Dear Readers: A long time supporter of the Mystagogy Resource Center has informed me that they would like to donate $3000 to help me continue the work of this ministry, but they will only do it as a matching donation, which means that this generous donation will only be made after you help me raise a total of $3000. If you can help make this happen, it will be greatly appreciated and it would be greatly helpful to me, as I have not done a fundraiser this year. If you enjoy the work done here and want to see more of it, please make whatever contribution you can through the DONATE link below. Thank you!
(Total So Far - Day 4: $1750)

March 26, 2011

Why We Glorify the Cross During Great Lent

By Sergei V. Bulgakov

In the services for this Sunday the Holy Church glorifies the Holy Cross and the fruits of the death of the Savior on the Cross. She will carry out the Holy Cross into the middle of the temple for veneration, and is why the Sunday is called the Veneration of the Cross. In the hymns for this day the holy Church, inviting us to honor the holy cross, tenderly appeals: "Now the angelic hosts gather in reverence and bear aloft the honored Wood, and calling together all the faithful for the veneration. Come therefore and illumined by the fast, let us fall down before it with joy and fear". "Cleansed by abstinence let us draw near, and with fervent praise let us venerate the all-holy Wood on which Christ was crucified, when He saved the world in His compassion". "Come, faithful, and let us venerate the life-giving tree, on which Christ, the King of Glory voluntarily stretched out his hands. He raised us up to the ancient blessedness, whom the enemy despoiled of old through pleasure, making us exiles far from God. Come, faithful, and let us venerate the tree whereby we have been counted worthy to crush the heads of our invisible enemies. Come, all kindred of the nations, let us honor in hymns the Cross of the Lord". Glorifying the most Holy Cross, the Holy Church sings: "Rejoice, life-bearing Cross, the beautiful Paradise of the Church, the Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory", "The indestructible foundation, and the victory of kings and the praise of priests". "Rejoice, life-bearing Cross, piety of invincible victory, door to paradise, foundation of the faithful, protection of the church: through you the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation". "Rejoice, O Cross, complete salvation of fallen Adam! Glorying in you, our faithful kings by your might laid low the people of Ishmael. We Christians kiss you now with awe, and glorifying God who was nailed on you, we cry aloud: O Lord, Who was crucified on the Cross, have mercy on us, for Thou art good and loves mankind."

The purpose of instituting the Holy Cross in the service on the third Sunday will be revealed as a beautiful comparison by the Holy Church to the tree of life in paradise, the tree which sweetened the bitter waters of Marah, the tree with the canopy of leaves under whose shade tired travelers seeking the eternal promised land may find coolness and rest. Thus, the Holy Church offers the Holy Cross for spiritual reinforcement to those going through the ascetic effort of the fast, just as food, drink and rest serve as bodily reinforcement. This spiritual reinforcement is given as the representation of the love of God to man for whom the Son of God turned Himself over to death on the Cross. It is especially necessary in the middle of our effort because now our ascetic efforts already have lost much of the freshness of its power and however yet cannot hopefully enliven itself for the near and successful ending of our ascetical effort. Having concentrated all that is the most severe and sorrowful in the worship services of the previous weeks, especially during the first, that may both frighten the sinner and apparently touch the hardest of human hearts, now in the middle of the large and difficult arena of the Holy Forty Day Fast the Holy Church offers the Holy Cross for great comfort and encouragement as needed for raising the flagging strength of those fasting. Wherefore nothing can console, encourage, and inspire the fatigued, or perhaps even the Christian weakened in spirit so much as the presentation of the eternal divine love of the Savior who turned Himself over to the struggle on the Cross for the sake of our salvation.

For such a purpose the Holy Church offers the Cross on the third Sunday of Great Lent from of old. Many hymns of praise for this Sunday were composed by Joseph and Theodore of the Studite Monastery. Everything in the worship service of this day: the most Holy Cross solemnly carried from the altar to the middle of the temple, the singing of the stichera for venerating the Cross, the Epistle recounting the suffering of the Savior on the Cross as the means of our reconcilement with God, the Gospel reminding the Christian about everyone’s duty to bear their cross in life, following the Crucified One on the Cross, - everything that promotes the deep stamp of the Cross of Christ on the heart of the believer, as a sign of our salvation, as our mighty, God-given power, saving us on earth and opening to us the entrance to the high place of our fatherland, as the highest and more powerful reinforcement of believers among the ascetics of the Holy Forty Day Fast. If the Lord suffered on a Cross for our sake then we also should practice asceticism unceasingly in fasting, prayer and other efforts of piety for His sake, discharging from ourselves and destroying in ourselves all that interferes with these efforts. With the aim of our greater enthusiasm for patience in efforts of piety, the Holy Church on the present day comfortably reminds us beforehand about coming nearer "to the light of the peaceful joy of Pascha", hymning in the troparia of the canon the holy cross and the suffering of the Savior on it, together with His joyful resurrection and inviting the faithful "with pure mouths" to sing "the song of joyfulness" (Irmos of Holy Pascha).

According to the Church hymns: "In the middle of the Fast, the all honorable Tree calls in worship" all those who "worthily follow through their passion the passion of Christ", who in the first half of the Holy Forty Day Fast have fervently practiced asceticism in fasting and prayers, in repentance and cleansing from all impurities, in acts of love and good works. For those, the Holy Cross of Christ really serves with the most comfort and strongest encouragement for the continuation of their Lenten efforts, "easing their lenten time".

But how and for what will they approach the life-giving Cross of Christ in the course of the holy days of "the soul-pleasing Forty Day Fast" when they lead the usual sinful, vain, sensual life which, perhaps, even after Holy Confession and Holy Communion remain the same as before, with the same passions and with the same insensitivity and hardness of heart? How will they kiss the Holy Cross when during the holy days of the fast they strayed to the way of vice and yet have not taken the way to true repentance, the real struggle against their passions? How will they touch the pierced side of Christ, who in their heart and during the days the Lenten tenderness did not cease to be the source only of "evil desire, theft, usury, insult, cunning, temptation, shunning, abuse, arrogance, and foolishness"? How will those touch the Holy Tree, when their impure mouth opened only for idle talk and malicious gossip, for condemnation and slander, for grumbling and indignation? How will they look on the stretched body of Christ hanging on the Cross, who with cowardice yielded to any need of the flesh, satisfied all whims, and were afraid to give up for themselves even the excessively fashionable food and clothes? Will they even worship the Crucified One on the Cross? But then will their acts of worship be distinct from those genuflections, with which the warriors of Pilate fearlessly greeted the condemned Jesus on the cross? Will they even kiss the wounds of Christ? But would these kisses be better than the kiss of Judas?

So the negligence of people and the very saving suffering of Christ can turn into condemnation, and the word of comfort cross changes to a word of bitter accusations! So from the one cup of the eternal covenant, the Christian, faithful to his name, vigilant about his salvation, or renewed by true repentance, sings of life eternal; but those uncaring about salvation, insensitive to the voice of the grace of God sings eternal condemnation! But the Holy Church offers the life-giving Cross of Christ also to the careless in hope that the beneficial power of the Cross will also touch their heart and will urge them away from the deep sleep of the sinner. "They will respect my son" said the owner of the vineyard, sending his only son to the tenants who were grumbling against him (Mt. 21:7). "They will respect the wounds of the Son of God", as if thus the Holy Church speaks about her prodigal and disobedient children, offering them the sight of the life-giving Cross of Christ. She hopes that the sight of the Divine Sufferer will remind the sinners, that as they were baptized into the death of Christ, they promised to serve the Lord instead of the world and the devil, to please God instead of their flesh, to obey the will of God instead of their lusts and passions.

The Holy Church hopes that souls will be found though guilty, but not fallen into the depths of evil, not going towards the edge of hardness, by which a look at the instrument of the suffering of the Son of God will shakes the conscience, will prick the heart, will make the saving change of thoughts and feelings so that they will return from the temple as many returned from Golgotha, "beating their breasts" (Lk. 23:48), and in their life from now on will go by the way of faith, repentance and Christian piety. (See details in "Full Collection of the Sermons of Demetrius, Archbishop of Chersonese", vol. 4, pages 324-326). They, as Ambrose of Milan teaches, should "grieve and cry, however not pushing to despair, because the One who has enlightened the eyes of the man blind from birth (Jn. 9), can make them both zealous and firm in His service if only they want to return with a pure heart. Therefore, let them recognize they are in their blindness and let them run to the Physician who can enlighten them."