April 4, 2021

Third Sunday of Great Lent - Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross (Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos)

By Archimandrite Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

On the Third Sunday of Great Lent our Church sets before us the veneration of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross. For what reason? See what the Horologion says:

"Every work of labor has great difficulty, but the size of its difficulty appears in the middle of it; for the labor that wears you down brings weakness, and weakness makes the rest of the work harder. Because we also, by divine grace, have arrived at about the middle of the fast, and weakness has surrounded us and the difficulty has increased, for this reason our holy Mother, the Church of Christ, sets before us as a most-mighty aid the all-holy Cross, the joy of the world, the strength of the faithful, the support of the righteous and the hope of sinners; so that we being broken may reverently receive grace and strength to complete the divine struggle of the fast."

On the Sign of the Cross

Orthodox Christians always make, in their prayers, but also in other moments, the sign of the Cross. But how few are the people that do it the way they should! With the gestures of their hands many people mock the thrice-holy instrument of our salvation. It is indescribable the way in which these people make the sign of the Cross. How therefore should the sign of the Cross be made? With the three fingers (we all know which three fingers) of the right hand united (as a type of the unity of the Holy Trinity), first we bring it to the forehead; second to the abdomen; third to the right shoulder; and fourth to the left shoulder. These movements must be made not nervously and spasmodically, but with calmness, and with reverence. Why on these four parts of our bodies do we make the sacred sign of the Cross? Saint Kosmas the Aitolos says:

"Listen, my brethren, how the sign of the Cross is made and what it means. First, just as the Holy Trinity is glorified in heaven by the angels, so should you join your three fingers of your right hand. And being unable to ascend into heaven to worship, raise your hand to your head (because the head means heaven) and say: 'Just as the angels glorify the Holy Trinity in heaven, so do I, as a servant glorify and worship the Holy Trinity. And as the fingers are three separate, and are together, so is the Holy Trinity three persons but one God.' Lowering your hand to your stomach, say: 'I worship you and adore you, my Lord, because you condescended and took on flesh in the womb of the Theotokos for my sins.' Place your hand on your right should and say: 'I beg you, my God, to forgive me and to put me on your right with the just.' Placing your hand again on your left should say: 'I beg you, my Lord, do not put me on the left with the sinners.' This is what the Cross means."

Another preacher of the gospel also gives a very beautiful symbolic interpretation of these four parts, saying:

"Bring your fingers first to your forehead, – there is the seat of intelligence. Then bring your fingers to your abdomen, - there are your bowels, the seat of your emotional world. After this you bring your fingers to your shoulders, - there your arms are united with your body. All of this is as if you are saying to Jesus: 'My Lord, to You I give and dedicate my mind, my love, all my emotions, all the works of my hands. In other words, my whole being, my whole existence is Yours, it belongs to You.'"

The Fathers of our Church, as well as her Hymnographers, have composed wonderful and magnificent encomiums to the Cross:

All believers must wear upon themselves the Honorable Cross. Even if it's small, even if it's wooden. It is our flag, our trophy, our protection, our weapon, the symbol of our salvation. It must not be missing from anyone. Therefore let us chant:

"We venerate Your Cross, Master, and we glorify Your holy Resurrection."

Source: From the book Περίοδος Τριωδίου. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.