On the Third Sunday of Lent the Orthodox Church venerates the Holy Cross. This year on this day, March 11 we had a beautiful celebration in our parish church conducted by our Rector, Archpriest Igor Tarasov.
Before the reading of the Hours the Rector solemnly transferred decorated cross from the altar to the middle of the church and placed it on the stand. After the Gospel lesson during the Divine Liturgy Fr. Igor preached the following homily in English:
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Today’s 3rd Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the veneration of the Holy Cross. Our Lord Jesus Christ says that the way of salvation is the way of the Cross. It requires certain dedication and denial to a selfish attitude.”
“However, people don’t like to follow this way. Ours had been called the “me-generation”. Everything is focused on what I need and what I want. For instance, a pregnant young woman may not be willing to have a child and wants to have an abortion. She may say, “I am not going to let that damn child interfere with my career… or even with my ski trip”. We are being told that the whole purpose of existence is self-discovery and self-fulfillment. The foundation for right or wrong is not then what God commends, but what self demands, “whatever makes me happy”. And if anything stands in the way of my pleasure, be it family, or my neighbors, or even God – they are to be eliminated.”
“This way seem to be the latest and the coolest lifestyle, but it is not new. It’s just another name for sin and it was started a long time ago, at the beginning of the world, by Satan himself. He was not satisfied being one of the most beautiful God’s creatures – an angel – he wanted to be “number one”. So, he started a rebellion against God. He later tempted the first people, Adam and Eve.”
“Our Lord Jesus Christ has something to say to that kind of attitude in today’s Gospel lesson: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8, 34-35). He tells us that the only way to the Kingdom of God is to deny oneself and to take up the cross. And if we are selfish with life by trying to preserve it just to serve ourselves, we shall lose it. It is only as we forget self and lose ourselves in loving service to others, we will find life and real happiness.”
“Our Lord did deny His very self as God and took up the cross for us. Therefore, the cross became so precious for each Christian that we venerate it, as we especially do today. Let us remember that it was also a tool of Lord’s denial of Himself. And we cannot achieve any self-fulfillment without God and without denial of our selfishness. If we give in to the temptation and begin to live by the attitude of selfishness, we will lose our true happiness and our salvation. Some Holy Fathers say that the Antichrist number, the mark of the Beast, 666 is interpreted from Greek as Cristos Xenos Stauros – “Christ strange to the Cross”. If Christ did not take up His cross, no salvation could be accomplished. And the Antichrist will exactly attempt to imitate Christ, but without the Cross, without self-denial and sacrifice. Let us beware of that.”
“A great Russian writer Dostoyevsky told the following tale: “There was a wicked woman. When she died, she left no single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. The guardian Angel however, found that she had once pulled an onion from her garden and had given it to a beggar. God allowed the Angel to take the onion, let her take hold and be pulled out. The Angel did this and began to pull the woman out. Then other sinners in the lake, seeing her getting out, caught hold of her so as to get out with her. But she was wicked and began kicking them saying, ‘I am to be pulled out, not you! It’s my onion, not yours!’ As soon as she said that the onion broke, and the woman fell back into the lake and is there to this day”. If only that woman had not said “my onion”, if only she had said “our onion”! Thus we say “Our Father”, not “my Father”, therefore we say “our daily bread”, not “my daily bread”.”
“Dear brothers and sisters! This story should be a lesson for all of us that we are not isolated, but we have to care for each other, deny our very self and thus achieve salvation through the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ.”
The choir prayerfully performed penitential hymns during preparation for Holy Communion.
After the Liturgy dismissal the Rector preached a short sermon in Russian conveying the main ideas of his English homily.
Following that the Rector and the altar servers came out of the sanctuary before the stand in the middle of the church and venerated the Precious Cross.