Icon of the Elevation of the Cross

Rejoice, O Life-Giving Cross!

Ser­mon on the Feast of the Ele­va­tion of the Cross
Read­er Vitaly Permiakov
(Sep­tem­ber 14/27, 2017)

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

Today we cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val of the Holy Cross. In ancient Jerusalem, on the sec­ond day after cel­e­brat­ing the ded­i­ca­tion, or con­se­cra­tion, of the Holy Sep­ul­cher, the Church of the Res­ur­rec­tion, bish­ops and priests would bring out the rel­ic of the True Cross, dis­cov­ered by Empress Hele­na, and would show it, ele­vate it before the eyes of the people.

How­ev­er, this notion of a feast of the cross may seem para­dox­i­cal to our mind: the cross in the ancient world was an instru­ment and sym­bol of inhu­mane tor­ture and death. A cru­ci­fied man died of expo­sure and shock in full view of his ene­mies. Yet we, Chris­tians, cel­e­brate the Cross of the Lord in a fes­ti­val and we praise it as the “pre­serv­er of the whole uni­verse,… the glo­ry of angels, and the wound of demons.”1

At yes­ter­day’s vig­il we glo­ri­fied through the hymns of the Church that wood upon which our Lord was cru­ci­fied by his ene­mies. We greet­ed the Cross as our friend and pro­tec­tor, say­ing to it, “Rejoice, O Life-giv­ing Cross!”2 We bowed down before it in wor­ship as before the King. For upon it, our Lord Jesus, our King and God, was pleased to dwell will­ing­ly; there he, as Priest, offered him­self as a sac­ri­fice to deliv­er us from death. The glo­ry and pow­er which was present in the old Tem­ple now abides in the Cross, the place where the very own body of God was placed. On this Cross our Lord spoke the words, It is fin­ished.3 That is, his work of sal­va­tion, his dis­pen­sa­tion was done, fin­ished, com­plet­ed with his death and resurrection.

Yes­ter­day, we washed this wood with fra­grant water to sig­ni­fy that when this tree was cov­ered with the drops of the Lord’s blood, it became life-giv­ing and a source of holi­ness. We ele­vat­ed it in four direc­tions, as a sign of the Lord’s vic­to­ry over death which he accom­plished for us through the shame­ful death that he endured, but which for us became a new life that was freely giv­en to us through Christ.

St Paul says today, The word of the Cross is fool­ish­ness for those who are per­ish­ing, but for us, who are being saved, it is the pow­er of God4 and fur­ther: for Jews demand signs, and Greeks desire wis­dom, but we pro­claim Christ cru­ci­fied, a stum­bling block to Jews and fool­ish­ness to Gen­tiles, but to us who are the called – Christ, the pow­er of God and the wis­dom of God.5 The wis­dom revealed from the Cross is not the wis­dom of this world but the rev­e­la­tion of the divine mys­tery, the divine plan to restore us from our fall­en, cor­rupt, mor­ti­fied state and to call us back to the king­dom of the Father. The Cross, the vehi­cle of death, is itself the elo­quent word of God, from which the Word of God him­self speaks to us, stretch­es his arms to invite us into his embrace, to call us to return to God: like the Wis­dom of God speak­ing in the book of Proverbs, so we can hear our Lord speak to us – come, eat of my Bread, my cru­ci­fied and risen Body; come, drink of my wine, my Blood spilled for you,6 and become not fool­ish but wise. Aban­don death and all its ways, and choose life,7 the life which I give you by dying for you.

“Take up your cross (dai­ly) and fol­low me.“8 Of course, the new way of life for us who con­fess our­selves as Chris­tians is to live in a right­eous way: to endure wrongs, to ful­fill the com­mand­ments, be watch­ful, focused, and doing our duty. This alone could be dif­fi­cult enough for all of us, for we to var­i­ous degrees live lives of com­pro­mise: some­times we pray, go to church, try to serve God, but then we also like to have time for our­selves, to do what we want. All the time we make com­pro­mis­es with our­selves and with the world. But the Word of God does not com­pro­mise – God calls us to him­self, want­i­ng to save us all, even though we fail to call out to him.

He calls us from his Cross, reveal­ing that there is a super­abun­dance of the gifts, love, wis­dom and mer­cy of God, an over­flow­ing foun­tain, a mys­ti­cal ocean of divine dis­pen­sa­tion,9 of eter­nal life which we receive in Christ when we are bap­tized with him and when we par­take in the Eucharist of the Body that was bro­ken and the Blood that was spilled.

The holy apos­tle speaks fur­ther in the same epis­tle: con­sid­er your own call, brethren: not many of you were wise, not many were pow­er­ful, but God chose what is fool­ish in this world to shame the wise, things that are not to reduce to noth­ing things that are, that no one may boast in the pres­ence of God.10 The true ser­vant of God sees him­self as hav­ing noth­ing, real­iz­ing his weak­ness and low­li­ness, but in this weak­ness, like in the Cross or in the suf­fer­ings of mar­tyrs, the pow­er of God is made man­i­fest more clear­ly. The true dis­ci­ple of Christ sees his own life as a divine gift which he does not own but which was giv­en to him. Just to live and breathe is a gift from God, a gift of grace with­out which we would dis­solve into dust, but to live the life in Christ is an even greater gift giv­en to us by our Lord from the Cross. The immor­tal Word of God came to die for us that this abun­dant gift may be grant­ed unto us if we are pre­pared to receive it, if we real­ize that we are noth­ing and we have noth­ing. Only through Christ are we able to receive this great gift, the res­ur­rect­ed life. There­fore, on this day we rejoice, “for through the Cross, the joy of sal­va­tion came to all the world.“11

Thus, as we behold and bow down before the image of the holy wood of the Cross sanc­ti­fied by the body of our Sav­iour, our cru­ci­fied and risen King of glo­ry, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, let us reflect upon this great mys­tery, which we are deemed wor­thy to receive. Let us be thank­ful for the gift of this earth­ly life that we have, but even more let us be thank­ful for the gift of eter­nal life that is opened for us through the rev­e­la­tion of God’s immea­sur­able mer­cy and love on this life-giv­ing tree. Amen.


Dr Vitaly Per­mi­akov is Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Dog­mat­ic and Litur­gi­cal The­ol­o­gy at Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary. He holds a Ph.D. from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame.

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