His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros

Homily at the Divine Liturgy – Veneration of the Cross

March 27, 2022

Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Los Angeles, California

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

In this magnificent Cathedral, with your beloved Metropolitan, your faithful priests, and all of you, I am so glad to be celebrating this Mid-Point in our Lenten Journey: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross.

Today, the Holy Cross of the Lord is offered to us all as a reminder of where we are going, and how to get there. It is the way of the Cross, the way that is adorned today with flowers, because our Lord Jesus Christ has taken this instrument of torture and death, and transformed into a sign that death is conquered by death. For the Lord descended into Hadës by means of the Cross, to liberate all creation from the bonds of sin and death.

Here we are in the middle of Lent, and if you were here at the Matins, you would have heard the melodies of the Resurrection chanted with different words, but with the same beauty that will adorn the Sunday of Pascha. And this is because the Cross and the Empty Tomb can never be separated. There is no Holy Friday without Easter Sunday, and there is no Resurrection without Crucifixion.

We have been speaking about the Cross of the Lord, the Cross whose image and symbol we will venerate at the conclusion of our Service. The Cross before which we bow as we chant:

Τὸν Σταυρόν σου προσκυνοῦμεν Δέσποτα, καὶ τὴν ἁγίαν σου Ἀνάστασιν δοξάζομεν.

We venerate Your Cross, O Master, and we glorify Your Resurrection.

But there is another cross that we hear of today – not the Cross of our Savior, but the cross that belongs to each and every one of us. The Lord speaks of it in today’s Gospel, when He says:

Ὅστις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.

Whoever wishes to follow Me – deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.[*]

What is this cross that He asks us to take up? You know, in the Roman world of our Lord’s day, if you saw a person carrying a cross, that could only mean one thing. They were going to die on it. It was part of the torture of crucifixion – that the condemned had to carry the instrument of their own death.

You may remember that when the Lord was carrying His Cross, the Roman soldiers forced someone else to carry it, one Simon of Cyrene. [†]

Perhaps it was because our Savior was too weak in that moment to bear the weight of it. He had not slept or eaten for days. He had been beaten and whipped. He had been tortured by the soldiers and made to wear a crown of thorns. Those Roman soldiers cajoled this Simon of Cyrene to bear the Cross of Christ, as they made their way through the Holy City to Golgotha.

So I ask you once again: What is this cross that the Lord asks us to take up?

He alone is the One who died for the sins of all, because He was sinless. So, he does not ask us to die on our cross. Instead, He asks us to follow Him, to deny ourselves, and bear the burden of our own crosses.

And those burdens are not self-centered, but other-directed. What I mean is that our crosses are choices that we make:

Choices to love, rather than hate.

To forgive, rather than bear resentment.

To be generous rather than tight-fisted – either emotionally or materially.

Because it is only as we choose freely to be persons of integrity, of virtue, of mercy and compassion, that we find ourselves on the road following Him. Being His disciples. Being in His image – the image gifted to us in Holy Baptism, and nourishing us at every Eucharist.

My friends: This is not an easy path; not an easy way to live. It requires the kind of self-denial that goes well beyond our choices on a menu during Lent. It means we give up of ourselves, so that we may give to others.

The beauty of this kind of life, this kind of a spiritual practice, is that no matter how difficult it might seem, we have One Who has obligated Himself to us, to help us carry our cross.

He owes this debt to that same Simon of Cyrene, because Simon carried the Lord’s Cross for all of us. And now, the Lord will help us with our crosses in generous repayment.

Today, when we venerate the Cross of the Lord and bow low before It, let us also find the courage to pick up own cross. Let us deny ourselves those satisfactions that deprive us of living as loving, forgiving persons.

And when we grow tired and weary, we will find our Lord Jesus Christ at our side, ready to help us bear the burden, and find our way in His footsteps, so that we may arrive through the Resurrection, in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Γένοιτο. So be it. Amen.

 

Photo: GOARCH/Brittainy Newman


[*] Mark 8:34.

[†] Cf. Matthew 27:32.