Homily Delivered By Bishop Atanasije On Sunday Of the Cross, March 7, 2010
Great and joyous is the day this week of our Lord’s Resurrection and great and joyous is this Sunday of our Lord’s Cross – two events connected with one another, united, two events equally salvific. The Lord rushes, hastens to Jerusalem, to the suffering for our salvation. This is the endless, pre-eternal love of God for His creation and that most loved creation – Man. And the Lord created man in the sign of the Cross. When man stands, says St. Irenaeus of Lyon the great martyr from the second century, (Asia Minor, he suffered in Lyon, south France), when he stands and stretches out his hands, he is a living and walking Cross. God created man in the sign of the Cross and as St. Bishop Nikolaj says all of the universe is in the sign of the Cross. Upright or vertically and horizontally all of the universe is marked with the Cross, signed with the Cross, crossed.
The Cross is the mystery of God’s love, not the mystery of suffering, but the mystery of the sacrificial love, self-burnt [offering]. Love is always a sacrifice, but a joyous sacrifice. Not a love of atonement as the Latins heretically preach that God should be appeased, as if God is angered, and now we must bring offerings that God might be made merciful. This is not the Biblical God. This is not the God of revelation. This is not the God of Jesus Christ and our God and Father. Our God is the God of love who knows that with love, man, God, the angels and all of creation should serve one another and to rejoice in it. This is why the self-sacrificed love has been called for centuries the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us and our eternal salvation.
God showed this when He called our forefather Abraham to go to the distant land of Ur of the Chaldees (today’s southern Mesopotamia) to the promised land which He will give him, land unknown to him, unfamiliar. And Abraham left and arrived in Haran (north of today’s Syria, on the border of Turkey. Those are still fertile areas.) Then God called him to leave the rest of his family and to set off for Canaan, to set off to the rocky, rugged, barren land – today’s Judea, and that He will give it to him as an inheritance. Strange is that land, brothers and sisters, dear children – the Holy Land. A good part of it is a desert, especially the southern part around Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to Egypt, to the Red Sea. But when the rain falls it instantly blossoms. At once, The deserts shall blossom like the lily, O Lord. Something strange is occurring by us where there are artificial lakes (Bilecka Lake where there is a reservoir with a hydro central facility). It can be a year or more, maybe two that an area surrounding the lake has been flooded, and when the water is drained everything turns green very quickly. This is the mystery of life which God created in deserts and in waters.
Therefore, Abraham came and asked himself, How will I inherit this land? God showed him the stars in the heavens – That shall be your offspring. After a long wait and strengthening of the faith of Abraham he was given a son, Isaac. And when Isaac grew older and turned twenty, God took a new step, a new economy as the Holy Fathers say, a new dispensation and says – Offer your son as a sacrifice to Me. Based on this, the Western philosopher Kierkegaard created an entire philosophy of doubt, anxiety, agony. Abraham had none of this, he was a man of faith. He took his son and his heart was surely saddened when he took him up Mount Moriah, but this is the present spot where the Temple of Jerusalem sits. (It was more rugged but was leveled out during the time of Solomon and afterward the time of the Maccabees). And Isaac says to him – Father we carry the wood but where is the sacrifice. Abraham replied with the words of faith – God will provide. It is more clearer in the Hebrew – God will reveal Himself and you shall see what He will do. And he willed to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. But, in the moment Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son by his obedience to God, out of his faith in God, out of his love for God, God stopped his hand and showed him the ram caught by his horns in a thicket and this was an image of Christ. He gave His only begotten Son in place of Abraham’s son. In place of Isaac – the new Isaac – the Lord Christ. And He set off to Jerusalem, as the evangelist says – There are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power. What Kingdom of God is this? This is the Cross on Golgotha. At first a few of the Apostles saw Him: John, the myrrh-bearers and the thief on His right side, the Roman centurion and Joseph and Nicodemus. And then the rest of the Apostles and other people saw Him, to this day, whoever wants to believe in Christ and in everlasting life.
Faith is not violent, faith is not mechanical. Faith is not holding someone in a grip, in fear, in warnings or even promises. Faith is the free offering, the gift of a loving heart to God, from the free and the freeing man. This is the mystery of the Cross and the mystery of the love of God. In the West, unfortunately, the Cross has been understood as suffering and Jesuits and others depict Christ as He is crucified. God forgive me but this is a despairing man who needs help, and not as He appears by us at [Monastery] Studenica – the King of Glory fallen asleep, who spreads out His arms to include the entire world. He was the King of Glory then too, on the cross He was on the throne with the Father, in heaven with the thief, in Hades with the souls of the deceased and with us on Golgotha. And peace shown and He gave hope. He entrusted the Mother of God, the Mother of His Son with His adopted brother John and all of us He entrusted to Her and him.
And so today’s day is also the day of the Church. The Cross is that mystery which created the Church, but the Cross, at the same time, my brothers and sisters, is judgment. The judgment of this world is now, says the Lord. When the Son of God was lifted on the cross, when they lifted Him on the cross, then it was already the judgment of those who want to believe in Him for everlasting life, and those who do not unto judgment. But God’s judgment is not always a condemnation but a CONSIDERATION. Since God is merciful, the lover of mankind, He came to save us sinners. Before that, say the Saints and the Gospels witness, Christ freely offered Himself as a sacrifice at the Zion upper room when at the last supper He broke His Body and poured His blood for the eternal life of the world. This is the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist – Behold, I make a covenant with you of the Kingdom which the Father gave Me from eternity that you sit with Me in that Kingdom, at the table with My Father and that you eat the food and drink of eternal life. And that is the result of the Cross, for blood and water flowed out from the Cross when they pierced the ribs of the Lord. It was from the ribs that God took Eve, and Eve was the first to listen to the devil and then tempted Adam. Then the Lord brought healing to Adam and Eve through that piercing, the allowing of His side to be pierced. And from the ribs flowed blood and water. The water is Baptism, the blood is the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist – again, fruits of the Cross. The fruits of the Cross are also the descending of Christ to Hades, for He destroyed hell and no one is left in the grave. There is no hell since Christ destroyed hell but there is a state of hell. There is, unfortunately, eternal sufferings in those who prepare that state in themselves. But paradise is even here on earth, but especially in eternity, to those who prepare their souls and bodies for paradise. And so the Cross is salvation and judgment.
May the Lord make us worthy that, venerating today the Honorable Cross, we might receive from Him the strength and power to await Christ’s, as our folk songs say, as people still in their greetings say – Christ’s Crucifixion and Christ’s Resurrection. That the Lord, through His mercy, make us worthy of His mercy and judge us with His Cross and that we abandon our commitment to the sin of the devil, lies, curses, evil deeds, slander and the other various evil deeds which express, unfortunately, the dark depths of the uncleanliness and the un-enlightenedness of our souls. From this holy place I implore you – Do not give in to such attitudes, such worms, moths which eat away at the soul, the killing of the conscience, but rejoice in the Cross of the Lord, rejoice in the Resurrection. Do not allow anger to enter into our souls. Every man is God’s creature. Whenever God sends a child into the world, every child regardless of how he enters the world, He demonstrates his faith in man. He believes in man, for this reason did He become man and remained for all eternity man. Our faith is the God-man Christ, crucified and resurrected, not the Pharisaical hypocrisy, the Pharisaical suspicion, philistinism not to mention any other and ruin this day. Faith frees, faith does not enslave, faith expands the chest and the heart. Faith, says St. John Chrysostom, is the new, sixth sense which God gave man out of His love, since all the senses have been disgraced, bankrupted and they are bankrupt whenever they are not completed with faith in God, and faith is like electricity, like energy which is poured into man when we are united with Christ and when we believe in Christ. Faith is not a system of beliefs. Faith is not a text, it is not a faith of a book, faith is not laws but faith is the Holy Spirit who inspires us and who unspeakably prays with ineffable breaths. The holy Father Justin spoke thus: “O Lord, I kneel but I hold on to You at least with my sighing, at least with my tears, at least with my crying out”. Those sighs, those tears, those cries strengthen, inwardly support the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. This is why He was given to the Church. The Church rests on the Holy Spirit, not on books, on papers, not in laws, not in texts. For had it been otherwise God would not have sent His Son but would have sent a book like the Koran – here learn, read it and abide by it. That does not save but rather the Living God saves. And then, from the Living God, through Him words and books and all other things given to the Church receive their strength.
May the power of the Holy Spirit resurrect us and resurrecting us, enliven us, regenerate us that through repentance we be lead to joy. True Christian repentance, my brother and sisters and children is always joy. The fathers speak of the joy-producing tears which give joy. If man weeps, and we all weep – tears are a characteristic of man, particularly in a fallen world, tears are an expression of joy. But, not all weeping saves man but that weeping which is united with grace, strengthened and united with Christ, as the myrhhbearing women wept beneath the Cross. It is that joy I wish you have in awaiting the Resurrection, that we await many other good things which God gives us. Let us have trust in the Providence of God when we find ourselves in misfortunes. Not everything is because of our sins, as the righteous Job says – Don’t tell me all this happened because of sin. See how peaceful the cottages of the thieves, the thieves and many others and see how they live well today, and yet they are mired in evil, bloody to their elbows. God is not the one who ends His judgment here. He at times punishes, at times rewards, but the last word is His on the Second Coming of Christ. We encounter Christ whenever we celebrate as today’s feast, especially Sundays, particularly at the Divine Liturgy but when we encounter each brother of ourselves we take our exam, for every brother has been sealed with the seal of God and carries the living cross, the living, moving cross. May the Honorable Cross strengthen, free us, surround us, that we might endure the misfortunes of life. We have made the world like this, not God, as Solzhenitsyn said – The world did not come out of God’s hands in this state. We have brought it here, and then we blame God since we are selfish, faithless and we think that we are the ones who are to arrange the world, but then we don’t want to endure the results of that arranging of the world.
We venerate Thy Cross, O Master, and we glorify Thy Holy Resurrection. Amen!