St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross

 

Sermon preached by Alexey Orlovsky on Sunday, April 7, 2013

(Unfortunately I persisted in calling it Exaltation, when Veneration was correct.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Fast is often described as a great journey. Allow me to share with you a voyage of discovery I’ve made since the beginning of the Fast.

I’ve been hanging out in the enquirers’s class, which is so ably led by our very own Bob Kowalik. There are always lots of great questions, especially about the Cross. Are “Atonement” and “Appeasement of an Angry God” a part of the Orthodox understanding of the Crucifixion?

These are tough questions and I have to admit I was not sure anyone benefited from whatever I mumbled in reply. A couple days later, it struck me: I didn’t know all the answers but I sure knew where to look. Duh! In the services of the Church.

So I took out my trusty Lenten Triodion. Why not look at the hymns and prayers for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross? It was coming up soon and I was never clear on why it’s there in the middle of the Great Fast anyways.

What I expected to find was abstract theological statements, probably dealing with kenosis. “Kenosis” is Greek for “emptying”. God empties himself to become man and in the ultimate act of self-emptying dies voluntarily.

Well!

I was amazed at what I found. It was nothing at all like what I had imagined. When I shared my astonishment with my wife, somehow she was less surprised at my utter cluelessness.

What I found instead:

Joy, remembrance, thanksgiving, but above all, Joy!

(Quotes from Orthros)

  “In Paradise of old the tree stripped me bare, … brought in death. But now, the Tree of the Cross clothes us with garment of life” (Kontakion)

“The fiery sword no longer guards the gate of Eden, … the wood of the Cross has quenched its flames.” (one of the Odes)

“Today the ranks of angels dance…” (another Ode)

Everyone is dancing in these texts. And my favorite:

“Let all the trees of the forest dance and sing, as they behold their fellow tree, the Cross, today receive veneration: for Christ … exalted it on high” (8th Ode)

So concrete! No theological abstractions and, yet, the purest theology.

I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong in all my life.

What is not there: morbid Mel (Gibson). What’s wrong with that movie:

It’s crucifixion without resurrection.
It’s Mel’s remix.

I want the Church to teach me. I want the Church to guide me to understanding through Her words, through Her images and through Her liturgies. In other words, through all her icons.

Enough of this. “Let us go hence.”

We seek the Truth:

We do not ignore the suffering, the pain, the horror of death on a cross.
                  We never forget that the Cross led to Resurrection.

If you seek the Truth about the Cross:

Come here on Holy Thursday. I learned more about the Holy Cross from one of our parishioners, Bob Hamwey, singing the 15th Antiphon, right here at St.  Mary Orthodox Church, than from watching from a hundred movies.

If you hunger for the Truth about the Cross:

Really look at the faces of you fellow parishioners here during Holy Week. Really look.

If you thirst for the power of the Cross:

Then show up on Holy Saturday morning for the Resurrection.

So why do we Exalt the Holy Cross, today in the middle of the Fast?

As you can see from the foregoing quotes, the Church is no stranger to irony:

                  Then                                                                        Now
                  The Tree in Genesis                   ->                 the Tree of the Cross
                  Instrument of the Fall                                    Instrument of Salvation
                  Adam                                                           Christ (the New Adam)
                                                      He makes all things new.

We started the Fast with Adam’s banishment from Paradise, now the Church declares:

A Tree is planted in the middle of the Fast
The Tree of Life
The Tree refreshes us

Once again we walk in the garden in the cool of the day
with Him.

The Church gave us this gift:

The joy of the faithful, transmitted over centuries, the joy of the Resurrection is handed down to us through the Cross.  The very bonds of time are shattered by the Cross and the Resurrection. This is but a small foretaste of how we participate in the Kingdom of God.

The Church has written an icon for us, she has written it on time itself:

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the Great Fact is an icon of the Kingdom of God bursting into time and making all things new.

There is a similar icon during the Fast. We put the Cross and the Resurrection at the center of every week in the Fast with the Presanctified Liturgy.

What if we every day we remembered the Cross and the Resurrection?
What if we gave thanks for them every hour,
every minute,
with every breath?

Until our lives become the Eucharist that never ends?

Behold the glittering vista now spread before us!
“Let us fall down and venerate the Holy Cross of our Lord
And glorify his Holy Resurrection!”

“For Behold!
Through the Cross,
Joy has come into the world!”