"Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify."

On this third Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Church services include a special veneration of the Cross. The Holy Cross, often referred to as the Tree of Life,  reminds us that through our pain and suffering we shall see our hope fulfilled in heavenly inheritance.

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What does standing before the cross do for us?  The cross is placed in front of us as a great reminder of the Passion of our Lord.  It reminds us of His example.  It encourages us and refreshes our focus to follow Jesus with our words,thoughts, actions even amongst our struggles and challenges with this world.

During your Lenten journey this year, and during all of your struggles in life, I urge you; stand before the cross and venerate this symbol of the struggles of our savior.  Let it comfort you and offer you strength in the fast and in your daily work and conflicts.

  Troparion:  O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries; and by the virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.

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The Third Sunday of Great Lent: Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

Third Sunday of Lent: Veneration of the Precious Cross

"The Cross, is wood which lifts us up and makes us great ... The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue"
St. John Chrysostom

"Glory, O Lord, to the power of Thy Cross, which never fails! When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling, and I, lacking freedom in my heart, make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… For the faithful the Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils, from the malice of the invisible foe."
St. John of Kronstadt

"Do not seek the perfection of the law in human virtues, for it is not found perfect in them. Its perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ."
St. Hesychius the Priest

 

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross of Christ  tomorrow, as it is celebrated on September 14 each year.   The epistle reading for the Feast is from 1 Corinthians 1:18-24:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

*NOTE:  (From the Orthodox Study Bible) " Why is the message of the cross foolishness to unbelievers? 'It is a mark of them that perish not to recognize the things which lead to salvation'(John Chrysostom).  We who bear witness to Christ must not be discouraged when those outside of Him mock, for so did one even Paul himself.  Being saved, present tense, refers to the process by which the Cross transforms us with the power of God."

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages! Amen!

High atop every Orthodox Church (that I have ever seen) is a three bar cross at the top of the dome. I noticed this right away on my first visit to an Orthodox Church and it’s something that always struck me as odd before I learned much about Orthodoxy. Why does this cross have 3 bars? I was curious to know the answer back then and one of my readers recently asked me a similar question. So I share with you today what I have learned.
While, in my experiences, many people generally refer to this cross as a “Russian” cross, it actually precedes the Christianization of Russia in 988 AD, although generally, in earlier representations of the Crucifixion, the bottom bar is horizontal rather than the angled form we usually see today.
The top bar represents the title-board or sign which Pontius Pilate ordered to be hung over the head of Jesus. This was done out of mockery and on the board was inscribed, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. On the title board on many crosses you see today are the initials IC XC, being the first and last letters of Christ’s name in Greek.
The middle bar is the bar upon which Jesus’ arms were stretched and nailed. On either corner of a decorative wall cross you may see an image of the sun (left) or the moon (right) from Joel 2:31 “The sun hid its light, and the moon turned to blood”.
The bottom bar is the footrest which supported the body of Our Lord. There is some speculation as to whether it was truly on the Cross of Christ but is still seen as worthy of placement due to the prophetic words “Exalt the Lord our God, And worship at His footstool- He is Holy” (Psalms 98:5). Why is the bar slanted? One tradition says it came from the idea that as Jesus took his last breath, the bar broke and slanted to the side. Another tradition says that the slanted bar represents the thieves who were crucified along with Christ – the one to Jesus’s right side repented of his sin and ascended to Heaven to be with God in Paradise while the thief on his left fell to Hades and separation from God. Often depicted here in decorative wall crosses or icons is the image of the ‘skull of Adam’. This reminds us that Adam lost Paradise through taking from a tree but Christ is the new Adam, bringing us Salvation and Paradise through the tree of the cross. These crosses usually also show Jerusalem in the background showing that Christ was crucified outside the city walls.
Through Christ’s death and resurrection from the Cross came our Salvation. In seeing the cross, we are constantly reminded that Christ died for us, and that He rose from the dead.

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Prayer is conversation or speaking with God. Prayer is an integral part of an Orthodox Christian's daily life. Prayer is necessary. It is as necessary as eating, sleeping and breathing. Everything we have comes from God. Therefore, we must pray to God at all times - in times of joy and in times of despair. And we must of course, rely on His holy will - for only God knows best.

Orthodox Christians use the sign of the Cross whenever we pray as a visible sign of our faith. The first mention found in history of Christians making the sign of the Cross is from the 2nd Century. Writings indicate that Tertullian of Carthage, an early Church Father, said: "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross".

Jesus Christ saved us from the power of sin and eternal death through his death and resurrection. He conquered not only sin, but death itself! He arose from the dead making the Cross His victory over sin and death. Therefore, the Cross is a sign of this great victory!

The rest is up to us. If we truly wish to be delivered from the power of sin - we must follow Christ! We must believe in Christ. We must fulfill His holy will and be obedient unto Him. And, in order to express our faith in Jesus, we wear a cross on our bodies and during our prayer time that is so essential, we form the sign of the Cross over ourselves.

In order to make the sign of the cross, we use our right hand and bring the tips of the first three fingers together (thumb, index finger and middle) representing our faith in the Trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who are of one essence and indivisible. The last two fingers are bent down to show that the Son of God came down to Earth from Heaven and had two natures - always being God and also becoming human.

We take our fingers, in this position, and touch our forehead for the blessing of our mind.  We then touch our stomachs for the blessing of our internal feelings.  We then touch our right and then left shoulders for the blessing of our bodily strength. These four points also refer to the four points on the Cross at Calvary.

The sign of the Cross gives us great strength and should never be used absent-mindedly as that would be sacrilege.  We make the sign of the Cross always keeping in mind what it is symbolizing at the beginning of prayers, during prayer and at the end of prayer.  We may also use the sign of the Cross when we enter the church and when we draw near to anything we consider holy such as the Cross or an icon.  We can also use the sign of the Cross at important moments to indicate our prayer of praise or for mercy at times of joy, danger or sorrow.

When making the sign of the Cross we say aloud or mentally, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. "  This expresses our faith in the Holy Trinity.  "Amen" means 'so be it' or 'in truth'.

 

Amen.