The Power of the Lord's Precious Cross

posted Sep 25, 2012, 9:55 AM by fr.irenei@stjohnsacademysf.org
My dear parents, teachers and staff and children of St John's,

May the Lord bless you!

As already mentioned by your Principal, this week the Holy Church celebrates one of her most moving sets of services: those of the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. On this day (this year, the Feast falls on Thursday, with the vigil Wednesday evening), we celebrate that moment in which our Lord's Cross, for nearly three centuries lost to the faithful, was discovered by the righteous St Helen, mother of the newly-converted Emperor St Constantine the Great, in the holy city of Jerusalem. All three crosses from the Lord's self-sacrifice on Golgotha were found buried beneath the Pagan temple to Venus: that of Saviour, as well as the crosses on which were crucified both the repentant and unrepentant thieves. Not knowing which was the Lord's own Cross, a sickly woman and a recently-deceased man were brought before each of the three, and the life-giving power of the true Cross was shown forth when, it being laid upon them, the sick woman was healed and the dead man restored to life. Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem then took the Cross into the centre of the city, raised it upon a platform and elevated it in the sight of all.

We who are Christians, are a people defined by the Cross. Our life begins and ends with the One Lord who took it upon Himself to become flesh, to suffer and to die for us, and to be raised in glory, defeating death -- the Cross thereby becoming the source of life and joy.

At the Vigil we shall celebrate this Wednesday evening, we behold something that should remain with us throughout the year. It is memorable, wonderful, and incomparable. The Cross will be decorated with flowers and sweet-smelling herbs and laid upon the Altar Table during Vespers; and after we have heard the Holy Gospel at Matins, we will sing 'We have beheld the Resurrection of Christ…' -- a hymn that we normally sing only at Sundays and during Pascha; for we are unable to behold the Cross without seeing, at the same time, the Lord's Resurrection. Then, at the conclusion of the Great Doxology, the priest shall take the Cross upon his head, clothed in all his vestments, and process into the centre of the Temple where the clergy and all the faithful will prostrate themselves before it and venerate it, singing: 'We venerate Thy Cross, O Master, and we glorify Thy holy Resurrection!' -- once more uniting the Cross and the Resurrection in our hearts and on our lips.

A special rite takes place, according to the Russian Orthodox tradition, only in cathedrals and monasteries -- and those of you who will attend Vigil at Holy Virgin Cathedral will be able to witness this extremely moving tradition known as the 'Magnification' or the 'Exaltation'. The Cross, having been brought to the centre of the Temple, is raised up by the Bishop and slowly lowered almost to the floor before being raised up slowly once again; during the whole time rose water is being poured over the cross, collected on flowers held beneath it and eventually distributed to the faithful. This is done while we sing 'Lord, have mercy!' 100 times, and we repeat this five times, while the Cross is lowered and exalted -- 'buried in the earth and exalted' -- in each of the four cardinal directions, then once more to the East; for the Cross is the centre and the guardian of the whole universe.

My deep prayer is that each of you, sensing the power and sanctity of this Feast, will provide your families the opportunity to participate in the veneration of the Cross by attending Vigil together (for the rite of the Cross takes place at the Vigil, not the Liturgy), whether in the Cathedral or at your home parish. Let your children witness the glory of the Lord's Cross -- it is something that will change them, sanctify them and strengthen them, just as it will do the same to you. Then, bearing in mind that Thursday is not only a Feast but also a fasting day, in commemoration of the Cross, spend a few moments at home, talking about why we are fasting on a Thursday, on a Feast, and bring the commemoration of the Cross into your home, to your meal.

May the Lord richly bless you, and all of us, through the power of His Precious Cross!

INXC, Archimandrite Irenei
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