Bishop Fotije of Dalmatia: Homily on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross
May today's Feast be joyous and this day be blessed of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which is called among the people Holy Cross Day. We have gathered today in our holy monastery at the Divine Liturgy, to pray to God and that through Holy Communion we demonstrate that we are the Body of Christ, that we do not belong only on earth. We have shown today that we are a part of the mystical Body of Christ precisely through Holy Communion, but also through our entire podvig, our prayer and efforts. The crown of our life is today's approaching the Holy Chalice.
With Communion we show that we cannot live alone or only for ourselves, but we live with Christ, for Christ and in Christ. All of that is confirmed at the Divine Liturgy when the priest says: "With the fear of God, in faith and love, draw near!", we humbly approach to commune of the Life-giving Rib of Christ. That's why, brothers and sisters, we come together in Church for the great Feasts, for every Liturgy is the Resurrection; at every Liturgy we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ as the central Feast of the Church.
We celebrate today the Elevation of the Holy Cross - a beautiful event, which took place in the 4th century in Jerusalem during the time off the honorable Emperors Constantine and Helen. At that time the Honorable Empress Helen visited the Holy Land and came to the city of Jerusalem to the place of Golgotha. According to Tradition this was the place where the Lord was crucified with two thieves. She wanted to seek out the Cross on which Christ was crucified. However, up until that time ruling Jerusalem were Roman emperors who were pagan and god-hating and so right on Golgotha they built their pagan temple to the Roman god Venus. According to oral tradition, people from Jerusalem knew that the Holy Cross of the Lord was located underneath that temple. However, they didn't know which of them was the Holy Cross of Christ. By God's Providence, a funeral procession was passing by. The people thought of placing the cross on the dead, to see if anything would happen. When they placed the third cross, the man rose from the dead. He was brought back to life. After that they placed the Cross on a sick woman and she was healed. And so all of them together verified which of them was the Life-giving Cross of the Lord. Afterward that Cross was placed and exalted on Golgotha.
However, great sufferings have always occurred in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in general, for all religions and powers of this and the other world clash. And so in the 6th century Jerusalem was captured by the Persians. Their king Khosrau destroyed the entire city and took the Holy Cross to Persia, where it was kept for a little over thirty years.
Later the Greek king Heraclius conquered Persia and returned the Holy Cross to Golgotha. Out of respect the king carried the Lord's Cross by himself, but at one moment, upon entering Jerusalem, he stopped and couldn't continue. The Patriarch of Jerusalem of that time saw an angel standing and not allowing him to enter the city of Jerusalem. The Angel wouldn't him to carry the Cross in his royal attire, but the king had to change into something more humble and to enter the city barefoot carrying the Holy Cross to Golgotha. In commemoration of this event this great Feast of the lifting or elevation of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem was initiated and it is celebrated to this day in Christ's Church.
You heard that the gospel read at today's Liturgy is the one read on Good Friday. Today's Gospel reminds us of the Lord's suffering and crucifixion, by which we as the Church of Christ are saved. It isn't easy to reach the Heavenly Kingdom nor salvation. With His suffering our Lord showed us that narrow, Cross-bearing way which goes to Golgotha.
Each of us bears that cross; each nation bears that cross. It is crucial that we be together with Christ, that that personal or national cross, we bear with Christ on Golgotha. Then our suffering will also be salvific.
Besides the Lord on Golgotha two other thieves suffered. However, only one was saved - the one who recognized Christ at the last minute that Christ suffered innocently. We are thieves and must suffer, he thought. However, in this thief faith in Christ appeared for he recognized that the Lord suffers innocently. For this reason does the repentant thief with faith address the Lord: "Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom!" Because of his faith, the repentant thief was the first to inherit the Heavenly Kingdom.
God grant that we also look to this thief on the right side. Certainly we have many reasons to be seen as thieves. We have done who knows how many lawless things, we have sinned before God and our neighbors. Recently we translated a book from a Athonite Elder Paisios, who wrote a spiritual testament at the end of his life in which says: "I committed every sin! It doesn't matter whether I committed it in a greater or lesser measure or in thought. Before God it is the same." Therefore, if the greatest fathers and Saints of the Church say about themselves that they are great sinners, what can we say about ourselves?
But, we mustn't be without hope, but that we look to the thief on the right hand side, the repentant thief, that we recognize that the suffering of Christ, the suffering for our salvation. Then our life cross that we bear, our passions and troubles, which we have as people and a nation, be the cross that leads us to Golgotha. That we not only suffer because of our sins, only because of our earthly interests and who knows whatever other mutual dissensions, and that brother argues with brother, neighbor with neighbor, kum with kum, all of it out of selfish, earthly interests and something narrow, human and limited.
That's why we need repentance and to constantly look to the thief on the right hand side, or better yet, that we look to the Most Holy Theotokos and St. John the Theologian, who stood beneath the Lord's Cross, but they suffered with Him, with this all-suffering love, sacrifice and prayer. We need all of that for the Lord to receive us into His Heavenly Kingdom.
We fast on the Feast of the Holy Cross, which is also a sacrifice and podvig, for we remember today the crucifixion and suffering of our Lord. And for this reason we should have repentant thoughts. We should always examine our lives, are we living a God pleasing life or not and is our conscience reprimanding us in anything. Can we correct our lives, can be put aside some evil and filthy habits, can be defeat the old man of sin inside of us, in which our worldly habits are rooted and anything else which separates us from God? That is, brothers and sisters, our podvig. That should always be on our mind and that we correct ourselves that we might salvifically bear our life cross to Christ's Golgotha, where the crucified but resurrected Lord awaits us - the Defeater of death.
God grant that it be like that and that we reach the Heavenly Kingdom!
Ziveli and God bless you!
September 27, 2009