On the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Services include a special veneration of the Cross, which prepares the faithful for the commemoration of the Crucifixion during Holy Week.
The commemoration and ceremonies of the Third Sunday of Lent closely parallel to the feasts of the Veneration of the Cross (September 14) and the Procession of the Cross (August 1). Not only does the Sunday of the Holy Cross prepare us for commemoration of the Crucifixion, but it also reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are crucified with Christ.
As we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), and will have mortified ourselves during these forty days of the Fast, the precious and life-giving Cross is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression. The Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience what the Lord experienced during His Passion – being humiliated in a shameful manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall see the fulfilment of our hopes: the heavenly inheritance and eternal glory.
3rd Sunday of Lent, Veneration of the Holy Cross, Mark 8: 34-38, 9:1
The Lord said, “If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.”
What are the defining feature of the followers of Christ? It’s a three-step process: 1. denying ourselves, 2. taking up our cross, 3. following Christ.
1. How do we deny ourselves? By stopping being selfish, egotistical, narcissistic. In other words, by putting others ahead of ourselves. This does not mean that we do not take care of ourselves, rather we take care of ourselves by helping others. It’s easy to become self-centred. Christ’s followers work towards becoming Christ-centred.
2. What is the cross? In the times of Jesus Christ, crucifixion was the most horrific punishment possible. Roman citizens were urged to not even think about crucifixion. It was just a horrible, painful, and slow death. For Christians, the cross has become the sign of victory, a weapon that helps defeat evil.
To take up our cross means taking our life – with all its joys and happy moments, with all the pain and suffering, with all the flaws, and death – accept it and embrace it, as hard as it may be, and stumble towards God, in imitation of Christ. For Christ it was not easy also. He was beaten, ridiculed, and physically nailed to the cross.
A little side anecdote. There was a man who complained to Jesus that his cross was too much for him, there was no way he was going to finish the course, so to say. So Christ took him into a big storage room, full of crosses, and said, “Fine, pick any cross you like.” There were cross of all sizes. The man spent some time looking at them, but could not find one that he liked. Then he turns around and sees a cross by the door. Then he said, “I like this one. It looks like the cross that would fit me.” And Jesus said, “That’s the cross you left when you walked in here.”
3. Following Christ does not necessarily mean more happiness or less suffering. In Christ, any happiness and suffering we experience will find its fulfilment. We can share our joy with those around us, especially those who are suffering, in this way co-suffering with them. And when we suffer, we can let others co-suffer with us.
We should take comfort in the fact that Christ saved us by suffering for us. Suffering is salvific.
~ Father Aleksey