The Cross

Passages: Prov. 3:18-26; Is. 65:22-25; Gal. 6:14-18; Matt. 24:30-36
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Առակ. Գ 18-26; Եսայ. ԿԵ 22-25; Գաղ. Զ 14-18; Մատթ. ԻԴ 30-36

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

A few weeks ago, during our Little Saints program, we explored the importance of the Holy Cross for us Christians. We learned why we cross ourselves before we do anything in our daily life and one of the children said “oh so like when you hold up a shield and your hand come across you.” Yes, the children learned that the Holy Cross is a shield, it is a weapon, it is a tool; as St. Paul says, “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Multiple times a year we as Armenian Christian’s celebrate and emphasize the importance of the Holy Cross. We are, in fact, in the season of the Cross, where we have multiple feast days dedicated to the Holy Cross. For example, today the Armenian Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Cross of Varak. This feast exists only in the Armenian Church and if you want to learn more about this feast specifically, make sure to read our newsletter from last week. But being in this season, there is an important question, why and what is so important about the Cross?

There are many Christians in the world who do not use or emphasize the Cross yet, we as Orthodox and especially Armenian Christians use the cross in so many ways. Even St. Paul emphasizes not just Christ but the crucified Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 2:1-2) – meaning the Cross is very important in the life of the Christian. Christ Himself tells us to, “pick up your cross and follow Him.” (Matt. 16:24) But why? Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed again how Armenia is being barbarically attacked by Azerbaijan, while the world sits in silence. Over the last few years, we witnessed sickness and pandemic strike fear in the hearts and minds of so many of our loved ones and us to a point where our Churches are still empty, and we have only a tiny glimmer of hope for the future. Every day, each one of us struggles with questions of faith, morality, mortality, sickness, hatred, anger, anxiety, fear, addiction, arrogance, ignorance, and so much more. My dears, each one of these are crosses. We each have a personal cross we carry; we have a cross for the different roles we have in life, whether as a parent, teacher, clergymen, etc.; we have community crosses as a parish, as a society, as neighbors; our nation has a cross of its own carried by its citizens. We all have multiple crosses we carry, the question is what is that Cross? Is it a punishment or a tool? Is it a weapon to strike us down or a shield and sword to protect and strengthen us?

To answer this and better understand our cross, we need to understand what the cross is for the Church because it is through the Church that God teaches us our faith. Understanding the Cross is extremely important because by understanding the importance of the Cross in the Churches consciousness, we begin to unfold and understand our own crosses – ultimately leading us to understand the power of the Cross of Christ. Some of you might think this sermon is too deep, and inapplicable to our daily life. But think about the cross around your neck, or the one at home; how much more unnecessary and inapplicable are two pieces of wood that were used to kill criminals in the Roman Empire? How unnecessary is all this around us? The icons, the hymns, the vestments. If we ignore or begrudgingly look at what all this is, then of course it seems unnecessary and extra. But everything God has given us, from the Words of the Holy Scripture to the Church and all we do and live within it is ultimately a tool to guide us, our physical, emotion, psychological selves to be in Communion with Him. That is why it is so important to learn and understand what the Holy Cross is and how it applies to me and you in our life.

Look around you, our Church is full of Crosses. Where do we see them? On the Holy Altar, in the hand of the priest, on the doors, around our necks. On the sides of the pews, and on books. We see them carved in stones either as memorials, tombstones, or decorations. Some of are very simple and plain, while other’s are intertwined with leaves, fruits, and jewels. Imagine if we took a cross and made it bigger, 20 feet long and 15 feet wide and as tall as 10 feet with a door at the foot of the cross, what would we have? The ancient architectural designs of the Armenian Church. Because as Armenian Christian’s, the Cross is not merely a symbol of Christ’s death but of His resurrection, of renewed life. Each place we see a cross in the Armenian tradition it reminds us of that new life, of the victorious life over death as described by scripture itself. For example, the cross in the hand of the priest is the staff of the Shepherd, from the Psalm 23 which we recite, “your rod and your staff they comfort me…”; the cross on the door of the Church is a reminder that Christ is the gate by which we enter into the presence of God the Father; the cross on the tombstones is the blossoming tree of life that was planted in the garden of Eden; the Cross-like architecture of the Church is the very Throne room, the Kingdom of Heaven where we pray and commune directly with God.

And so my dears, if the Holy Cross which is the staff, the doorway, the tree of life, the very Kingdom of God, which St. Paul teaches us is the only thing we take glory in, what about the Crosses we carry in our daily lives? Are they also the same Cross? For this, we must look at ourselves. Do we trust God to help us when we are carrying our cross or do we become haughty, arrogant and boastful? In Proverbs we read, “My son, keep sound wisdom and discretion; let them not escape from your sight, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck… for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” When we are carrying our cross, when we are facing difficulties, fear, doubt, pain, hurt and darkness keep sound wisdom, meaning trust in the commandments of God and live them, so that by carrying our Cross we come into deeper communion with God. Or else, if we are overcome with pride, anger, hatred, bigotry, lust, and fall deeper and deeper into sin, then not only will the cross we carry crush us but we will abandon it all together. We will look at the staff of our shepherd and see it as pointless device used for controlling of society; we will look at the gate by which we enter and see it as a prison; we will look at the tree of life and like Adam and Eve, choose death rather than life; we will look at the Church and say this is all useless, pointless and unnecessary. We, my dears, will look at the Holy Cross of Christ and see 2 pieces of wood, a weapon of Roman execution and fear.

What is the Holy Cross to you? What is the Cross in your life and how are you carrying it? To pick up our Cross and carry it is not meant to be an easy commandment. Remember Christ carried His Cross where? Up to Golgotha. Meaning not only is the weight of the Cross difficult but so too is the journey. A journey, which if it is in Holy Communion with God will lead us up to God, will lead us up to life and victory over suffering, pain and death because the Cross is also a ladder, a crutch to lean on and climb upwards. But this can only be done when we trust in God, follow His commandments, love and forgive, have compassion and mercy. Break our egos down and be rebuilt into the likeness and image of God. That is why Christ Jesus, God the Son became man and took up His Cross. In order to make us into who God created us to be. An heir of the Kingdom of God, a child and servant. A living witness, an incarnation of the Cross, a tool by which other’s likewise come into Communion with God.

Let us pray, that we will find our Cross, carry our Cross, enter through the Cross into life and communion with God. Let us pray that God make us into the means by which the entire world will see the hope, love and life of God when it feels it is lost in darkness. Let us with the Heavenly angels, the saints and martyrs of the Holy Church, take glory in the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ by which the world has been Crucified to us and we have been Crucified to the world. Glory to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

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