March - April 2019
Post date: May 10, 2019 1:42:15 PM
The third Sunday of Lent is the Sunday of the Holy Cross. The services of the entire following week reflect on the meaning of the Cross. They remind us that the Cross has been transformed from an instrument of torture into one of healing; from a tool of punishment to one of encouragement. At Vespers on Saturday evening we sing
Longed for worldwide, O Cross of the Lord, * brilliantly shine the lightning bolts of your grace divine * in hearts of believers * who with true faith honor you * and with God-inspired love * venerate you. * Through you have the bitter tears and the sorrow now disappeared; * we have been rescued from the traps and the snares of death, * and we have gone over to unending happiness. * Show us the splendid majesty of your holy comeliness, * on us your servants bestowing the right rewards of our abstinence. * With faith we are praying * to receive your rich protection and great mercy.
We look upon the cross and see the Life itself hanging upon it. We behold in the image of the Cross the boundless love of God for His creation and, in the middle of the penitential season of Lent, we affirm that bitter tears and sorrow have disappeared, being replaced by unending happiness. This is surely a strange thing to say, as sorrows and tears never seem too far away. To understand how we can talk about unending happiness, let us consider the following two texts.
First, in the Orthros for Sundays in mode 4, one of the anavathmoi (hymns of ascent) says:
Whosoever has acquired hope in the Lord is superior to all whatsoever might grieve him.
The brief hymn recognizes that occasions for grief continue to assail the Christian. A Christian, however, is not overcome by grief. Rather, trusting in the Lord and remembering His promises of help, forgiveness, and resurrection, he conquers grief through faith and hope. We need to remember Christ and continually draw near to Him. This is one of the reasons the Jesus prayer is essential to our lives: it helps us keep Jesus close to mind and call upon His help and mercy to overcome the difficulties and griefs of life. This remembrance breeds hope and hope in the Lord is truly a great support and cause of joy in the midst of trials and tribulations.
The second text that helps us understand how joy is present in the life of a Christian is from the Letter to the Romans 8:18:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Again, as we saw in the brief hymn in Orthros, the grief and suffering that exist in this life are not dismissed. Indeed, grief and suffering are manifestations of our own crosses and, as Fr. Dumitru Staniloae says, “without the cross there can be no true growth and no true strengthening of the spiritual life” (The Victory of the Cross - kindle version). Fr. Dumitru continues “Our cross can be lightened by the power of the cross of Christ, who carried it being totally pure and innocent; and it is he who will raise us up, if we do not remain rooted in our own wickedness” (The Victory of the Cross).
Great Lent is an annual reminder for us to continue carrying our crosses, or, if we have put them down, to pick them back up. For Christ, the Cross was martyrdom. For us, a cross truly born, is a different kind of martyrdom. Fr. Dumitru again notes that “it is certain that because of our human condition after the Fall, we have not replied fully and satisfactorily either to God or to our neighbor. In our recognition of our fault we begin to live our true personal relationship of dialogue with God” (The Victory of the Cross). But this is not an easy thing - to admit failure, mistake, guilt. And so, the Church has placed the celebration of the Cross in the middle of Lent, as a source of strength. A reminder that, Christ, the only one who bore His Cross blamelessly and who has granted the gift of life to the world, also grants grace to those who bear their crosses and it is by His grace and His strength that we are ultimately able to bear them.
With love in Christ,