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April 8, 2024

Homily One on the Sunday of the Cross: The Cross is the Banner of the Savior’s Love for People

 
Homily One on the Sunday of the Cross

The Cross is the Banner of the Savior’s Love for People

By Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

(Delivered in 1963)

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13).

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Beloved brothers and sisters, the Holy Church like a loving mother tenderly cares for our salvation, considering all our human weaknesses and striving to strengthen us with grace during our moments of weakness. The remembrance of Christ’s Cross, our bowing down before it and venerating it, are for the Christian the greatest consolation in all sorrows and tribulations, and it especially protect him from evil spirits on all the paths of his moral life. Such is the power of the Life-Creating Cross of Christ. Therefore, now at this mid-feast of the Great Fast, when the strugglers’ strength is waning and Christians are weary, the Church has appointed that the Cross be brought out to the center of the holy church for veneration and contemplation. It is brought out so that gazing upon it with reverence and venerating it, we might draw from the holy Cross cheerful strength of spirit, and go forth to complete the greatly laborious but greatly beneficial time of Great Lent.

After all, every believer knows that if it the external labors of the Fast are difficult, when we strive to abstain from certain foods and observe temperance in eating what is allowed, then the spiritual struggles of the Fast and repentance are even more difficult. In fact, guarding the tongue from evil words, abstaining from resentfulness, suppressing the spirit of self-love [egoism] in ourselves, and striving to effect a fundamental change for the good throughout our whole being—this is an ascetic struggle that is difficult in the highest degree.

Once a sinful beginning takes over in a man it is hard to reign it in, humble it, and suppress it. Once it is suppressed in one aspect it pops up again in another, and after disturbing our emotional peace it instigates a spiritual battle. This why in even the most pious and reverently disposed Christians a certain weariness arises on the path of their penitent struggle, and their moral straining as if slackens. The Holy Church knows all this and therefore calls all those who are languishing and weary from the struggles of Great Lent to come into the arbor of Christ’s Cross.

As a traveler who is tired at the halfway point of his path sits down to rest under the shadow of a tree’s large canopy and is especially happy there, so does the bringing out of the Cross amidst the labors of the time of Great Lent have the same meaning for the pious Christian.

Remembrance of the Cross, of the Christ the Savior Who suffered on it for the sake of our salvation, of those grace-filled means that He gave to "all who labour and are heavy laden" (Mt. 11:28) for their moral strengthening—all of this can encourage and refresh the Christian soul, and give it ease and rest in its sorrows and weariness.

There are, incidentally, also such Christians who do not listen at all to the voice of the Church; they continue to live in to their former sinful way: Their food is just as delicious as it was, they engage in the same fun and pleasures, the same gossip, spitefulness, vanity, empty talk, and ambitions. The Cross of Christ reminds such people to come to reason; it threatens them with the swift coming of Divine Judgment and stern judgment of Christ. “Woe to you,” He as if says, “if you should stand before Him uncorrected and uncleansed.”

“God is not mocked" (Gal. 6:7); He will sternly punish those who trample upon His service of suffering on the Cross and His salvation freely granted.” Thus does the Cross of Christ inform each of those who are careless about their salvation, in order to somehow put fear and shame into anyone who has not lost his conscience completely. Won’t every soul tremble with fear when he ponders his guilt before the Crucified Christ? But along with the threatening reminder of judgment and stern reward, the Cross reminds those who have been careless about their salvation that all is not lost for them if they do not grow hardened in their sins; that the Cross of Christ is the sign of the future Judgment but at the same time the sign of love, of our Savior and Lord’s boundless love for us, and that this endless love led Him to the Cross, to death. Therefore, no matter what happens, we must not despair. The Lord is ready at any moment to receive our repentance and forgive us.

Thus, bringing the Cross of Christ out to the center of the church for the reproach of careless Christians, the Holy Church at the same time encourages them, and by means of reproach and encouragement directs them on the path of salvation. This is the purpose for bringing the Holy Cross of Christ out to the center of the church.

Yes, it says instructively to each of us that our Lord Jesus Christ, Who endured a torturous death on the Cross, loves us with the greatest love—love unto laying down His very life for us. And what human love, even the most self-sacrificing, can be compared with the love of our Lord Jesus Christ for us! "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8).

By His limitless love for us Christ proves that He, being the true God Who sits upon the Throne of His glory, descends from Heaven to earth, is made man, enters into the burdensome conditions of human life, endures depravations, sorrows, and labors, for over thirty year bears within Himself the thought that He must suffer gravely on the Cross, for three years endures His betrayer Judas and treats him as a friend, and finally is subjected to horrifying humiliation, torments, and death—and throughout all this does not grow in the least cold in His love for the human race, which led Him to the Cross!

To the contrary, he takes care night and day for people’s salvation, instructs them with patience and condescension, gives them benefactions, heals them, raises the dead, forgives them their malice and cruelty, weeps over their stubbornness and destruction, prays to the Heavenly Father for even His crucifiers, asking Him to forgive them for their terrible sin—the sin of killing His Christ. The sacrifice of love that the God-man offered for us is so great that human thought is confounded when it tries to embrace and explain it. Impossible to fathom is the love, the great love for us of the God-man Who laid down His life not for his friends, but for His enemies.

Usually, according to natural law and a sense of justice and gratitude, people respond to love with love—the love of one side evokes the love of the other side. Therefore, we also should respond to the Savior’s boundless love for us with total love Him, ready for every sacrifice. Do we love our Lord for His boundless love for us?

The answer to this question is our life, our behavior. The Savior Himself determined the sign of true love for Him as keeping His commandments: "He who loves Me will keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:21). Therefore, if we keep Christ’s Law in our life, if we fulfill His commandments and keep His words, then we truly love Him. If we act against Christ’s commandments, then either we don’t love Him at all, or we love Him only in word.

We have heard one of the commandments from the Gospel read today. "Whosoever will come after me, says the Lord, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk. 8:34). This commandment of Christ demands from us that we deny ourselves; that is, renounce our own self-love, all our sinful attachments and sinful deeds, and our own will in general, submitting it unconditionally to the will of God. It likewise demands that we take up our cross—that is, patiently and submissively bear the difficult labor of self-correction and self-perfection, labors bound up with fulfilling all our duties, with deprivations, sorrows, and misfortunes, and in general everything God’s Providence sends us. The commandment further requires that we follow after Christ; that is, that we love Christ’s teaching and Laws, and direct our whole lives according to the example of His life, in the spirit of self-denying love.

Another commandment that the Lord Himself also commanded us to fulfill consists of love of our neighbor. "A new commandment I give unto you, said the Lord to His disciples, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (Jn. 13:34).

This means that we will only be the Lord’s true disciples, and our love for Him will only be true if we fulfill the law of love for neighbor—love that is like the love He had for His disciples—that is when we love our neighbors in such a way that we are ready to lay down our lives for their benefit and salvation.

So, brothers and sisters, in the remaining Lenten time before Holy Easter let us not be lazy in performing the saving struggle of abstinence, fasting and prayer, but to the contrary let us strive to increase our struggle of repentance with the sincere desire for moral purification with the intention of attaining eternal salvation and eternal glory with the Risen Christ our Savior. Amen.

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