As we come to the end of the third week of Lent, the Church reminds us that before we can reach the unending joy of Pascha, we first have to go through the Cross (with all that it implicates). We know this because not only did our Lord go through it, but He taught that we must do the same thing, if we are to truly be His disciples and together with Him and through Him, enter into the joy of the Kingdom of God. Listen to what the Holy Scriptures say about the Cross:
Then Jesus said unto His disciples, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34)
And he said to them all, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”(Mark 10:21)
“And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14)
“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” (Phl. 2:8)
“For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Col. 1:19-20)
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)
With all these quotes from Scripture in mind, Fr. Alexander Schmemann from his beautiful book Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, reminds us well, that: “we cannot take up our cross and follow Christ unless we have His Cross which He took up in order to save us. It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us.” The last quote from the Epistle to the Hebrews captures what the Church is trying to teach us in the third Sunday of Lent; that we must go through the way of the Cross, but not in vain, in order to reach Pascha. We don’t fast aimlessly; we don’t bear our crosses without purpose. We don’t struggle to live the Gospel in our everyday lives without reason. The Christian life always begins with the end in mind. The hope of Pascha gives us the foundation and strength we need to persevere through the way of the Cross, to arrive into the joy of Pascha. Listen to the hymns we sing at Vigil:
Shine, O Cross of the Lord!
Illumine the hearts of those who honor you!
With love inspired by God, we embrace you,
for you are the only hope of the world.
Through you our tears are wiped away,
the snares of death are sprung,
and we pass over into everlasting joy.
Through the Cross reveal Your beauty to us, O Lord!
Help Your servants who ask for mercy in faith!
Bestow upon us the fruits of abstinence!
Rejoice, O life-bearing Cross:
bright paradise of the Church, the tree of incorruption!
You have obtained for us the joy of everlasting glory.
Through you, the hosts of demons are driven out;
the choirs of Angels are amazed and rejoice;
the company of the faithful gathers in celebration.
O unconquerable weapon, unbroken stronghold,
triumph of Orthodox Christians and pride of priests,
by following you may we witness the Passion and Resurrection of Christ
Beholding You, the Fashioner and Creator of all, hanging naked on the Cross,
all creation was changed with fear and lamented.
The sun withdrew its light, and the earth quaked;
the rocks were rent, and the splendor of the Temple was torn asunder.
The dead rose out of their graves, and the hosts of Angels were amazed, saying:
Oh the wonder!
The Judge is judged and suffers,
desiring this for the salvation and renewal of the world.
The climax of the Vigil of the Veneration of the Cross takes place when the Priest comes out in glorious procession with the Cross and places it in the middle of the Church. Shortly after, the faithful come to venerate the precious Cross. A monk of the Eastern Church in The Year of the Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church reflects soberly on the holy veneration of the Cross:
Am I ready to follow Jesus, bearing my cross? (Not the cross that I may choose, but the one that He places on my shoulders.) Am I ready to accept all the trials or sufferings which may come to me, as sharing in the Cross of my Saviour? When, in due course, it is my turn to come and place a kiss on the cross which is displayed in the middle of the Church, will my kiss be that of an unrepentant sinner, the kiss of Judas, or will it be a gesture which is respectful and superficial, but changes nothing in my life, or will it be a sign of adoration, of faith, and of tenderness which will be binding on my whole life?
May our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ grant us all renewed strength through His holy Cross, in order to persevere through the remainder of Lent faithfully, to come to His Holy Pascha! Amen.
A podcast about what it means to be a person of the Cross
A podcast on the 3rd Sunday of Lent
An article on the 3rd Sunday on Lent
Another article on the Sunday of the Cross in Great Lent