A sermon of the Most Reverend Archimandrite Parthenius, spoken on the Eve of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, in the monastery Refectory in Rajchica
My beloved brothers, sisters and children, worshipers of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross!
I feel the need first to apologize because I didn’t have any previous preparation, in order to tell you something more about the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and its importance for us, the Christians. Actually, I didn’t even intend to say anything this evening. But during the vespers one of the sisters approached me and whispered: “Father, wouldn’t you say anything about the Cross of Christ?” I looked then at the decorated Archimandrite cross that I have on my chest; looked around the church – wherever I turned I could see this most beautiful ecclesiastic adornment, this glittering sign of our Saviour: on the iconostasis, on the chests of people, on the icons, the chandelier, the walls… And it made me think: is the cross just a decoration? Then I remembered a wonderful ecclesiastic verse from the Service of the Cross, which says: The Cross is a protector of the whole Universe, the cross is an adornment of the Church, and the cross is the strength of emperors, a mighty fort for the faithful, glory for the Angels and defeat of the demons“. It is truly an adornment, but a victorious one, most powerful, most glorious, “weapon of peace, undefeated victory”. Therefore everywhere in the churches one can see this symbol of Christ’s victory: we have it upon us, we see it painted on the icons, the vestments, ecclesiastic books etc.
But at the same time the cross also means crucifixion – a great, great burden for all of us. So now, some of you might ask yourselves: “If the cross is a burden, what’s the use of carrying it and following Christ? What could we benefit from it?” The very question is a mistake from the start. It’s simple: everybody in this life carries a burden of some kind. Even those who don’t believe in God carry their cross, maybe the heaviest one. No doubt we all know well, can clearly see in our surroundings that people carry their own life crosses. We see different sufferings, temptations, ordeals, challenges, diseases… in the lives of those who believe, but also equally as much in the lives of those who don’t believe. Still there is a huge difference between the first and the latter. Namely those who believe in Christ, in the One Who conquered evil and death on the Cross, after the endured suffering they finally attain the resurrection as well. Such people, to put it in a worldly language, have a happy ending. Their ordeals and sufferings that they have endured in this life, while humbly and gratefully carrying their cross, like Christ did, turn into blessings and beatitudes. All those sufferings taken with faith in God and hope for the resurrection, have a happy ending. Because we know that in Christ, through His Cross, we receive deliverance from the evil and life eternal.
Let us recollect for instance the Golgotha drama. There were three crosses there: in the middle the Christ’s Cross was erected, on the right side – the cross of the repenting villain, who in his repentance believed that the One crucified next to him is the One Who could give him life eternal – a mysterious revelation that nobody could see at that moment, not even the Apostles; and finally on the left side was the cross of the villain who not only disbelieved, but also maliciously complained, because he had no repentance. The sacred history tells us that his cross ended tragically.
So there is the answer as to why we should follow the Cross of Christ. He would first grant us relief here, in this life, and in the end He would take us to life eternal, which, after all, is the purpose of our existence here on Earth.
These days one of my brothers brought me a very educational text about patience, written by our renowned Athonite Elder Ephraim of Katounakia. Among the other things, the Elder mentions that on one occasion an old nun came to him, an Abbess and asked to make confession. The Elder refused her, with the explanation that he doesn’t listen to anyone’s confession. But she was persistent, begged and insisted – wanting to share her thoughts with him. Finally the Elder allowed her and she started retelling her ordeals in life – she really went through a lot: cancer, operations, sufferings… After she told him about all that, in the end she mentioned about an unusual revelation that she had seen in the moments of greatest pain. Namely, she had seen the three Old Testament Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob standing on some hill – obviously covered with inexplicable light, glory and beauty. So she asked them:
– Are you the Patriarchs?
– Yes, we are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
She wanted to go there herself:
– May I come to you?
– Certainly, come.
– But how? I don’t see any road.
– Seek carefully and you will find it.
The nun kept looking everywhere, but there was no road anywhere!
– But I can’t find it!
Look for it my blessed, seek and you will find it.
And finally the nun noticed a small path, barely 15 cm wide, all filled with thorns and bushes!
Well is this a road? How could I pass through it? It’s too narrow and thorny – I would tear my clothes and bleed my feet.
– We also came here, following that path – responded the Patriarchs to that.
Do you see? He wants to tell us that the path to eternal glory and beatitude is narrow and thorny, filled with temptations and suffering. Even the ancient Latins used to say: per angusta ad augusta, meaning through hardship to elevation. After that the old nun saw the Most Holy Theotokos telling the righteous ones: “Come my dear righteous ones, pass”. Then also to the Martyrs: “Come ye Great Martyrs, pass!” In the end She addressed the nun and said: “Come now, you pass that path too”. So she approached the Heavenly Empress, bowed before Her and kissed Her hand. Her hand was soft and smooth like velvet!
What do you think, what made this old nun worthy of such wonderful vision? Her patience and gratitude with which she endured all the sufferings in her life. Her numerous operations, the diseases taken with humbleness, all that made her worthy to be together with the Patriarchs, with the Mother of God and her Lord, in the place of eternal joy. To rejoice forever with Christ!
In this way, my dear ones, we all should carry our own cross. Our life path is nothing but a cross, given by God, for the sake of our salvation. All we have to do is show some patience, which is convenient to God, and only in this way we could attain life eternal. Let us pray that our Lord grant us such endurance! Because today the cross of being a Christian is not easy at all. On the contrary sometimes is very hard, in these modern conditions, to confess that you believe in Christ, to fast, to restrain yourself, to fight the passions, the egoism within you…No doubt you would encounter many offences because of that, a lot of contempt, disparaging and awkward questions, temptations, provocations etc. Now imagine how hard today is to wear а monastic robe and a priestly vestment! I have felt this huge weight in many occasions. When we exit the monastery for some chores, we are not the same as the other people. Some look upon us with love, but others with contempt. Isn’t that a heavy cross to bear? Therefore pray for those who wear the monastic habit, so that they could persevere in it till the end, because with this they carry the passions of our Lord upon themselves, the wounds of Lord Jesus Christ.
I would like to ask you, my dearest, to also pray for me, the last one, because I cannot really say for myself that I worthily carry my cross – both the external, the decorated one, that I wear on my chest, and the inner, the invisible one, which God has placed on my shoulder to bear in life… Forgive me for my negligence. Let us pray to our Lord that we should never slumber in negligence, because it kills every will for good deeds. But, rather to walk forward in our spiritual life, always armed with the Cross of Christ, and not to fear any temptation what so ever, knowing that the cross is what gives us strength, both spiritual and physical, to persevere in our struggle. And after the cross, there is always a resurrection…
I wish that all my dear monks would stay with the cross till the end of their lives! With the monastic habit, which as we sad, is not a small cross to bear today. So that when in the end they come before our Lord to give account for their bearing of the cross, they too could hear the voice that the blessed nun heard from the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaak and Jacob: “Come my child, you too pass this path”. It’s not at all easy to walk this thorny and narrow path of spiritual fit for the sake of Christ. This path means not to suit your self but to persevere in the temptation that come along, to humbly and devotedly serve your brother in goodness, you neighbor, your people that come to you with a hope for comfort… let us sacrifice ourselves for these people! We know we too have many personal desires, but let us leave aside the self-indulgence. We have to give in to our Lord completely, the way He completely gave Himself on the Cross. That is the very moral and importance of the Cross: He spread on it His hands for the sake of the entire world. And He forgave those who crucified Him then. In His utter humbleness and suffering He said: “It’s done!” in this way He completed our salvation, through the Cross. In this way, and only in this way, through the Cross, we would be able to save ourselves, my dear ones… Forgive me!