September 14, 2023

Homily One on the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 On the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord

The Cross - Praise of Christians

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on September 14, 1945)

The Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is very ancient. It is known that it was celebrated already in the 5th century. It was established in connection with the joy of finding the Cross on which Christ was crucified.

The Equal to the Apostles Helen, mother of the first Christian Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine the Great, went to Jerusalem with the goal of finding this Cross. This was a difficult task, for Jerusalem, after the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, was destroyed twice by the Romans and lay all in ruins. And on Golgotha, at the site of the execution of the Lord, the Roman Emperor Hadrian, in order to destroy the memory of the Cross of Christ, ordered a lot of earth to be poured in and a pagan temple of Venus to be built.

Holy Queen Helen did not know where to start her search, but the Lord sent her an old Jew named Judas, who pointed out that the Cross was under the temple. The queen ordered the destruction of the pagan temple, and three crosses were found under it. There was no longer an inscription on the Cross of Christ, but they recognized it by the fact that the dead man, who was being carried past, was resurrected when the Cross was applied to him. Then a huge crowd of people began to crowd towards it in unspeakable joy. And so that the Cross would be visible to everyone, Patriarch Makarios of Jerusalem, standing on an elevated place, erected it. At the same time, the people sang: “Lord have mercy!”

This is the history of the feast. Remembering the Cross of Christ, the crucified Lord and the salvation of the world, one must delve into the Christian teaching about the Cross.

With enormous depth and power, the Holy Apostle Paul speaks about the meaning of the Cross of Christ in his first Epistle to the Corinthians: "The word 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 reject the understanding of the prudent'” (1 Cor. 1:18, 19). The prophet Isaiah said this (see Is. 29:14). "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" (1 Cor. 1:20–22).

The Jews demand miracles. The high priests and Pharisees demanded from the Lord Jesus Christ that He show them signs to prove that He had the power to do the works that He constantly did (see Matt. 12:38; 16:1). What other miracles did they need if the Lord performed them endlessly? But they were blind.

And the Greeks seek wisdom. The ancient Greeks were a very thoughtful people. From among them came the greatest philosophers who still stand at the almost unattainable heights of human thought: Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. The Greeks comprehended all philosophical wisdom; they listened greedily to every teaching, to every speech that seemed interesting to them; at the Areopagus of Athens, they listened very carefully to the speech of the Apostle Paul, feeling that he was talking about something important that they did not know (see Acts 17:21–34).

"We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23). The Jews expected the Messiah as a great powerful king who would lead the people of Israel and establish their worldwide power. It was a stumbling block for them to hear that the Messiah was considered the One Whom they shamefully crucified on the Cross. And the Greeks in the first centuries of Christianity, centuries of cruel persecution of Christians by the Romans, treated with contempt the preaching of Christ crucified, mocked the fact that Christians considered God to be some unfortunate Man who died on the Cross. It was crazy to them.

"To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). For who and when in the history of the world showed power similar to that which the Lord Jesus Christ showed not only by His preaching, which has never been heard from any person, but also by His feat of saving the perishing human race through His Blood and Cross? This is the power that conquered the world, abolishing the power of the devil over those who believed in Christ, who inscribed His Cross on their hearts. Here is Wisdom, which has confounded all the wisdom of the world and turned it into madness, for there is no wisdom higher for us than that which we learned from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, the beginning of wisdom is not in the books of men, not in philosophical and scientific books, but in the fear of God, as the wise Solomon says (see Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). "There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord" (Prov. 21:30). In Christ are "hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). We seek wisdom only in This Treasure, and nowhere else.

The words of Solomon are not false that "the mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom" (Prov. 10:31). Whose mouth exuded greater wisdom than the mouths of the saints and teachers of the Church: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and a whole host of other saints? Whose mouth exuded greater wisdom than the mouths of Saints Seraphim of Sarov, Sergius of Radonezh, Anthony and Theodosius of Caves?

Solomon’s words are not false that "wisdom is with the humble" (Prov. 11:2). True wisdom is with those who never consider themselves wise, who consider themselves lower than others, who do not exalt themselves before anyone. The Apostle James spoke about such wisdom: "The wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then peaceable, modest, obedient, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and unfeigned" (James 3:17), as well as the Apostle Paul: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:25). The weakness of the humble, meek and pure in heart is much stronger than all human strength.

"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are" (1 Cor. 1:26–28). The Lord knows in whose hearts true wisdom is found. He sees those wise men whom people do not notice. There are wise men of God among ordinary people and among the poor, who mean nothing in the eyes of the world. They loved the Cross of Christ with all their hearts, through the suffering on which our Savior reconciled everything in heaven and earth with God (see Col. 1:20).

But not everyone who calls themselves Christians understands this. Do heretics who call themselves Evangelical Christians honor the Cross? Do Baptists, Molokans, and Judaizers really honor it? They are all enemies of the Cross of Christ, having stumbled over a stumbling block and only imagining themselves as bearers of the truth of Christ. These include the words the Apostle Paul: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor. 1:16). They consider our veneration of the Cross to be madness, and in immeasurable insolence they revile it, saying that it should be treated with disgust and contempt, comparing it with the gallows and laughing at the fact that we reverence the instrument of execution with all our hearts and exalt it above the world. Let us have no fellowship with these blasphemers of the Cross of the Lord!

Can there be anything more sacred for us than the Cross, sprinkled with the Blood of Christ? If in the Old Testament the altar of the ancient temple of Jerusalem was considered a great shrine, if the sword of Goliath, with which David cut off his head, was preserved in the temple, wrapped in precious cloths, then shouldn’t we honor the Cross of the Lord? We will always wear it around our neck. Let us inscribe it in our hearts. May the banner of the Cross of Christ always be before us! And it will save us and bring us into eternal life. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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