The Third Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the veneration of the Cross. On that day, on March 23 the Rector of St. George Church, Archpriest Igor Tarasov celebrated the Divine Liturgy in our temple.
Before the reading of the Hours the Rector solemnly transferred the decorated cross from the altar to the middle of the church and placed it on the analogion stand.
During the Divine Liturgy, following the lessons from the Scripture Fr. Igor preached a sermon:
“On the Third Sunday of Lent Orthodox Christians have a ceremony of the flowering of the cross. In different countries and regions people use different flowers or herbs to decorate the cross, but the ceremony is basically the same. The cross adorned with flowers or greenery is placed in the middle of the church for veneration. This ceremony signifies that what was once an object of execution has now become a door that leads us into God’s presence producing new life in great beauty and fragrance. The cross is presented to us in the middle of Lent as a reminder of God having drawn near to us in Christ.”
“Today’s Epistle lesson has some words about drawing near, coming boldly. There are those who believe that the whole essence of the Epistle to the Hebrews is captured by this phrase: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4, 16). Its central idea is that it has now become possible through Jesus to approach God freely.”
“It was not always so. The tragedy of the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve lost God. They ran away from Him. They separated themselves from Him. A great wall was erected between God and man – the wall of man’s sin and separation.”
“It was not possible for man to “come boldly to the throne of grace.” In the Old Testament Temple a great curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the people. No man could enter the Holy of Holies but the high priest – and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. And he was not to linger too long in that holiness “lest he put Israel in terror”. There were tiny bells along the hem of the high priest’s robe to announce his every movement in the Holy of the Holies (Ex. 28, 33-35). Orthodox bishops to this day wear these bells on their robes. Those outside would know if the high priest had died in God’s presence by the absence of the tinkling sound. For no man could see God and live. Moses heard God say: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me and live” (Ex. 33, 20). God’s name was so holy that it was forbidden for the Jew to use it. If there was one word to describe God in the Old Testament, it would be the word “unapproachable”.”
God’s great plan of redemption in Christ had one supreme purpose – to break dawn the barrier of sin which made God unapproachable, to return man to God. The cross which forgave man’s sin and guilt was God’s way of removing the barrier that separated man from Him, in order that man might again live with God and walk with Him as in the Garden of Eden.”
“The entire ministry of Christ on earth was a testimony to the fact that God is approachable. Over His life, then and now, stand the glorious words, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11, 28).”
“This is why, let us come boldly to Christ! Jesus has no favorites, only intimates who like the Apostle John share with Him their love and devotion. “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends”, says Jesus (Jn. 15, 15). He offers an intimacy with God which was impossible before His coming.
“So, let us come boldly to Him. Let us draw near. Let us come to Him through prayer. The purpose of prayer is to connect our life to God so that His love and power may flow through us into the lives of others around us. Let us come to Him through Holy Communion. Every Liturgy we hear the words, “With the fear of God, and with faith [and with love], draw near”. By these words the priest invites the faithful to receive Communion.”
“Come boldly to Him when we have problems, pain and suffering. When the storms of life roar about you, draw near! Christ has opened a new living way to God. The veil is rent. The wall is down. We have access to grace, access to the Father, access to the Holy Spirit, access to power, access to God’s mercy, and Christ is our High Priest to represent us in the Holy Place of God’s throne. So let us come boldly not tomorrow, but today. For tomorrow is not ours. Tomorrow may never come. Tomorrow may be too late. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near”, says the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 55, 6).”
“Dear brothers and sisters! Let us come boldly with confidence, with faith, with hope, with love to Jesus, to His Cross which we honor today, to His throne of grace, to be accepted by Him forever!”
Upon the Liturgy dismissal the Rector and altar servers came out of the sanctuary before the stand in the middle of the church and venerated the Precious Cross.
After the service Fr. Igor made a brief speech to call the parishioners not to relax in the middle of Lent but to continue spiritual endeavors of prayer, fasting and the works of mercy.