The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross
September 14, 2009
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I greet you in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, a major Feast of our Holy Orthodox Church which we commemorate each year on September 14. In Her wisdom, our Holy Orthodox Church designates a specific passage from the Holy Gospel to be read during the Divine Liturgy celebrated on this day. The reading, according to the Gospel of John (19:6-30), is a dramatic narrative of Christ's judgment before Pontius Pilate, and His crucifixion, suffering and death on the Cross. The Church also prescribes this day as a strict fast.
The combining of this Gospel passage with the religious discipline of fasting is an intentional one by the Church, for it has the effect of inviting the worshipper to revisit central themes from the liturgical period of Great and Holy Lent. On this Feast, the Church reinforces these themes, focusing on the role of repentance and prayer in the Christian life and on the Cross as a constant reminder of the source of our strength, power, salvation, and life.
It is in this context that we may appreciate our liturgical act today of raising the symbol of the Cross with our hands and with our hearts. In doing this, we remember that the Cross is much more than a symbol of our faith. Indeed, it is a sign that proclaims the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ over death the establishing of His redemptive work and perfect love which He demonstrated fully and completely on the Cross.
This Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and the themes which it reinforces through the liturgical actions we express, the Gospel reading to which we listen, and the strict fast to which we adhere, direct our lives in the Way of the Cross. This is the way of sacrifice, as we take up our cross daily and deny selfish interests (Luke 9:23). It is the path of service to others in humility, not of earthly glory and treasure (Mark 10:21). It is the journey from death to eternal life, as we emulate the One who turned an instrument of shame into an emblem of victory.
For us, as Orthodox Christians, the Way of the Cross should be our calling and our life-long commitment. For some among the people of God, this path of sacrifice and service has also become a sacred vocation in the Holy Priesthood. Our seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts, is most appropriately named Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and thus celebrates its Feast on this most blessed day. This Feast speaks with powerful relevance to the sacred mission of our Seminary in training the future Priests of our Archdiocese. It is the development of the priestly conscience, consistent with the arduous yet extraordinarily fulfilling path of the Way of the Cross, which is the task undertaken by all those who are preparing themselves for the Holy Priesthood during their years of study at our Holy Cross Seminary.
In elaborating upon the significance of today's Feast, and in describing the virtues which are essential to priestly formation, it is only appropriate at this time that we work as a community of believers, the Church, to support our beloved Seminary. This support is expressed in one way through financial contributions that we are invited to make on this day. It is also expressed through our act of encouraging more and more young men in our parishes to consider the Holy Priesthood as a meaningful and blessed manner of life in our modern world. Our encouragement and support for those who are contemplating the Holy Priesthood must also be joined by our prayers for all those who are currently studying at Holy Cross, and for others who may respond to Christ's sacred call and dedicate their lives to the Way of the Cross as Priests of His Holy Church. In our own lives, we know the redemptive and saving power of the Cross. How many more lives will be led to an abundant life through our support of worthy candidates for the Holy Priesthood and our Seminary? How many souls will be lifted up unto salvation through the ministry of those who are called, trained and sent to share the Gospel of love and life?
It is my fervent prayer on this beautiful Feast of our Holy Orthodox Church, that the strength, grace, and perfect peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of His Precious and Life-Giving Cross, may be with all of us, as we remember His love for us and dedicate our whole lives to follow the Way of the Cross unto eternal life.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America