September 11, 2022

Homily for the Sunday Before the Elevation of the Honorable Cross - The Thrice-Blessed Cross (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

Homily for the Sunday Before the Elevation of the Honorable Cross

The Thrice-Blessed Cross

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up..." (Jn. 3:14)

Beloved brethren,

The story of the bronze serpent is well known, to which today's Gospel reading refers. Because of the indignation of the ungrateful Jewish people, God sent snakes that spread death. However, God again took pity on the people and ordered Moses to make a bronze serpent, which when the Jews saw it, they were cured of the snake bites (Num. 8-9). This historical event is adapted in two ways to the case of Christ, according to two ecclesiastical interpretations.

According to the first established interpretation, the bronze serpent is a type of the Crucified Christ. Just as the bronze serpent had the form of a snake but had no poison, so Christ had a human body but had no sin. The Jews saw the brazen serpent and were afflicted by the bites of real snakes. Christians see the Crucified Christ, receive His Grace and are healed from the bites of invisible snakes, evil spirits. The Crucified One gives us spiritual health, purification of the soul, eternal life, unspeakable peace.

According to the second interpretation, the bronze serpent is not a type of Christ, but His counterpart. This is how Saint Gregory the Theologian interprets this event in his Easter sermon. In other words, the bronze serpent is a type of the death of the invisible snake, the devil, which took place with Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. In other words, the Christian who believes that the devil was put to death and lost his power from the great power of Christ, he is saved and moves forward in his spiritual life.

Both of these interpretations of the bronze serpent, a type of the Crucified Christ or His counterpart, show that the Cross of Christ is a great power, it killed the devil's dominion and through its power we defeat all the forces of evil.

Many events of the Old Testament are prototypes of the Cross of Christ, such as the rod of Moses, which opened and closed the Red Sea, the wood that sweetened the bitter waters of Marah, etc. However, it must be noted that these events are not simple prototypes of the Cross, but they are experiences of the mystery of the Cross. The Cross, according to the holy Fathers, is the eternal energy of God, which saved people before the Law, after the Law, before the incarnation, during the incarnation and after it.

Saint Gregory Palamas in one of his sermons develops the truth of the Church that the Cross is one, but its friends are many. There are friends of the Cross even before it appeared. His mystery and His Grace were also active in the Forefathers. God's command to Abraham to leave his homeland and his kinship, the voice that called Moses to ascend Mount Sinai, is an experience of the mystery of the Cross.

The energy of the Cross is threefold. The first is our own removal from sin, the second is the removal of sin from us and the third is the vision of the glory of God, through the mystery of the Cross. The historical event of the Crucifixion condemns man, because the human nature through the hypostatic union with the divine nature became by nature a source of uncreated Grace. Therefore, it is not a simple prototype of the Cross in the Old Testament, but it is an experience of the mystery of the Cross.

All this shows that the sign of the Honorable Cross is not a simple shape, but that which transmits the energies of God. The great power of the Cross is not due to the shape itself, but to Christ who was Crucified on it. From Him it draws strength and grace.

Therefore, the Cross is not a magical instrument, but "the life-giving power of divine energies". This is how we explain that the sealing with the Cross is the necessary characteristic of all the mysteries and the sacramental ceremonies of the Church. For example, the water of the font is sanctified by the descent of the Holy Spirit by the formation of the Cross. The same happens in the mystery of the Eucharist. In "change these by your Holy Spirit" the priest seals the bread and wine and they change into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Mystery of Marriage with the pronouncement "the servant of God is crowned..." the priest forms the Cross. That is why Saint Gregory Palamas emphasizes that "not only the word of the cross and the mystery, but also the form is divine and venerated, because it is a seal of reverence and finality of all the wonderful and inexpressible goods that come from God."

Many times we make the sign of the Cross on ourselves. The reasons for why this is done are many. We will be content with enumerating the main ones. First, we express our gratitude to Christ, who loved us to the point of enduring the Cross and saved us. Second, we ask for His Grace and blessing to defeat the passions and drive out the cunning enemy. Thirdly, we form the Cross upon ourselves in order to crucify evil thoughts, wicked desires and the unbridled and perverted will, which leads us away from the path of God. Fourthly, with the shape of the hand we confess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the doctrine of the unconfused and indivisible union of the divine and human nature in the Person of Christ. That is, with the three fingers united we confess the Holy Trinity and with the other two the God-manhood of Christ. Fifth, we confess that we will live a crucified life, we will love asceticism, we will sacrifice our lives if the Lord allows it as the holy Martyrs did, and in general as all the saints lived. That is why, when we venerate their icons, we make the sign of the Cross.

Our strength, our glory and the hope of our salvation is the Honorable Cross of the Lord, who draws strength from the Crucified Christ. Therefore, by signing our body with the cross, let us pray with all the strength of our soul: "Cross of Christ, save us by your power."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.