My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
A TREE AGAINST THE TREE
For the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated by the Holy Church on the 14th of September, we hear it said to Christ: "Thou didst set a tree against the tree." On the day of the Veneration of the Cross, Saint Theodore the Stoudite entreats our Lord: "Thou hast made the instrument of death into a Source of Life. Sanctify THOSE WHO VENERATE IT." For the Feast in September, we are told that A TREE BEGUILED OUR FOREFATHER. Therefore, "it was fitting that the wood should and that the sufferings of the one who was condemned on account of the tree should be done away through the passion of Him Who is passionless. So, although "one tree SPROUTED FORTH DEATH IN PARADISE, yet the Cross BLOSSOMED FORTH LIFE SINCE THE SINLESS LORD WAS NAILED TO IT." And, PARTAKING OF THY FRUIT, O TREE OF THE CROSS, WE HAVE GAINED INCORRUPTION. WE ARE RESTORED ONCE MORE TO EDEN, AND WE HAVE RECEIVED GREAT MERCY." We also hear "the fiery sword no longer guards the gate of Eden; for in a strange and glorious way the wood of the Cross has quenched its flames. The sting of death and the victory of Hades are now destroyed. For Thou art come, my Savior, crying to those in Hades, "Return again to Paradise."
We also hear that "one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and straightway blood and water came out [John 19:34]. "Indeed, "when a spear pierced Thy pure side, water with blood gushed forth, inaugurating a covenant and cleansing sins." Saint John Chrysostom states: "An ineffable mystery was accomplished: For, ‘blood and water came out.’ Not simply without a purpose, or by chance, did those founts come forth, but because by means of these two together the Church consists. And the initiated in the Mysteries (Sacraments) know it, being BY WATER INDEED REGENERATED, AND NOURISHED BY THE BLOOD AND THE FLESH. Hence the Mysteries (Sacraments) TAKE THEIR BEGINNING; THAT WHEN THOU APPROACHES TO THAT AWFUL CUP, THOU MAYEST SO APPROACH, AS DRINKING FROM THE VERY SIDE." Saint John of Damascus also observes that Christ "CAUSED THE FOUNTAIN OF REMISSION TO WELL FORTH FOR US OUT OF HIS HOLY AND IMMACULATE SIDE: WATER FOR OUR REGENERATION, AND THE WASHING AWAY OF SIN AND CORRUPTION, AND BLOOD TO DRINK AS THE HOSTAGE OF LIFE ETERNAL.
Baptism into Christ’s Death
Saint Gregory Palamas exhorts us in this fashion: "Surely, we ought to honor and use this Divine Trophy OF THE FREEDOM OF HUMANITY. Its appearance alone puts the serpent, THE ORIGINATOR OF EVIL, to flight. It triumphs over him and disgraces him, proclaiming him defeated and crushed. It glorifies and magnifies Christ, and displays His victory to the world. If it were really necessary to disregard the Cross because Christ suffered upon it, then His death would be neither honorable nor salutary. Again, how should we say that ‘AS MANY AS WERE BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST JESUS WERE BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH? [Romans 6:3]. And how can we share in His Resurrection ‘IF WE HAVE BEEN PLANTED TOGETHER IN THE LIKENESS OF HIS DEATH’? [Romans 6:5].
Again, what means ‘we were baptized into His death? Saint John Chrysostom explains that "IT IS WITH A VIEW TO OUR DYING AS HE DID. FOR THE BAPTISM IS THE CROSS. What the Cross then, and the burial, is to Christ, that the Baptism has become to us, even if not in the same respects. For in the flesh, He died and was buried, but we have done both to sin."
The Ordinances of the Faith and a New Way of Life
Saint Gregory Palamas, expounding on the Cross of Christ, writes: "It was upon the Cross where the ‘bond written against us, in the ordinances, which was contrary to us’" [Colossians 2:14] — because OF OUR DISOBEDIENCE when our forefather stretched out his hand to the tree–WAS NAILED. What is he saying? Let us hear what the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians: "And you, being dead in the transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, did He make alive together with Him, HAVING FORGIVEN US ALL THE TRANSGRESSIONS, HAVING BLOTTED OUT THE BOND WRITTEN AGAINST the US, IN THE ORDINANCES, WHICH WAS CUSTOMARY TO US. And He hath TAKEN AWAY OUT OF THE MIDST, HAVING NAILED IT TO THE CROSS. And having PUT OFF FROM HIMSELF THE PRINCIPALITIES AND THE POWERS, HE MADE AN EXAMPLE OF THEM OPENLY, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM IN IT [Colossians 2:13-15]… So we hear in this Epistle to the Colossians THAT CHRIST HAS FORGIVEN US ALL THE TRANSGRESSIONS [Colossians 2:13].
The Meaning of the Sign of the Cross to the Christians
Saint John Chrysostom writes: "When therefore thou signest thyself (make the sign of the Cross), THINK OF THE PURPOSE OF THE CROSS, AND QUENCH ANGER, AND ALL THE OTHER PASSIONS. When thou signest thyself, FILL THY FOREHEAD WITH ALL COURAGE, MAKE THY SOUL FREE. And ye know assuredly what are the things that give freedom. Therefore, also Saint Paul leading us there, I mean unto the freedom that beseems us, did on this wise lead us unto it, HAVING REMINDED US OF THE CROSS AND BLOOD OF OUR LORD. ‘YOU W1 ERE BOUGHT WITH A PRICE; CEASE MAKING YOURSELVES SLAVES OF MEN’ [1 Corinthians 7:23]. It is as if he were saying, ‘CONSIDER, THE PRICE THAT HAS BEEN PAID FOR YOU, AND YOU WILL BE A SLAVE TO NO MAN’, BY THE PRICE MEANING the Cross.
Boast Not Except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Let us say with Saint Paul "But may it not be for me to boast, EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, through Whom THE WORLD HAS BEEN CRUCIFIED TO ME, AND I TO THE WORLD" [Galatians 6:14]. This means, according to Saint John Chrysostom, that "WHAT HE HERE ALLS THE WORLD IS NEITHER THE HEAVEN NOR THE EARTH, BUT THE AFFAIRS OF LIFE, THE PRAISE OF THE PEOPLE, RETINUES, GLORY, WEALTH, AND ALL SUCH THINGS AS HAVE A SHOW OF SPLENDOR. INDEED, "THE CROSS IS OUR GLORY, AND THE SUM OF ALL OUR BLESSINGS, AND OUR CONFIDENCE, AND ALL OUR CROWN."
We conclude with the words of Saint Theodore: "AS WE CELEBRATE TODAY THE JOYFUL VENERATION OF THY LIFE-GIVING CROSS, O CHRIST OUR SAVIOR, WE PREPARE OURSELVES FOR THY MOST HOLY PASSION." (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostom
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George