Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. Divine Liturgy with His Grace Bishop Raphael

Published on 7 April 2024 at 19:40

On this day, the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the precious and life-giving Cross.

Let all the earth adore the Cross,

Through which it learned to adore You, the Word.

By the power of Your Cross, O Christ our God, guard us against the wanton assaults of the evil one, and make us worthy to worship Your divine Passion and life-bringing Resurrection, to finish the course of the forty-day fast with ease, and have mercy on us, as You alone are good and benevolent.

Divine Liturgy and Meeting with Bishop Raphael 

On 7th April 2024, for the Third Sunday of Lent, the Community in large numbers had the blessing to welcome back His Grace Bishop Raphael who celebrated the Divine Liturgy, assisted by Fr Andreas Amirhom and Fr Nikita Banev. 

The Veneration of the Holy Cross took place at the end of the Liturgy. The singing of our lead chanter Miss Liliana Banev with the help of Dr Nikolaos and Dr Maria Evgenikos from Edinburgh graced the service. The readers Andreas and Symeon took care or the candles and the arrangements in the altar. 

Heartfelt thanks to everyone for the splendid reception afterwards to which the whole Community and many guests were invited.

The day concluded with a meeting at which Bishop Raphael presented the draft Constitution of the Community and answered questions posed by members of the Community.

The required 21 days' notice for a General Meeting on Sunday 28th April at 3 p.m. to adopt the Constitution was served by Bishop Raphael. Present were the members of the Interim Committee Mr Alec McNicholas, Mrs Evangelia Melachroinoudi and Mrs Kiki Haines. 

Gospel Reading (Mark 8:34-9:1)

The Lord said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

Bishop Raphael's Sermon

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

All Orthodox icons of our Lord have the usual halo, which we also see around the heads of holy people, but uniquely on the icon of our Lord we see the cross. Inscribed, there is a cross. Because not only the cross was the pinnacle of the manifestation of his love for us but also the cross has been in the mind of Christ from all eternity.  

In the Book of Revelation it is said that the Lamb of God was slaughtered from the very beginning (ἀπο καταβολῆς κόσμου, Rev. 13.8). So even before his crucifixion, in some way---because he loved the world, he loved everyone so much---the Lord was already exhibiting crucified love. 

The cross is the way the Lord relates to us. The Holy Fathers say that it is also the way the three persons of the Holy Trinity relate to one another. And if we can dare speak about the life of God---the Holy Fathers can, we cannot, we simply follow them---we say that the love of God the Father for the Son and for the Holy Spirit, and also the love of the Son and of the Holy Spirit for the Father and for one another, is a love that seeks not its own end. 

They love one another, coming out of themselves and offering themselves to one another. And in the same way, following the same pattern, God relates to us, to his creation, with a love that does not seek its own, with a perfect love, which is ready---in the case of Christ, who became a human being---to die for us, to endure death. 

This is what the Lord wants us to have as an attitude towards him and towards every human being. This is why the church has asked us to place the cross in the middle of the nave, halfway through the period of Lent, so that we know where we are going to. So that we reassess ourselves in case we have gone the wrong way. In case we think that simply praying---if we do pray, which is indispensable, or coming to church or reading spiritual books,---is sufficient. It's not sufficient!

The saints say that unless we have the desire to and try to make sacrifices for our brethren, for our brothers and sisters, we have done very little, if anything. Without sacrifice, spiritual life does not blossom. 

We need to be ready to make sacrifices for our brothers and sisters, not only material, but also sacrifices from our heart: with a pain for sharing, to share in their grief, in their sorrow, in their loneliness.  

You know the famous story with St Paisios and the elderly monk who was living next to him? The elderly monk constantly was asking St. Paisios to do things for him: to bring him a cup of tea one time, another time a little rusk to eat, another time to go and prepare for him a warm blanket. And St. Paisios did it all with great love. But another monk said to him: “Look, Father, if you go on like that, you will never pray. You will never fulfill your rule of prayer. You will never fulfill your monastic duties. Just leave the old man. He's very demanding. He keeps asking for things. Just stay on your course and attend to your spiritual discipline and really don't waste your time on the old man.”  

In response Saint Paisios said to his fellow monk: “My brother, I'm sorry for you. Because you think that if you say hundreds of Jesus prayers, you will reach God. But I can tell you that of course you should pray, of course. But bringing a cup of tea to the old man, offering him a warm blanket, obeying him in his need---this will equal thousands of Jesus prayers and will bring you closer to God than many vigils and standing in prayer, which of course are all necessary.”  

So this is the attitude we should all aim to have. And this is what the cross reminds us of. If we do not acquire this attitude towards our brothers and sisters, we will be very poor. The church teaches us, according to the Book of Revelation, that no one will enter the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, unless they are purified. Unless we are purified, for nothing impure will enter there. And the way to purify ourselves is the way of the cross.  

How do we purify ourselves? By keeping the commandments of Christ and that is taking up our cross.  

How do we purify ourselves? By showing sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters? And that is taking up our cross. 

How do we purify ourselves? When we accept whatever cross the Lord has sent us---and all of us have one---with gratitude, with giving glory to God and without blaming anyone. 

That is how the cross, that little cross that we have been given---be that illness, be that injustice, be that slander, or other things---will turn into the cross of Christ. It will not be torture, but it will be a cross.

There is a difference between suffering and being crucified like Christ. Those who simply suffer will be crushed. Those who suffer by not blaming anyone, especially God, but give thanks and accept what has been given to us as a means for purification, will be glorified. Their pain will be eased.  

Saint Ephraim of Katounakia, a contemporary saint, said that most people ask God to remove their crosses from them, and that this is wrong.

St. Sophrony says that we do not come down from our cross, but that we are taken down when the time comes.  

St Ephraim also says that the best thing is to pray with these words: “Lord, give me strength to carry the cross that you have given me” and then to pray and act as if you have been benefited, as if you have been given the greatest gift.

And if you do this, St Ephraim said, there will be a moment when your prayer will change. And you will not say, “God, give me strength to bear my cross or take it away, if it is your will”, but you will say, “Lord, do not take away my cross from me because I'm becoming richer in my suffering”. 

With these thoughts in mind, we venerate the cross today and we ask the Lord to give us strength, for we are all weak, and to be able to say with the Optina Fathers, “Lord, whatever comes my way this day and every day, help me to see that it has been permitted by you, and to give thanks to you for everything”.