April 5, 2021

Third Sunday of Great Lent - Sin and the Cross (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mk. 8:38)

The Lord wants His disciples to follow Him, lifting up their cross. Christianity is an army of crusaders. The first crusader is Christ and He is followed by those who lift up their cross. With today's homily, however, we will not try to explain what "take up his cross" means. We believe that another opportunity will be given to develope it, because this point is a view that expresses the Orthodox ethos.

Today we want to emphasize the power of the Cross of Christ, which is the glory of the Church and of man, since with His power man lifts his own cross. The Cross of Christ that we especially venerate today is the supernatural and glorious Holy Altar, on which there is the Crucified Lord, Who, as a great High Priest, made the great sacrifice, which was the occasion for the return of all creation to God. Indeed, the Cross is the central point of all creation, the unity of the whole world. We must examine this great truth today, in as little time as possible.

The Divisive Energy of Sin

In order to see the great significance of the Cross we must see the divisive energy of sin. Before the fall there was unity between God, man and all nature. After sin, nature and man were separated from God. Today we know the terrible consequences that come from the disintegration of the individual. But it cannot be compared with the results of the disintegration of the person, because of sin.

According to the teaching of Saint Maximus, sin is not a simple violation of a Law, but the abnormal movement of the natural forces of the soul. That is, man, instead of moving incessantly towards God, who is the source of life and deification, moves towards tangible good things. Thus sin is the deprivation of the good and "the voluntary departure from what is natural and to what is unnatural" according to Saint John of Damascus. Sin, as the deprivation of the good, is also the "first encounter of man with nothingness". Let us look at this "abnormal movement", the divisive energy of sin.

First of all it was man who separated from God. Since God is the Light and the Life of men, we understand that with his removal man was enclosed in darkness and death. He wore the "leather tunic" of decay and mortality. He got to the point where he was ignorant of God and worshiped idols.

Moreover people became divided among themselves. Adam, seeing Eve immediately after her creation, rejoiced and said, "This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). But after the sin he said: "The woman you gave me, she gave me of the tree and ate" (Gen. 3:12). From the bone of his bones immediately she became the woman that God gave him.

Man was even divided internally. Before sin all the powers of the soul were united, since God was their center. After the sin, after the center was lost, they were disorganized. The mind thought differently, the heart desired differently and the human will did differently.

The link between man and nature was also broken. Man before the fall was king of all nature. But now after the fall he has lost his throne and nature refuses to submit. He needs to shed a lot of sweat to be given the necessities of life. It hides many secrets, which he slowly discovers with the love of God.

Finally, all nature was separated from God. It is submissive and a slave to death. That is, man was the pure mirror through which the Light of God radiated in nature. When the mirror shattered, deep darkness fell throughout the creation.

The Unifying Power of the Cross

All these divisions were united by the Cross of Christ. The Church sings: "You unfolded your palms and united what was previously apart." And Saint Cyril of Alexandria says: "Through the Honorable Cross, there was a release from captivity that contributed to the unity of souls, and what was formerly divided with haste there came unity of mind and unity of faith."

Thus the death of Christ on the Cross and consequently the life-giving wood of the Cross became the beginning of the unity and incorruptibility of all nature.

Specifically, through the Cross man returns to God and unites with Him. He is clothed in the Light and acquires Life. He removes the garment of decay and mortality and puts on the garment of incorruption and immortality. Through the Cross people are united with each other. This really happens in the Church, where people, of any nationality, become brethren among themselves and members of the Body of Christ. The Church sings: "In the midst of the earth you brought salvation, Christ God, for on the Cross you spread out your immaculate hands and gathered all the nations, who cry out: Lord glory to you."

Through the Cross man is united internally. The three powers of the soul that lost their center, God, and became split are now united. The mind thinks what God wants, desires what God wants and the will obeys God's will (Christ-mind, Christ-desire, Christ-will). In the man of the Crucified, in the friend of the Cross, there are not those mental conflicts, of which modern psychology speaks.

Through the Cross man becomes king and nature serves him. We see this in the lives of the Saints, who were also served by the wild beasts, since in them they had the energy of divine Grace and the beasts smelled the fragrance of Adam before the fall.

Through the Cross, all creation returns to God, since the reborn man reflects in nature the Light of Christ. Thus it is illumined and sanctified. This is clearly shown by Byzantine iconography that presents nature as bright. Eventually she too will be free from corruption.

The Honorable Cross is the unity of the whole world, because it destroys the only divisive element, sin. "Through the Cross joy has come throughout the world." Modern people, being far from the Cross, are in the torturous state of division. Unification and peace outside the Cross are impossible. But those who unite with the Crucified, overcome all separations and abolish all divisions. As all light, says a Saint, is concentrated in the sun, so in the Cross is concentrated all the love and peace of the Almighty Christ.

Source: From the book Όσοι Πιστοί. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.