St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Sunday of the Holy Cross

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mark 8:34-9:1 (Third Sunday of Great Lent)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

This is the Sunday of the Adoration of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross, the mid-point of the spiritual journey we call Great Lent and a turning point in our Lenten effort. From this point on we begin to look intently to the Crucifixion of our Lord and embrace its power in our own lives as we continue to make our way to the Empty Tomb. Before this we were getting accustomed to the disciplines of Lent, settling in to a new rhythm of life. It takes time to adjust to fasting and intensification of prayer and Church services. A couple of weeks should be about enough, I guess. But whatever the case, here we are now! Ready or not!

Taking up the Cross and following the Lord is often identified with obedience to the commandments. Indeed we are commanded to follow them by the Lord, by Holy Scripture and by the Holy Fathers. But we are mistaken if we see the commandments as only those moral and ethical proscriptions written in Holy Scripture. Those are the overarching themes for sure, but His commandments are much more personal and intimate than that.

The great theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloe writes that “The Lord hasn’t only given us commandments once and forever, but He gives them every moment.”

God’s commandments are revealed to us moment by moment! That is why it is essential that we practice watchfulness (mindfulness). Only those who are watchful and mindful are able to discern, to see, to hear these commandments whispered in the depths of our hearts. This is one of the benefits of consciousness in the Christian life. It is the road to enlightenment which is above all a gift of the Holy Spirit given at the right moment, the moment when the believer is ready. When we come to see that each moment is an incomparable, unrepeatable, and invaluable gift as well, then we know we have begun to awaken.

The Cross shows us the great divide between a life lived selfishly and life lived authentically in accordance with the original intent of the Creator. Sin, death, and the Adversary were defeated by Christ on the Cross by His supreme self-giving sacrifice, but their shadow resides in our hearts, infecting us and deluding us to the truth of life. We see the shadow (the concerns, desires, and cares of the world) and believe it to be the Sun itself.

The truth is that these empty concerns, as the funeral service tells us, are “only a shadow and a dream.” To leave behind the shadow and turn toward the Light each and every moment as it is revealed is what it means to take up the Cross deny ourselves. Life in Christ unrolls like a red carpet before each step is taken one precious moment at a time

It is of no value to view the commandments as impersonal laws that we are supposed to apply to our lives like we apply veneer to furniture. It is far more valuable to see them as coming from the Lord Himself who dwells within and who guides us with His still, small voice in every intimate moment of life. Otherwise, the Christian life becomes only an intellectual exercise and not an intimate journey. Each “little” obedience in each “little” moment weakens the “old man” allowing space for the “new man” to grow.

St. Maximos makes a fascinating distinction as he interiorizes the first and second comings of Christ. The first coming, he writes, corresponds to the newly baptized soul receiving Christ and the Holy Spirit within. He writes that the Lord hides Himself in the inner temple of the heart. Gradually, as the believer awakens to His presence and begins the work of purification reaching at last the perfection of virtues the indwelling Christ reveals Himself in His glory – a type of the Second Coming. Those who experience this interior “second coming” will no way be surprised when the Lord returns “on the clouds.” They will recognize that the event has already taken place in their hearts.

Fr. Staniloe writes this remarkable summary of St Maximos’ teaching:

“From Baptism the Lord is concealed in the innermost sanctuary of our being, stimulating us to carry out the commandments, by imprinting the traits of the Lord on our spiritual face. So they gradually become clearer under the impetus of His commanding force, which works from the inside out, which is nothing else than Jesus Christ, the one dwelling deeply within us, unnoticed at the beginning in a perceptible way. By our virtues the presence of Christ is thus made even more obvious within us, manifesting itself even brighter in our exterior conduct.”

Christ, the Lord of both the First and Second Coming, is hidden in each personal, moment-by-moment Word and commandment of God. As we become more and more awake and aware of this interior work all of life, interior and exterior, is transformed, and we gradually become more and more like Him. This is the work of the Cross as it relates to us and our daily lives: to wake up, pay attention, be still and listen, and then to let go of the shadow more and more so that we come to not only hear, but obey.

When Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God has come with power,” he is not only referring to those three apostles who saw Him transfigured in His glory on Mt. Tabor, but to those of us who come to see Him transfigured in glory in our own hearts.