Faith and worship

The Lord is everything to me. He is the strength of my heart and the light of my intellect. He inclines my heart to everything good; He strengthens it; He also gives me good thoughts; He is my rest and my joy; He is my faith hope and love.

St. John of Kronstadt

Recent sermon

The Exultation of the Cross

14th September 2021

For by enduring the cross for us he has destroyed death by death, so ends the hymn which begins Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one.

We sing this at Mattins on Sundays [Saturday night] immediately after the Gospel of the Resurrection has been read. The directions given in the Mattins service book indicate that apart from Sundays, this hymn is to be sung every day during the Paschal season, and also on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, on whatever day that may fall. The Hymn has four references to the Resurrection, and three to the Cross. Not only does it celebrate the Resurrection, but it also celebrates the victory of the Cross, without the Cross there can be no Resurrection: Through the cross, joy has come to all the world.

The centrality of the Cross in the Christian life need hardly be emphasised, we commemorate the cross in several feasts, in particular on Good Friday, at this The Exaltation of the Cross (Sept 14th), at the Procession of the Cross (Aug 1st). In the weekly cycle the Cross is remembered on both Wednesday and Friday. In the daily cycle Christ’s being nailed to the cross is commemorated at the sixth hour and his death on the cross at the ninth hour. We are baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ and we wear our baptismal cross. Also, of course we use the sign of the cross frequently in our worship.

In his book The Orthodox Way Metropolitan Kallistos writes:

The Incarnation, it was said, is an act of identification and sharing. God saves us by identifying himself with us, by knowing our human experience from the inside. The Cross signifies, in the most stark and uncompromising manner, that this act of sharing is carried to the utmost limits. God incarnate, enters into all our experience. Jesus Christ our companion shares not only in the fullness of human life but also in the fullness of human death. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4) – all our griefs, all our sorrows. “The unassumed is unhealed”: but Christ our healer has assumed into himself everything, even death.

As we read in the letter to the Philippians:

He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Metropolitan Kallistos further makes the point that the true meaning of the passion is found not so much in Christ’s physical suffering, but in his spiritual sufferings, in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane when he prays to his Father If it is possible let this cup pass from me and when his sweat drops to the ground like great drops of blood, in his words from the Cross My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me, his sense of failure, isolation, and utter loneliness, in the pain of love offered but rejected.

In his voluntary death on the Cross Christ shows the full extent of his love.

How do we respond to Christ’s Cross in our lives? In the Gospel reading for the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross we read:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

At baptism we are given a cross to wear around our necks, and we put on a new garment, in both we put on Christ. In the words of the Epistle set for baptisms we have been buried with [Christ] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. And as we process around the font we sing: As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Saint Paul’s words give expression to what it means to truly live our baptism: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

In the Kontakion of this feast we hear the Cross spoken of as a weapon of peace and an unconquerable ensign of victory. The victory of the Cross is the victory of suffering love. Metropolitan Kallistos cites a passage from Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov in which he puts into the mouth of Staretz Zosima these words which shed some light on the nature of Christ’s victory on the cross:

 At some thoughts a man stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and he wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide: “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.

Mother Sarah in her sermon for the feast of The Nativity of the Mother of God reflected on this quality of humble love, this quality which was to such a great extent shown in the lives of both Saint John the Baptist and the Mother of God. She encouraged us to reflect on the closeness of the Mother of God and Saint John the Baptist, to one another and to Christ. She looked at how they shared this quality of Magnifying the Lord, and of He must increase, I must decrease as they worship either side of the Throne of God.

We might also reflect on how Saint Paul, in living what is expressed in today’s Epistle: I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me also shares in this quality of humble love, in imitation of Christ, of the one who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Amen.