way in which the Chinese actor, Jet Lee, does, so that because of his physical strength he can be leaping about from place to place, doing things that usually would seem to be impossible. These ways of doing things are all about “me”. When I am fasting because I want to show how well I can do, and how well I can obey the law, it is all about “me”.

When we are passing through the fasting period, we are supposed to be offering our abstinence and our fasting to the Lord out of love. If I am making that sort of offering to the Lord, with my heart open in the same way that you see my hand is open before you, then it is He who is enabling me to make this offering of love. In co-operation with Him, He helps me to fulfil this offering. The Lord knows that ever since the time of the Fall, we human beings have been enslaved by fear. He does not come to make us more afraid. He does not come to increase our enslavement to fear. He comes to set us free from all this. He wants to help us grow in love.

The Lord places the Cross before our eyes today and during the coming week to give us encouragement for the rest of Great Lent and to give us encouragement for the rest of our life. Our Saviour is voluntarily crucified on this Cross. He says to us today that : “‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me’”. Our Lord shows us that His way is truly the way of love. However, if we are truly going to love as He does, in Him, our love will inevitably be accompanied by suffering in this world. As the Apostle John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel : The darkness is trying to overcome the light, but the darkness cannot overcome the light (see John 1:5). In the same way, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, nailed to this Cross before our eyes, is not overcome by death. Instead, through the Cross, the Lord overcomes death. Thus this Cross, which was once the sign of the most horrible torture and death, is now the sign for us of salvation and life. This sign of the Cross, for you and for me, is the sign of how love works in our lives and overcomes all difficulties.

It is the Orthodox Christian paradox that this sign of death, the sign of the Cross, is at the same time the source of our joy. We sing at Pascha : “Through the Cross, joy has come into all the world”. Today, the Lord is saying to you and to me that He is with us, and that He will be with us always. Our Saviour will support us in everything. Let us ask our Saviour to renew our confidence in Him this morning. Let us ask Him to help us to remember that loving Him, living in love in Him is the first thing in our lives. Let us take His hand which is always stretched out to us, waiting for us, and let us let Him lift us up. Let us stand with love and joy in His presence. Let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.