As the week of the Veneration of the Holy Cross continues, here is a sermon by Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok on The Holy and Life Giving Cross:
The Cross is the result of the life of those who seceded from God. People used to be with God in the Paradise, and God filled everything. When people lost their connection to their Creator, lost purity and beauty in their lives, they found themselves on this weedy earth that is the place of our exile. Life became struggle with sin, with ourselves, and with one another. The Cross is the life full of sorrows and suffering, which people have to accept as an inevitable revenge for their sin, for their abandoning God and being self-willed. Take up your cross and follow Me (cf. Matthew 16:24) into the Heavenly Kingdom. The Lord opens up the Heaven’s door on the Cross. By His death and terrible suffering, the Lord releases us from the curse that affected every human being.
There were two other crosses, one on the right side, and the other on the left side from the Savior. There was one thief hanging to the right, a sinner who accepted all his suffering and humbled himself down. He admitted that the punishment was just and that he deserved such an end of his earthly life. Thanks to his humility, thanks to his acceptance of the cross, he was able to see God in the man who was hanging next to him. At the same time, the Lord was close to the thief who was hanging to the left but that person did not see the Truth, he did not pick up his cross voluntarily, so the closeness of God caused only annoyance and anger in his callous and insolent heart.
The Cross is the Keeper of the Universe; the Cross is the beauty of the Church; the Cross is the glory of Angels and the wounding of demons. The Cross is a mighty weapon the Lord gives us faithful. The thing that used to be a horrible torture tool becomes a sacred object, the tool of salvation, of suffering in the name of love and for the sake of the salvation of us humans. By coming in contact with our neighbor’s sorrows, by being compassionate, tender, and sympathetic, we come closer to God. This is because God is always where life is hard, where people need His help and His love.
We have to conquer sin inside us, we have to triumph over our sinful nature but we cannot do it on our own. People are ill, and their illness cannot be cured without God’s intervention, without Love. The Love that saves all humankind on the Cross is the only cure, the only means to overcome death. However, it is not easy for a person who lives for her own sake and who was born a sinner, to accept this Love and to touch its life-giving power. Take ye, and eat. This is my body. Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood (Cf. Matthew 26:26–28). This is the fruit that grows on the Cross, the fruit of love. The Cross turns into the Tree of Life, the fruit of which is immaterial and uncreated; it is the Creator Himself. This is because immortality can only be achieved through God. This fruit is accessible by each soul that seeks repentance, that is looking for her Savior, the Doctor whose medicine is He Himself, His Love, His Blood, and His Body. It is a miracle when God takes the sins of a human onto Himself, when He enters our sinful flesh and touches our souls infected with sin, and our souls are revived.
We all wear a cross on our breast. This cross is a sign of our participation in the Eternal Life, in the Life that is born through death and resurrection from the dead. As humans, we often wish we left the cross behind, we spared ourselves and admitted that we cannot cope with the hard life, with the trials and sorrows it entails, that we cannot bear so many infirmities. Nevertheless, if one approaches the Cross on which the Lord extends His arms and kisses this Cross, one’s own sorrow, one’s own pain will be incomparably easier than the stress and the pain that the Love of Christ revealed to us on the Cross.
The Lord descends to the earth, looking for humans, and this is why the paradise is back but not everyone is willing to enter this paradise. Why is it so? Because the road to the paradise goes through the cross. Why? This is because it is on the cross that the mystical reconciliation of God and man comes true. The Lord gives Himself to others through the Cross, through death. This mystery of Love brings us into the Eternal Life. The fruit of the eternal life is the fruit of God’s love that humans failed to accept in the Garden of Eden.
When a priest comes and exclaims, In the fear of God and with faith draw near, we partake of this fruit of Life, we are united with God. The thief on the right side to the Lord heard, This day thou shalt be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). Likewise, we hear when we take communion, “Partakes unto life everlasting.” The everlasting life is possible only in the paradise. Nonetheless, we repeat the mistake of our forefathers again because we cannot stay in the paradise for a long time; we start hiding from God and lose our connection to Him. When a priest carries the Gospel Book and the Crucifix out of the sanctuary and people approach them to confess their sins, it is through Cross that we are forgiven and capable of returning to God. We all carry our own crosses. We will have to carry them until the end, until the very last day of our lives. We know that time destroys our bodies and increases illnesses and suffering. Notwithstanding this fact, the Lord is with us, and the more trials and tribulation we will have to endure, the more love we will receive from that Cross that the Lord uses to call us into the Kingdom of God’s Love.
The first thing that each Christian makes as soon as she gets up is the sign of the cross. This is how her day begins. The day of an Orthodox Christian ends with prayer and the sign of the cross. When the evil and hostile spirits try to break into our minds and hearts, we know that the sign of the cross is our reliable protection, a mighty weapon against the evil powers of the entire world, against the fallen angels that attempt to convince us that God does not need us and that He has abandoned us.
There is a cross on the dome of every church, this Ark of Eternity. The Cross is like a lighthouse in this world. It calls our souls to prayer, to repentance, to an encounter with God.
The Cross is our strength, our victory; it is the flag under which all faithful souls that are bound for the Heavenly Kingdom meet.