A sermon by His Eminence, Bishop Parthenius, Elder and Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered at the Vespers for the Feast of the Cross, in the Temple of the Holy Great Martyr George the Triumphant in Rajcica, on 13/26 September 2020 Year of Our Lord.
Let us stand with faith and hope before the crucified and resurrected Lord, Who will not leave us.
My dear ones, when an army wins, it raises its flag as a symbol of victory. The people of Israel, in the time of the Old Testament, were the only guardians of the God-revealed faith, but they were often tested because of their passions, which led them to deviate from the path of the truth.
One of their greatest temptations was the Egyptian slavery, when the descendants of Jacob were forced to suffer for five hundred years in a foreign land. However, God heard the prayer of His people and therefore choose the Prophet Moses, one of the greatest righteous Prophets of the Old Testament, to lead Israel into the land of their fathers, to the inheritance of Prophet Abraham. Endowed with great power from above, Moses succeeded in leading the people out of Egypt and finally after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, brought them to the Promised Land. We can say that their long journey was their crucifixion, filled with many temptations and sufferings, by which God protected them from wickedness, educated and turned them into noble and kind people. Most outstanding act of Moses, who was already aged is the last event which happened before the Jews entered Canaan. Namely, when the army of Joshua, the disciple and successor of Moses, fought against Amalek and his people, who had occupied the Promised Land, Moses stood at the top of the mountain and prayed. While his arms were raised in the shape of a cross, the army of Israel was winning. However, because he was old and frail, he could not keep his hands in the shape of a cross all the time, so his brother Aaron, the High Priest and his assistant, supported him on both sides. This way, they succeeded in defeating the Amalekites, even though they were far more numerous. So they won, not by the strength of his army, but because of the prayer of their spiritual Father, Moses. It seems that God wanted to show Israel that you can work hard and fight as much as you want, and you should work hard, but it is all in vain if you do not have the power from above, the power that comes from the symbol of victory – the cross. Thus, with this miracle, Prophet Moses predicted the Cross of the Lord. Soon after, his earthly life ended, and the Jews entered the Promised Land. If we immerse ourselves in this unusual event, we will discover great symbolism. Namely, the initial letters of the names of Moses’ companions Aaron and Or are, in fact, the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. It refers to the Messiah Christ, Who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Rev. 22:13) What a beautiful introduction of the Cross and the One that was crucified on it!
While still alive, the leader of the nation, Moses, foretold the coming of a Prophet far greater than himself. He humbly knew that he was only a messenger of the One who was to come and establish a New Covenant between God and the sons of men. In the same fashion, the New Moses, Christ our Savior, after His salvational deed on Earth, stretched out His hands at Golgotha and raised the Cross as the symbol of victory. That is why on this day we celebrate and triumphantly raise that symbol. And that is why today’s holiday is called Elevation, i.e. raising of the Holy Cross, and it is done in the memory of the discovery of this weapon of peace by Empress Helena, the mother of the Holy Emperor Constantine.
Symbolically, there is also a great deal of similarity between Moses’ action against the Amalekites and what happened to Emperor Constantine. Namely, when the pious emperor, who was taught in the faith of Christ by his especially faithful mother Helena, was in great temptation, because he was about to fight the furthermore numerous army of his enemy Maxentius, the night before the battle he had a powerful vision. He saw in the sky a huge glowing cross made of stars and heard a voice: In this sign thou shalt conquer. After this unusual vision, St. Constantine ordered the army to depict the sign of the cross and of the Christogram on their shields and battle flags. The next day the army of the pious emperor won a glorious victory. This victory was an additional inspiration for Constantine to establish Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. He then sent a delegation with his mother, the Holy Empress Helena, to find the Cross of the Lord and to build magnificent temples in the holy places, which she did. And the Holy Emperor Constantine created a great Christian Empire and built the Empress of all cities – Constantinople and ennobled the whole territory of his dominion with beautiful temples.
Through the cross of the Lord, the Israelites entered the Promised Land and through the cross the Emperor Constantine and the Church of God reigned in the whole world. But that did not signify the end of the struggle, neither for Israel nor for the Church of Christ. History teaches us that there were many temptations, many struggles, many crosses, and so it will be until the second coming of Christ. However, we now know that He once came and was crucified on Golgotha, rose again, overcame death, and re-opened the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as the Jews entered the Promised Land through the sign of the cross of Moses, so now, following the cross, we enter the Kingdom of Heaven in this life. After Golgotha and the Resurrection, the temptations of the Apostles did not diminish; on the contrary, they faced even greater suffering. But now with a clear vision of the Kingdom of Christ. They knew why they were suffering and where they were going and voluntarily took up their cross. If they had not renounced themselves, if they had not placed Christ above everything else, their preaching of the mystery of the Cross would remain empty; they could not capture the world for Christ and establish His Church.
The same happened at the time of the reign of Constantine – the cross miraculously and magnificently won and ascended. But after that, in the imperial city – which, by the way, is still crucified, numerous and great heresies appeared. Again the Church and the followers bravely carried the cross of suffering and walked the same path our Lord Christ walked Himself, which is the path of the crucifixion. It is no coincidence that the first chapter of the Old Testament that we read tonight was for the bitter spring in Mera. The passage in the Bible tells us that when the people crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, they had no drinking water for three days, so they all became very thirsty. They finally found a spring, but with bitter water. They immediately began to murmur and speak against their leader Moses, who, meek and humble, prayed to God. Then the Lord showed him a piece of wood that Moses threw into the water, and the water became sweet and drinkable. (Exodus 15: 23-25). This event symbolically showed that the salvation would come through the rod of the cross, but also that every medicine has a bitter taste.
Thus, no matter how bitter the cross, no matter how severe the suffering, it is the only true path for men. The cross means cutting off the passions in us, crushing the old selfish man, who is falling apart in false passions and lust and renewing the new man through Christ. The whole preaching of the Church is, in fact, this magnificent mystery of the Cross. Such is the call of Christ: to constantly fight our passions, to selflessly think of the others, to have compassion for every man in this world. Let us love, above all, in humility and preserve the truth and love in the Church. Because, you see, even today the Church is in constant trials and tribulations. We constantly hear of all kinds of disagreements, condemnations, slanders… But let us stand with faith and hope before the Crucified and Resurrected Lord, who will not leave us.
May the mystery of the Cross of our Lord prevail in our hearts and may the Holy and Honorable Cross protect us all!