Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Precious Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to exalt the Cross? And how do we exalt it? I am not referring to the historical occurrence of the re-finding of the Cross and its exaltation by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. I am not referring to the beautiful rite of the bringing out of the Cross from the altar, which is elevated by the priest and presented to all of us to prostrate ourselves before it in worship. We experienced this last night. We are Orthodox Christians and have no need for anyone to tell us about these external rites of the Church which are clothed in grace and impart grace to our souls. I am referring to the spiritual exaltation of the Cross in our heart and entire life.
In order to understand what it means to exalt the Cross in this way, it is necessary to understand what the Cross itself is. Christ says to us all: “If you will come after Me and be My disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.”
Christ bore His Cross daily throughout His entire life on earth, not just at the time of His Crucifixion. Christ, the Son of God and God from heaven, humbled Himself and became a man, subject to pains, weariness, sorrows, unjust sufferings, torture, and a shameful death.
Why did He do this? God created us for life, joy, peace, light, love, goodness, bliss, spiritual pleasure, and eternal rest in Him. But we have introduced sin, suffering, and death. As soon as man was created, he set up the Cross and crucified God upon it; he obliterated God from his own presence within him through sin.
Every sin is a crucifixion of Christ. Sin is turning away from God and falling away from living in Him and as Him. We crucify Christ when we hate someone. We crucify Christ when we judge or slander someone. We crucify Christ when we lust after someone. We crucify Christ when elevate ourselves in arrogance against someone. We crucify Christ when we blaspheme, or swear, or grumble, or complain against others and God.
How many times a day do we crucify Christ! Our sins are more torturous to Him than nails. Our lusts and passions are more agonizing to Him than physical thirst and torture. The physical crucifixion of Christ is familiar to us from the Gospel. But do we perceive the spiritual crucifixion of Christ?
Do we understand how much He suffered and still suffers from us? When He was insulted and blasphemed by the people, what was His reaction? Surely He was pained beyond belief in His human heart. But He was not pained on His own account. He did not recoil in self-pity and depression. Rather, He was pained and tormented by the fact that His tormentors were mad, God-hating, self-destructive beasts. His pain was for them, not Himself.
And this is still how it is. Christ is tormented by our sins, our hatred, our judgment, our slander, our filthy desires, our pride, our darkness, our enslavement to demonic influence. He suffers for us! Christ spoke through one of His prophets: “You have forsaken Me, or rather, you have forsaken your own selves!” Through another prophet He cries out: “You have forsaken your own mercy!” By forsaking Him, we forsake our selves and that which is beneficial and salvific for us. By crucifying Him, we kill our own souls.
But thanks be to God for Our Lord Jesus Christ! It is against Him alone that we sin. It is He alone Whom we have crucified and pained by our sins. But it is He alone Who still loves us and desires our salvation far greater than we can ever do so for ourselves or even imagine.
What is the proof of this? Christ on the Cross. Do not think that your Judge is anyone except for This One, the One Who is also your Savior and Healer. Do not think that the Father looks any different than This One. Do not mistake your own harsh and critical and self-analyzing thoughts, nor those malicious despair-inducing thoughts of the demons—do not mistake these for the voice of God.
There is only one voice of God the Father. And no one knows the Father except through Christ. He who sees Christ sees the Father. And Christ on the Cross manifests the greatest image of the Loving Father. What words do we hear from Christ Crucified? What judgment or condemnation or harsh criticism or terrifying curse do we hear from Him, while He is crucified, suffering, tormented by thirst, sorrowing unto death, in agony, blasphemed, mocked, insulted, slandered, betrayed by an intimate, abandoned by His friends?
What thunderous word does He utter? None but this: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Nothing but forgiveness, long-suffering patience, love, and mercy.
This is our boldness. This is our encouragement. This is our salvation. This is the beginning of our repentance. This is the only place we can start. This is the only place we can receive remission of sins—from Christ on His Cross, Whose love for us cannot be conquered, not by our sins, not by this world, not by the devil, not by death, not by anything at all!
Therefore, we must follow Him if we desire to live in Him. We must seek repentance—Now! At this very moment! We must cast off our delusion, our division, our worldliness, our party-spirit, our unjust opinions. We must “judge not lest we be judged; condemn not lest we be condemned; forgive that we may be forgiven; do unto others as we desire them to do unto us; love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us, and do good to those who hate us.”
This is the path of Christ. This is the path of crucifixion, of salvific self-denial. This is the path God walked when He dwelt on this earth. Shall we remain proud and think we can walk a different and better path than Him?
Sorrows and pains and misunderstandings and disappointments and death will never be far from us as long as we live on this earth. Therefore, we must learn to follow Christ so that we might become invincible to this world’s influence.
We will never learn to exalt the Cross in spirit while we are judging and hating. We will never live truly in Christ when we are obsessed with politics, when we divide ourselves, when we think ourselves better than others, when we identify Orthodoxy with a political party, when we arrogantly despise those who are astray. For the Lord says: “My Kingdom is not of this world; if it were, then would My servants fight.” We see atrocities all around us: wars, persecutions, abortions, divisions, riots, murders, unspeakable blasphemies, perversions of nature, deformities of children, confusion of gender, racism, wokeism.
What is our reaction? Do we detest these things? Good! But do we detest those led astray by the devil? Then we are no better than they are. In fact, because we have the truth and the law of Christ, which is love for enemies, we are far worse! Remember the skull of the pagan priest which St. Macarius the Great came upon in the desert. He noetically spoke with the soul of this priest who was being tormented in Hades. But what did the priest explain? That greater torments are experienced by those who called themselves Christians but lived like pagans.
Those who have seen the light of the sun and the beautiful world which is illumined by it, sense all the more the darkness when they maim their own eyes, much more than those who were born blind. Those who have experienced the spiritual pleasure of God’s grace permeating all the members of their souls and bodies, sense much greater torment of being separated from God when they willfully tear themselves away from Him, much more than those who have never known God. Those who have ascended into a high mountain, and then fall therefrom into the depths of the earth, feel much greater pain than those who have always dwelt upon earth and stumble and skin their knees on a stone.
In St. Macarius’ day, in the early age of Christianity, the pagan priests and the pagans with them were involved in exactly the same things as the pagans of our own day. Ancient and modern paganism are no different. The ancient pagans gave themselves up to the worship of their own passions, making idols out of them. They engaged in complete debauchery. They perverted nature and misused those of the same sex. They engaged in mystery cults which encouraged the throwing off of gender and the misuse of themselves and others. They corrupted children. They practiced sorcery and engaged in all manner of drunkenness and drug-use.
Is it any different today? No. What should we do? What St. Macarius the Great did. He prayed for the tormented soul of that pagan priest, and the priest received some consolation. He prayed for the whole world and loved all. It is said that he became another God on this earth, overlooking with compassion the sins of the whole world. He became perfect in Christ. He forgave like Christ. He prayed with deep sorrow like Christ. He loved like Christ.
He exalted the Cross in his heart and entire life. Maybe we cannot come to this stature in this life. Maybe we cannot even imagine how this is possible. Maybe we are in despair and think we have not even begun to live in Christ. But the Church comforts us and teaches all Her children to pray in this manner: “O Lord, I have never done anything good in Thy sight, but grant me to make a good beginning!” St. Arsenius the Great—an angel in the flesh—prayed this way until his dying day, as did all the Saints. Let us at least imitate this prayer and attitude of theirs, seeking to make a good beginning.
We are not in the grave yet. Our life has not ended. Christ has not come yet to judge the whole world. So let us take heart in His mercy and long-suffering. Let us see the great patience of God. Let us make a good beginning today, as we worship Christ on His Cross.
The secret to salvation is constancy in prayer, constancy in calling out to the Lord as little children do for their parents. We must become little children, says the Lord, in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven. A little child is completely dependent on his parents. A little child is in sorrow, and cries to them. It gets hurt or scared and cries out to them. It is happy and smiles at them. It falls down, and desires them to pick him up.
Let us do the same. When we fall into sin, let us cry out to Christ and await His help. When we are in pain, or sorrow, or fear, or agony, let us cling to our Lord Who was crucified and endured all manner of evil against Himself. He understands our weakness. He has experienced our weakness. He has endured our agony. But He has conquered it. He has conquered death. He has raised the dead. He has brought man up to where He Himself never left, to the right hand of God the Father. He has made us lowly humans equal to the Father, as the Church boldly teaches us!
It is the will of this Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, and the All-Holy Spirit to save us, to transform us, to heal us, and to deify us forever. Let us continually pray that the will of God be done in us for all ages.
O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me the sinner!
O Lord Jesus Christ, heal me the sick one!
O Lord Jesus Christ, receive my wretchedness and grant me Thy grace!
O Lord Jesus Christ, be with me!
O Lord Jesus Christ, do not forsake me!
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who was crucified for me and all the world, save me, purify me, cleanse me from sin and evil, deify me, fill me with Thy Holy Spirit, and raise me up unto Thy Father for all eternity.
Through the Prayers of Our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us! Amen!