April 14, 2023

Homilies on the Passion - The Veneration of the Cross (St. Luke of Simferopol)

The Veneration of the Cross
By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

In Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the great prophet Moses, it is written: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Deut. 21:23). The chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, who crucified the Lord Jesus Christ as the villain who ruined the law of Moses, decided to put Him to the most shameful death in order to forever brand His name with a curse.

Oh, envy and human malice! They dared to call Him a villain, a violator of the law, Who raised the dead, raised even the four-days-dead Lazarus, Who opened the eyes of the blind, worked countless miracles, commanded the waves of the sea and the winds. But the Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke of Himself that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

Whom to believe: is it the one whose tongue, set on fire by the hellish flame, repeated such terrible words, or the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? We believe and confess that it was not a villain hanging on the Cross, but the Most Holy and Greatest Sacrifice to God for the sins of the whole world. We know that the Lord voluntarily gave Himself up to reproach, anguish and torment.

Let us remember what He said to the Apostle Peter, who drew the knife and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant: “Return your sword to its place, for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now plead with My Father, and He will present Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:52-53). He who obeyed the elements could have destroyed all His enemies. But He did not do this: He voluntarily went to terrible torment, He gave Himself up to be crucified.

Countless hosts of Heavenly Powers were waiting for only a mere nod from Him to protect Him from the shameful and terrible death on the Cross. But He did not give a nod, having ascended willingly to the Cross. And all the Powers of heaven bowed in trembling and horror before His Cross, before the One Who gave Himself, His Blood, for the sake of our salvation from sins, from the power of the devil.

Oh, what a terrible, grave sin the ancient high priests, scribes and Pharisees committed, slandering the Lord and betraying Him to a shameful execution! But did they achieve what they so strongly desired, did they bring a curse on His name and on all His teachings? No, on the contrary, they were an instrument of the will of God for the glorification of the Life-Giving Cross and the Savior of the world.

Many martyrs of Christ were crucified on crosses, hung on trees, but they are not cursed by God, but shine in heaven like stars - they are not cursed, but blessed by God. For villains, the gallows will forever remain a disgrace, but the sufferings of the martyrs for the sake of the Lord glorify them both among people and in heaven.

Terrible is the delusion of the sectarians who despise the Cross, filled with such hatred against it that only the instruments of execution of criminals deserve: the executioner's ax, the gallows, the French guillotine, the American electric chair.

I was told about a terrible incident that took place five years ago in the city of Yalta. The boys found a small mother-of-pearl pectoral cross, admired it and decided to present it to a kind, as it seemed to them, old woman who was passing by. It was a Baptist. Taking the cross, on which, of course, there was also the image of the Savior, she threw it to the ground and furiously trampled it to pieces.

We, Orthodox Christians, deeply honor the cross of Christ and carry it on our chest all our lives. Jews, Muslims, and all unbelievers do not wear a cross. And next to them are sectarians who do not understand that the cross of Christ became the greatest relic after the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was stretched out on it and the Blood of the God-man flowed over it; they do not understand that everything that comes into contact with the most pure Body of the God-man receives great sanctification.

They do not honor our Orthodox feasts, including the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, and they know nothing about the miracle that took place in the fourth century in Jerusalem, when Empress Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles, destroyed the pagan temple erected on Golgotha and found under it three identical crosses. It was necessary to find out which of them is the cross of Christ. How could this be done? This was indicated by God Himself. At that moment a dead man was being carried to his burial. Patriarch Makarios ordered to stop the procession and lay the found crosses on the deceased. And when they laid the third cross on him - the Cross of Christ - he suddenly came to life and sat down.

Love the Cross of Christ, love Christ crucified on it! The more often, the more and more deeply one thinks about the Cross of Christ, about His sufferings, the purer, better, kinder the heart will become, and these thoughts will drive out from it all those black and filthy things that prevents the Spirit of God from creating His abode there.

Is there anything more useful to us than the constant remembrance of the Cross of Christ? Is there a stronger urge to hate the evil of life, to love the good, to love love? No, it cannot be. That is why many thousands of people who later became venerables, shocked by what they heard while reading about the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, forgot everything in the world, left everything, and were no longer interested in anything. For them, as for the Apostle Paul, the whole world was crucified to them, and they themselves were crucified together with Christ.

They devoted their whole lives to deep reflection on the sufferings of Christ, contemplated the Cross of Christ all their lives, and hot tears flowed in streams from their pure eyes, leaving inflamed furrows on their cheeks.

We are far from them, but it is very good that on these holy days you come to the temple and listen with tenderness to the Passion of Christ, because it will be a balm for the soul, a cure for vices, for the evils nesting in the heart, the conscience will torment and anguish, with memories of the Passion of Christ. Look more often at the Cross of Christ and shed at least one tear for Him Who is crucified on it for our accursed vices, for our countless sins!

Come, all faithful servants of the Lord Jesus, let us bow down with love and venerate His Cross, by which He saved us from the power of the devil. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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