March 20, 2023

Homily on the Veneration of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross (St. Theodore the Studite)

Homily on the Veneration of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Great Lent

By St. Theodore the Studite

The present day is a day of joy and gladness, because now a sign of joy is offered. Now a hymn of praise and confession is heard, because the most holy tree appears. O, most precious gift! Look what a radiance before your eyes! This is not the tree of the simultaneous knowledge of good and evil, like the one in Eden; no, this tree is completely magnificent and beautiful both for the look and for the taste. For this tree gives us life, and not death, enlightens us, and does not darken, leads us into Eden, and does not drive us out of it. This tree, on which Christ ascended, as a king on his chariot, struck the devil, who had the power of death, freeing the human race from heavy slavery: This tree is exactly the one on which the Lord, being wounded, like a warrior during a battle, in the feet, and in the divine ribs, he healed the ulcers of sin, that is, our nature, struck by the evil dragon. And, if another praise should be added, this tree is the one to which the blood of the Lord has flowed out to give such invincible power that demons are cast down by it and the world is enlightened.

Who will not come here to enjoy this longed-for spectacle? Who would not wish to embrace this celestial branch? Come and enter into spiritual communion, all tribes and peoples, every sex and age, every state and rank, priests and kings, lords and subjects. Since this assembly of the people was arranged by God himself, it seems to me that the angels join this host with joy, and the apostles unanimously rejoice at us, as well as the host of prophets, the countenance of martyrs and the entire council of the righteous. For is it possible that they should not all be filled with joy at the sight of this victorious sign, with which they themselves, imitating Christ, defeated the enemy forces and were crowned with heavenly glory? It seems to me that even inanimate beings feel joy in themselves, namely, the earth, like a mother, which has grown this tree, like a fruit from its own bowels - all oak forest trees, honored by a kindred name with the tree of the Cross -; the sun, constantly shining; the moon, rich in light; shining stars, and, finally, this sky itself, vast and mobile, because from the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the Cross, every change for the better took place.

For this reason, David, striking his spiritual zither, quite appropriately (to this feast) exclaims thus: “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool, for He is holy” (Psalm 99:5). The wise Solomon also calls out: “For blessed is the wood whereby righteousness comes” (Wisdom 14:7). Therefore, the Church is now a paradise, having in its midst the tree of life - a paradise in which there is no longer a deceiver demon, who led Eve astray, but an angel of the Almighty Lord, surrounding the one who comes. Now the veneration of the holy Cross is rendered, and the resurrection of Christ is proclaimed. Now the life-giving tree is honored, and therefore the whole world is stirred up to praise. Now the veneration of the three-part Cross is being performed, and all four corners of the world are celebrating the feast in joy. "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things," says the apostle (Rom. 10:15). And I would say: blessed are those eyes that contemplate this triumph of universal peace, those lips that kiss this most excellent sign. Abundant grace is offered to all; a source is indicated from which sanctification flows and which does not deprive anyone of abundant blessings, but makes a pure person even purer, and makes those defiled by vices pure, humbles the arrogant, excites the careless, attracts the scattered, tames the cruel - and if only everyone comes to it with a desire to the best and approaches without insolence and arrogance, he does not drive it away from himself, but gives him divine powers that are useful to life and piety: for the Cross loves the humble, but turns away from people who have opposite energies.

This life-giving tree, which we contemplate, gives healing to eyes deceived in paradise by looking at a murderous tree. By touching this tree with our lips and offering it to our eyes, we are freed from eating and touching the deadly tree. O, what a great gift! O, unspeakable bliss! Formerly put to death by the tree, we now receive life through the same tree. Formerly deceived by the tree, now we drive away the seductive serpent with the tree. Amazing change! Instead of death (we are given) life, instead of corruption - incorruption, instead of dishonor - glory. And therefore, the holy apostle called out in good time: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). For on the Cross the highest wisdom shone forth, which puts to shame the proud wisdom of the world. Through the Cross, the fruitful knowledge of every good thing crushed the seeds of malice. Even some of the prototypes of this tree from time immemorial were harbingers of great events.

Behold, for you are an inquisitive person. Did not Noah, along with his sons and their wives, and with all kinds of animals, by the will of God, escape the general flood through the “paltry piece of wood” (Wisdom 10:4)? Did not Jacob, removing the bark from the rods and putting them into troughs, at the time of the birth of the lambs, to the greatest surprise, make the sheep his own (Gen. 30:37-43)? Then, what did the rod of Joseph mean, on top of which the patriarch Jacob bowed (Heb. 11:21), if not the image of that life-giving tree, which is now venerated? What did the rod of Moses mean? Was it also a type of the Cross? He turned the water into blood, and swallowed up the imaginary snakes of sorcerers, and with one of its blows he divided the sea, with another it again connected the waters of the sea, and thus drowned the enemies and saved the chosen people. Also, was not the prototype of the Cross in the rod of Aaron, which blossomed in one day and thereby proved the legitimacy of the priesthood? But I would expand too much if I wanted to present here all the signs of the Cross. For Jacob also represented it, when, blessing the sons of Joseph, he crossed his arms one over the other. Moreover, Moses himself showed the image of the Cross in his own person, when he defeated the Amalekites with a show of hands. Look also at Elisha, who threw a piece of wood into the water, and with that wood drew iron out of the depths.

Do you see, beloved, what power lies in the image of the Cross! But if such is the power in the image of the Cross, then what should be the power in the image of Christ crucified on the Cross? For it is obvious that the more excellent the prototypes, the more majestic are the images. But if someone asks: “Who in ancient times bore the image of Christ in himself? I would like to know this,” then I answer: the very ones who depicted the Cross. For just as the uplifting of hands by Moses foreshadowed the Cross, so Moses himself represented in his person the image of Christ conquering the invisible Amalek. This same thing can be confirmed by other examples in which the prototype of both is presented. “But there," someone will object, "was a living image: why do you speak of the inanimate?” I say this because the same thing happens here as with the signing of the Cross, when a visible object, in which and by means of which something miraculous happens, has no life in itself: like the image of the Cross, which appears in animate and inanimate objects, the image representing Christ usually performs wondrous deeds, as bearing the look and sign of the Archetype and as much worthy of one and the same worship with his Archetype, as much as the name - this is obvious by itself. Although this seems somewhat far from our main subject, nevertheless it contributes to the denunciation and shame of the heresy of the iconoclasts, which perverts the mystery of the economy of Christ. For whoever humiliates an image humiliates the prototype itself, because these two objects have both similarity and relation to each other in the eyes of sane people.

But let us now approach the Cross and enjoy the reckoning of its praises. The Cross of all treasures is the most precious treasure, the Cross is the most solid refuge of Christians, the Cross is the lightest yoke of the disciples of Christ, the Cross is a comforting consolation for grieving souls, the Cross is an unstumbling guide to heaven. The height and breadth of the Cross is the most accurate measure of the vault of heaven. The strength and power of the Cross is the death of any enemy force. The appearance and image of the Cross is the most pleasant decoration of all objects. The rays and brilliance of the Cross are the brightest radiance of the sun. The grace and glory of the Cross is the most beautiful gift of all gifts. The Cross is the peacemaker of heaven and earth. The name of the Cross is sanctification, especially pronounced by the lips and heard by the ears. By the Cross death was put to death and Adam received life. The apostles boast of the Cross, the martyrs are crowned by it, and the saints are consecrated by it. With the Cross we put on Christ, and let us put off the old man. By the Cross we, the sheep of Christ, are gathered into one sheepfold and are destined for the heavenly mansions. With the Cross we drive away our enemies and raise the horn of salvation. By the Cross we tame the passions and prefer a higher life than an earthly life. He who wears the Cross on his shoulders becomes an imitator of Christ and also receives glory with Christ. At the sight of the Cross, the angel triumphs, and the devil is put to shame. The robber, having gained the Cross, from the Cross moves to paradise and, instead of marauding spoils, receives a kingdom. Depicting the Cross on one's self drives away fear and returns peace. Protected by the Cross one does not become the prey of enemies, but remains unharmed. The lover of the Cross hates the world and becomes a lover of Christ. O Cross of Christ, the greatest glory of Christians. O, the Cross of Christ, the chosen subject of the apostolic preaching. O, the Cross of Christ, the royal crown of martyrs. O, the Cross of Christ, the most precious adornment of the prophets. O, the Cross of Christ, the most brilliant illumination of the whole world. O Cross of Christ! I appeal to you, as if to a living being: protect those who glorify you with a fiery heart; save those who receive you with faith and kiss you. Govern your servants in peace and right faith. Vouchsafe everyone to reach the joyful day of the Resurrection, guarding the hierarchs and kings, monks and hermits in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and ever Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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