April 4, 2021

Homily for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Honorable Cross (St. Damaskinos the Studite)

 By St. Damaskinos the Studite, 
Bishop of Liti and Rendini (+ 1577)

This present Sunday of the Holy Cross is a day of preparation, similar to the one that takes place when a nation prepares to welcome back its king who is  returning  victorious  from  war.  Just  as  a  king  who  has vanquished his enemies sends heralds to inform his people and announce to them the joyous news of his victory, prior to returning to his homeland, similarly our Lord Jesus Christ,  the Great King, has sent us the Honorable Cross today as a herald instructing us to prepare to receive Him — because shortly He will come to show us how  He  conquered the  devil through His death and His Holy Resurrection.

Today the Orthodox Church of Christ resembles Paradise. Just as in the middle  of  the  Garden  of  Eden  there  was  the  tree  of  knowledge,  which  put Adam  to  death  through  his  disobedience,  similarly  our  Holy  Church sets forth the Cross, the tree of life, which resurrected Adam through the death of Christ. Christ  presents  the Honorable Cross to us today so that we may cheerfully venerate it as the cause of the resurrection for the entire human race. Today, the following prophecy of the Prophet David was fulfilled: “Let us worship at the place where His feet have stood” (Ps. 131:7).

We  have made  an  effort  to  fast thus  far through  Great  Lent; now,  the day  has  come  for  us  to rejoice. People  who  travel by  foot  on  a  far  journey oftentimes  begin to grow  weary,  especially in  times when the  hot  sun is beating  down  on  them. If, however,  they  encounter a tree with dense foliage along the way, they find solace, they rest and recuperate under its shade, and then continue  their  journey  with  renewed  strength. Similarly, since we have struggled to observe this arduous fast,  as we encounter  the  Honorable  Cross today midway through Great Lent, we rejoice in this divine celebration, we find consolation, we are fortified, and thus eagerly proceed on the remainder of our journey  through  the  fast.  The  Honorable  Cross  is  an  invincible  weapon  for every  Christian.  It  is  the  victory  for  kings,  the  honor  of  the  Church,  the persecutor of the demons, and the guard of the faithful.

Blessed  are  they  who  venerate  the  Cross  with  a  pure  heart.  Fortunate are the people who the Lord speaks of in His Holy Gospel, who are worthy of following Him: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24).

Look  at  how  gently  the  Lord  makes  this  statement!  He  did  not  say, “Whether  you  want  to  or  not,  follow  Me.”  Rather, “If  anyone desires....” In other  words,  He  does  not  force,  He  does  not  oppress,  He  does  not  compel anyone. Each person is in charge of his own soul and is free to decide what to do.  Each  person  is  able,  if  he  desires,  to  save  his  soul  or,  if  he  prefers,  to condemn his soul. This is why He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me.... I want to give you what is good, I want to grant you joy, I want to offer you rest.  Therefore,  come  willingly,  and  if  you  want  to  be  saved,  deny  yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”

When  someone  denies  another  person,  whether  it  be  his  relative,  his friend,  or  anyone  else,  he  no  longer  thinks  of  this  person,  nor  helps  him,  nor pities him, even if he sees or hears that he is suffering. Similarly, God does not want us to pity our body, even if we are ever tortured on account of His name, or if we suffer persecution on account of our faith.

Moveing on, He states, “and take up his cross.” Do you see with what kind of powerful weapon the great King and God arms  His  soldiers  with?  He  does  not  give  them  a  shield,  or  an  arrow,  or  a sword, or any other firearm used by earthly soldiers. Rather, He gives them the Honorable Cross! The Cross serves as a sword, as a shield, as an arrow, and it becomes any type of weapon that is necessary for the pious Christian. Just as  every  king  acquires  the  best  weapons  for  his  soldiers,  similarly  the  Lord gave us the Cross as an invincible weapon, and He simultaneously advises us, “Do  you  see  how  many  things  My  Cross  accomplished?  Do  you  see  how  it defeated death? Do you see how it trampled on the power of the devil? Hence, hold  on  to  and  use  this  weapon  if  you  also  want  to  accomplish  what  I accomplished.”

What exactly does it mean for us to take up our cross? It is as if Christ is telling  us,  “Always  keep  death  in  mind.  Just  as  a  person  who  has  been sentenced to be crucified for committing crimes carries a cross on his shoulder as  he  proceeds  with  it  to  the  place  of  his  execution,  certain  that  his  life  will come to an end that day, you should also live as if today is your final day and be prepared for death.” Additionally, it means that we must be dead to all the worldly and secular sins, as the Apostle Paul specifies: “The world has been crucified  to  me,  and  I  to  the  world”  (Gal.  6:14).  This  is  how  we  must  die every day, as the same Apostle stated elsewhere, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). He is not telling us to die physically with a natural death, but to willingly mortify the  passions,  disregard  the  evil  desires  of  the  body,  and  put  to  death  our improper urges. In this instance, our body is mortified, but our soul lives: “If by the  Spirit  you  put  to  death  the  deeds  of  the  body,  you  will  live" (Rom. 8:13).

After  Moses  led  the  Jews  out  of  Egypt  and  passed  them  through  the Red Sea, they came to a wilderness named Shur. They journeyed three days in  this  wilderness  without  finding  any  water  to  drink.  Finally,  they  came  to  a place called Marah, where they found water; however, they could not drink this water  because  it  was  too  bitter,  and  thus that area was named "Bitterness." Consequently,  the  people  began  murmuring  against  Moses,  saying,  "Why  did you  take  us  out  of  Egypt?  Why  didn't  you  let  us  die  there  in  our  homeland? Now,  give  water  to  us, and our wives, and our children." Then Moses cried unto the Lord and asked Him to make the water sweet, and the Lord, in turn, showed him a tree. As soon as Moses cast it into the waters, the waters were made  sweet (Ex. 15:22-25).  If  this  tree,  which  foreshadowed  the  Honorable Cross, sweetened the bitter waters of Marah during the time of Moses, how is it possible for the Cross not to perform greater wondrous miracles?

Many  other  miracles  that  were accomplished by the rod of Moses also foreshadowed  the  power  and  energy  of  the  Cross.  Indeed,  the  rod  of  Moses was a typology of the Honorable Cross. Moses' rod turned into a serpent and swallowed  the  rods  that  belonged  to  the  Pharaoh's  magicians (Ex.  7:10-12). Similarly, the Honorable Cross crushed, and continues to crush to this day, the power  of  the  demons.  Moses'  rod  parted  the  Red  Sea,  and  the  Jews  passed through   it, escaping the hands of the Pharaoh unharmed (Ex. 14:16). Likewise, the Honorable Cross displaced sin and evil, and allows man to pass unharmed  through  the  ploys  and  traps  of  the  devil.  Even  to  this  day,  it  is  the Cross that helps us to practice and to acquire virtue. Moses' rod split the rock in  the  desert  and  twelve  springs  gushed  forth  from  which  the  thirsty  Jews drank (Ex. 17:6).  Similarly,  the  Honorable  Cross  ruptured  the  unrepentant world  that  was  hard  as  a  rock,  and  it  brought  forth  the  twelve  Apostles  who taught and guided the nations who were living in deception. Even the righteous Jacob crossed the Jordan River with his rod, as he himself attests: “For I have crossed over this Jordan with my staff” (Gen. 32:10).

All these events took place in order for us to realize and believe that the Cross  is  capable  of  performing  even  greater  miracles,  through  the  power  of Christ  Who  was  crucified  upon  it.  This  is  why  we  venerate  the  Cross  and  the nails used to crucify Christ, Whom we believe and confess to be the True God. For we do not venerate or worship matter (i.e., wood, or gold, or silver); rather, we  honor  and  venerate  the  image  of  the  Cross,  simultaneously  raising  our minds to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus,  it  is  proper  and  worthy  to  venerate  the  Cross,  as  the  Prophets themselves instruct us to do. The prophet David says, "Let us worship at the place  where  His  feet  have  stood"  (Ps. 131:7).  Elsewhere  he  commands, "Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at the footstool of His feet" (Ps. 98:5). And  once  more  he  remarks, "Thou  hast  given  a  sign  unto  them  that  fear Thee, that they may flee from before the face of the bow" (Ps. 59:6). In other words, David, as if speaking to Christ, says: "You gave  to  the  Christians  who fear You a sign to flee from the arrow." The sign is the Honorable Cross; for we make the sign of the Cross on our body. The arrow symbolizes the devil, who is  our  enemy  and  who  desires  to  assassinate  our  soul.  And  then  he  repeats, "Work in me a sign unto good, and let them that hate me behold and be put  to  shame"  (Ps. 85:17).  That  is,  David  pleads  and  asks  Christ,  "Give  me the sign of the Cross that will be beneficial for me, which will put all my adversaries  (i.e., the  demons)  to  shame  when  they  see  it.  Similarly,  the prophet  Ezekiel  instructs, "Put  a  mark  on  their  foreheads"  (Ezk. 9:4). Whereas,  the  wise  Solomon  states, "For  a  wood  was  blessed,  through which righteousness comes" (W. Sol. 14:7). That is, the Cross through which salvation  was  given  is  honored  and  venerated.  The  prophet  Isaiah  even specifies  the  type  of  wood  the  Cross  was  made  of: "With  the  cypress,  the pine, and the cedar together, to glorify My holy place" (Isa. 60:13).

Rejoice  O  Cross!  You  are the  boast  and  glory  of  the  entire  world.

Rejoice  O  Cross!  You  are  the  strength  of  the  weak  and  the  support  of  the faithful.  

Rejoice  O  Cross!  You  are  the  companion  of  travelers,  the  victory  of those in battle, the salvation of them in danger.

Rejoice O Cross! You are the teaching  of  the  Apostles,  the  prophecy  of  the  Prophets,  the  aid  of  the preachers, the boast of the martyrs, the delight of the ascetics, the venerable and  honorable  adornment  of  all  the  Saints.  

Rejoice  O  Cross!  You  are  the protector  of  all  pious  Christians. You  are  our  guardian  and  weapon.  You  are our  helper.  With  Your  power  and  energy  we  put  our  enemies  to  shame,  we overcome the demons, and we vanquish the pride of the Devil.

Let us venerate the  Holy  Cross  my  beloved  Christians.  Let  us  venerate  it  and  wholeheartedly adore  it.  Let  us  gaze  at  it  with  fear  and  joy:  with  fear  on  account  of  our sinfulness and unworthiness; with joy on account of the grace that it bestows to us.