It is still in the shining of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross that we celebrate today this Liturgy, and also the ordination of our friend, our Deacon Sergei.
With what differing feelings did people see this Cross when Christ, crushed under its weight after His judgement and condemnation, walked towards Calvary. With what horror was it seen by some! The Mother of God indeed had her heart pierced with the sword. The disciples and apostles, unable to protect Him, too faint-hearted to defend Him, followed with the sense of horror, broken-hearted; those who had loved Him, or those who still loved Him in His defeat, looked at this dread procession, and saw nothing but horror, and pain, and impending cruel death. And around them was a crowd of people who rejoiced in the coming death of Christ.
Centuries passed, and the Empress Helen of Constantinople was moved to seek the Cross on which her Lord, her God, her Saviour had given His Life for the salvation of the world. The Cross was revealed to her and to the believers in Jerusalem by a miracle. With what eyes did they look at the Cross? It no longer was an instrument of torture, of death, of hatred, destroying a human being in whom people had not seen the shining of God incarnate. What they saw was victory, the sign of the victory which Constantine had seen in the sky where he saw a Cross with the words “By this sign you shall conquer”. It was no longer an instrument of torture, it was God’s victory, and indeed not only God’s victory — the victory of man, of humanity in Him and through Him against sin, against suffering, against godlessness; the wall of separation had been broken, and it was the Cross that was the instrument of this uniting of heaven and earth.
Today we hear words which at times seem frightening to us, “If anyone wishes to follow Me — let him take up his cross, forget himself, and follow in My footsteps”. Is it possible to take up this cross in a way in which Christ carried it? Or is it only victory that we accept through the horror of the Passion? The Cross to Him, and victory to us? — indeed, not! Christ, speaking to James and John who wanted to sit on the right and left hand of His glory, said to them, “Are you prepared to drink My cup? Are you ready to be merged in My ordeal, to be partakers of My Passion?” — and they accepted the challenge, because they felt that in the power of God, together with Him, all things were possible. And indeed, indeed so it was. The cross which they accepted was the way to Calvary, but not only in darkness; the Lord has said, What is impossible to men is possible to Me, to God — and it is in the Divine strength that they could follow Him.
But can we do this unless we give our hearts to Christ our Saviour? When we love someone, when we venerate someone, do we not forget all that is contrary to him, alien to him, inimical to him? Do we not renounce even within ourselves whatever is the cause of his or her rejection, and of his or her suffering and possible death? Indeed, we do! And when we discover in Christ the God of love Who became man in order to live and die for us, when we discover Him for what He is, then we can really give our lives to Him, and we can forget ourselves. Totally? — no! because at every step we must conquer the Kingdom of God; it is given, offered, it is a grace, but we must take what is given, and we must take it generously, courageously, heroically.
So however much we love God, however much we have understood that we want to be at one with Christ, that we want to be His disciples, we must time and again say, Lord! I believe! Help my unbelief, my lack of faith, my frailty …. It is not strength we must ask for; St. Paul did, seeing the immensity of his mission and his inability to fulfil it by his own strength, and the Lord said, “My grace is enough for thee; My power deploys itself in weakness”: not in cowardice, not in sloth, not in laziness, but in childlike surrender, in the gift of ourselves that makes us supple in His hand, transparent to His light. And then we need no strength,because it is Divine strength that guides us and does what is impossible for man to do.
We must pray that this grace of God which was given to Sergei may conquer him, fill him, that he may have the courage, the generosity of heart, the greatness, the true human dignity to accept, to receive it, and to be prepared to follow Christ withersoever He may go, remembering that the way to Calvary goes beyond Calvary, beyond the grave. It goes to the Resurrection, and beyond it, to the moment when we can see Man sitting in the glory of God at the right hand of the Father!
[Fr. Sergei Ovsiannikov from Amsterdam has served as Deacon at our Cathedral for over a year. We wish him and his family ‘many years’ –
Published: Newsletter № 233 1990 October