Monday, March 23, 2015

The Life-Giving Cross





Dear Parish Faithful,


In the Orthodox Church, the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord are bound together in a unified mystery, though they remain distinct events in the unfolding of the divine economy.  As Archimandrite Roman Braga writes:

        The Cross, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ are of great importance in the history of our salvation.
        Without them the Incarnation of the Son of God would have no meaning. We know that the Orthodox Church in her liturgical and
        spiritual ascetic life never separates the Cross of Christ from the mystery of the Resurrection and the Resurrection as the victory of
        the Cross.  This is why the Cross is called "life-giving," and the Resurrection is the source of joy in the entire life of the Church.
        (From "The Cross and the Resurrection")

A careful study of the New Testament - especially in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul - would yield the same insight.  Whenever St. Paul refers to the Cross, he will shortly thereafter refer to the "glory" that the Cross imparts to believers.

This is made abundantly clear in two of the most profound hymns in the Church that beautifully and inextricably unite both Cross and Resurrection.  Whenever we venerate the Cross liturgically - as on the Third Sunday of Great Lent - we replace "Holy God" in the Liturgy with the following hymn that I will assume we all know so well:


        Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection, we glorify.

Although this particular Sunday is dedicated to the Cross; and although it is the Cross that we bow before and then venerate; the Cross remains intimately linked to the Resurrection, which "we glorify" simultaneously with bowing before the Cross.  The Cross without the Resurrection would be nothing but a senseless and horrific tragedy.  If there was only a Cross with the Resurrection, Christianity would not exist!  This wonderful hymn reminds us of that.

There is a second and more detailed hymn which is truly "paschal" in nature; and this is a hymn that we chant or sing at every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, immediately after receiving Holy Communion:

        Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only Sinless One.  We venerate Thy Cross, O Christ,
        and we praise and glory Thy holy Resurrection; for Thou are our God, and we know no other than Thee; we call on Thy name.  Come
        all you faithful, let us venerate Christ's holy Resurrection!  For, behold, through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Let us ever
        bless the Lord, praising His Resurrection, for by enduring the Cross for us, He has destroyed death by death.

This hymn is equal to any of the magnificent hymns that we sing and chant during Pascha. It sounds like an amplified and fuller version of the paschal troparion, "Christ is Risen from the dead ..."  In fact, it is included in the paschal services, as it is sung during the Matins and Hours of Pascha.  That is because each Sunday, as the Lord's Day, is actually our weekly commemoration and actualization of the paschal mystery of death and resurrection of Christ. The Cross and Resurrection are wonderfully woven together in this extraordinary hymn (which is why I make a point of chanting it aloud at the appointed time; and why we sing it together for emphasis during the Paschal season).  The meaning and significance of the Cross are revealed in the Resurrection.  And the Resurrection is the revelation of the victory of the Cross. How could joy possibly enter "all the world" through the Cross of Christ?  Only if He was resurrected from the dead following His death and burial. How could endurance of the Cross "destroy death by death?"  Only through that same Resurrection. 

Great Lent is a sustained journey towards its fulfillment in the Paschal Mystery. The Third Sunday of the season as the Sunday of the Veneration of the Life-Giving Cross is the midpoint of this journey.  If we continue without getting overly "sided-tracked:" then the reward at the end of the journey is to behold the Resurrection of Christ with faith and hope; and to realize that the only true source of joy in this beautiful but tragically fallen world comes through the Cross of the Lord.

        

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