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Saturdays: Vespers 5.30 pm
Sundays: Divine Liturgy 10.30 am
Monday 13th September: Vespers of the Feast 6.30 p.m.
Tuesday, 14th September: Feast of the Holy Cross. 9.00 a.m. Divine Liturgy
Sermon for the Sunday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Archimandrite Kyril Jenner
In today’s reading, for the Sunday before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he begins: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” (Galatians 6:11) Today, when we actually write a letter, rather than sending a text message or an email, most of us would process the text on a computer and print out the letter, just adding a signature at the end in our own handwriting to authenticate the letter. In Saint Paul’s time, formal letters would often be physically written out by a professional scribe, who had good handwriting, with the author adding a little tailpiece in his own writing to authenticate the letter. Here Saint Paul begins his tailpiece by contrasting his writing with that of the scribe that has gone before.
Saint Paul then goes on with one of his recurrent topics. The first Christians were previously Jews. Was it necessary to first become a Jew in order to become a Christian? His particular focus on this occasion is with the externals. Was it necessary for men to be circumcised before they could become Christians? His answer is “no”. Some sought circumcision in order to receive the limited protection from persecution by the secular authorities that was allowed for Jews in the Roman Empire. This is to miss the point. External persecution does not matter. Keeping the faith is more important, and many who sought circumcision were, in fact, not faithful – they merely observed the externals without attending to the more important matters of their inner faith. We should not take glory in matters of the flesh.
This leads on to Saint Paul’s main point, which is that we should instead take glory in the Cross: “far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14) The Cross is the means by which God chose that our Lord Jesus Christ should die. He died for our sins, to reconcile us with God, and so bring us to salvation and resurrection. Too often in the past people have got bogged down in arguments about how this happens. We just have to accept that this is God’s way, without trying to get into detail about how God does things – knowledge which is beyond our understanding.
To help us understand this, Saint John Chrysostom gives us an analogy: “What is the boast of the Cross? Christ for my sake took on himself the form of a slave, and bore his sufferings for me the slave, the enemy, the unfeeling one; yes, he so loved me as to give himself up to a curse for me. What can be comparable to this?” (Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 6) This is spelling out what happened and why, but without trying to find out how.
The Cross is at the heart of our faith. Belief in the Resurrection of Christ, which only came about through the Cross, had power to transform us. Saint Paul says: “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15) Saint John Chrysostom elaborates on this: “Observe the power of the Cross, to what a pitch it has raised him! Not only has it put to death for him all mundane affairs, but has set him far above the Old Dispensation. What can be comparable to this power? For the Cross has persuaded him, who was willing to be slain and to slay others for the sake of circumcision, to leave it on a level with uncircumcision, and to seek for things strange and marvellous and above the heavens. This our rule of life he calls “a new creature,” both on account of what is past, and of what is to come; of what is past, because our soul, which had grown old with the oldness of sin, has been all at once renewed by baptism, as if it had been created again. Therefore we require a new and heavenly rule of life. And of things to come, because both the heaven and the earth, and all the creation, will with our bodies be translated into incorruption.” (Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 6)
The Cross is the means of our salvation. It is the way chosen by God. Christ loves us. Christ died on the Cross for us. Through his death Christ was raised up to lead us back to God. As the Hymn of the Resurrection sung at Sunday Matins puts it: “Through the Cross joy has come in all the world.”
As we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us remember not only Christ’s suffering and death, but also his Resurrection, through which we are raised up to eternal life: “We venerate your Cross, O Christ, and we glorify your holy Resurrection.”