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553Homily for 8/18/13 - P8 - the foolishness of the Cross

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  • David
    Aug 18, 2013
      1 Corinthians 1:10-18
      In the year 1158 the armies of both the Russian and Byzantine empires,
      strengthened by the power of the Cross and the prayers of their leaders
      won great victories over their foes. In each case, after the battle, the
      soldiers were stricken by a wondrous vision: fiery rays were streaming
      from the Honorable Cross and the holy icon of the Mother of God, and
      they shone over the entire army. The two emperors, Manuel of Byzantium
      and Andrei Bogoliubsky of Russia were in regular contact and as each
      heard of the other’s victory and the subsequent vision of the fiery
      Cross they jointly proclaimed the feast of the Procession of the Wood of
      the Cross on Aug 1. This was already the feast of the All Merciful
      Savior and on this day in Constantinople the wood of the precious Cross
      was brought out in procession and water was blessed as a help and
      consolation to the people who suffered from various illnesses. Therefore
      on this day, Aug 1 (that is Aug 15 on the current civil calendar) we
      still celebrate this feast by bringing out the cross and blessing water.
      We also, on this day, bless the new honey as the first blessing of first
      fruits (these blessings continue on Transfiguration with the blessing of
      grapes and other first fruits such as apples and later on Dormition with
      the blessing of fragrant herbs).

      This past week on Wednesday we celebrated this feast here in our parish,
      blessing both water and honey. Today we heard the words of the Apostle
      Paul speaking of the cross saying, “For the message of the cross is
      foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it
      is the power of God.” The Cross, this great symbol of victory against
      sin, death and the devil, is indeed foolish to those in the world (that
      is to those who perish without the life of Christ, relying instead on
      their own wisdom). They look at the Cross and see an instrument
      disgraceful execution, reserved only for the worst criminals. They look
      at the Cross and see a symbol of persecution and abuse of power
      throughout the centuries. They look at the Cross and see only Christ
      crucified and the tragic death of a good man. To them, to embrace the
      Cross can only seem foolish for they see no victory, no strength, only
      weakness and tragedy.

      But, the Apostle reminds us, those of us who are being saved – that is
      those of us who have the life of Christ and who strive to live according
      to that life – the Cross transcends such a surface image. Yes, we see in
      the Cross the weakness, the defeat, tragedy and horror that is there –
      but we see beyond that. We see also that seeming weakness is only
      strength that is voluntarily laid aside by God out of love for us that
      He might accomplish our salvation, seeming defeat is only victory that
      has not yet come to pass, tragedy and horror are only the result of a
      false context and fall away to reveal the exceeding joy of the Resurrection.

      This relationship between personal weakness and the victory of the Cross
      is shown to us by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He humbled Himself
      becoming like as we are. Without calling upon His divine strength, He
      endured the suffering and torture of the Cross, even to the point of
      death. He was weak. However, His weakness enabled Him to summon His
      divine strength and to confront the great enemy of mankind in his own
      stronghold. By overcoming the devil and binding him and destroying his
      power at its root, He was able to free us from the dominion of sin.
      Having also faced death – that one inescapable fear that lies within us
      all – He transformed death into the gateway to paradise. As St Paul says
      elsewhere, to be absent from the body (that is to die) is to be present
      with the Lord. Our Lord transformed our greatest fear into our greatest
      joy by ascending the cross for us. In this we see how it is that He
      transformed the Cross from weakness and defeat into our victory and our

      The key to the strength of the Cross is, in fact, our own weakness. We
      can only rely upon the strength of the Cross when we realize that we
      have no strength. Only when we give up on our own efforts, our own
      reasoning, our own strengths is it possible for the power of the Cross
      to be manifest in us. And this is exactly where we all too often get
      into trouble. The root of our sinfulness is our desire to be our own
      God, to be self-sufficient, to be able to take care of ourselves. Until
      we surrender this desire and give it up completely, we will leave the
      door open for sin to enter our lives and gain power over us. Our
      strength is, in fact, our greatest spiritual weakness. There is a
      saying, “Let go and let God” implying that if we simply let go of our
      cares and release our own hold on them, then God will work in our lives
      and we will see His hand on us. This is precisely what we need to do in
      our struggle with temptation and sin – to “let go” of our own feeble
      efforts and “let God” take over.

      How then do we let go of our strength and become weak in order that the
      power of the Cross may gain us victory? First is the realization that we
      are sinners and seeing this we repent or turn away from our sins. They
      will pursue us, yes; and may even overtake us at times. But if we keep
      turning away from sin, the power of the Cross will defend us from their
      continued assaults. It was by ascending the Cross that our Lord
      descended into Hades and encountered the power of sin, death and the
      devil directly and in so doing He defeated them. Now, when we repent and
      call out to Him for help that He might deliver us from the pursuit of
      our enemies (that is from our sins and temptations that beset us), He
      brings us to the very place of His victory – to the gates of hades which
      are broken and destroyed. There the power of sin over us is broken as
      well and we are freed from its power.

      Second is humility, always remembering our weakness and our
      susceptibility to the enticement of sin so that we constantly remain in
      a place of calling out to Jesus Christ that He might come and help us.
      Whenever we move away from that place of complete dependence upon Christ
      and begin to think that we might be able to “handle this one myself” –
      we set our foot on the path of failure and of falling again under the
      power of sin. The reason for this is that when we pull away from
      dependence on Christ, we open the door to pride, thinking that we might
      have something of ourselves that He has not given us.

      If we practice these two things – repentance and humility – then we will
      keep ourselves in this state of being totally dependent upon Christ and
      taking power only from His Cross. In this state we, who are weak, are
      made strong and we enter into the victory that Christ has given us. The
      Cross is no longer an instrument of death – it has become an instrument
      of life. The Cross is no longer a sign of defeat but the Symbol of
      Victory. The Cross is no longer the scene of tragedy and horror, but it
      has become the font of joy and rejoicing. The Cross has been transformed
      by Christ and it is the symbol of our own transformation into the
      children of God.

      The Cross is the symbol of our strength. Let us then sign ourselves with
      it frequently, wear it around our necks, mark our every place and
      possession with it. The Cross is not something of which we should be
      ashamed or which we should fear – the Cross is the symbol of our own joy
      and transformation. On the battlefield, the soldiers fighting under the
      banner of the Cross were victorious and afterward saw the vision of the
      Cross aflame with the light of Christ. Brothers and sisters, you and I
      stand on the battlefield of our lives, waging war against our old enemy,
      sin, which seeks to take us again under its power. But we too have this
      standard of victory, this invincible weapon that is the Holy Cross. And
      as we stand under the Cross, the light of Christ will shine not only
      from it, but from us as well, enveloping us in the glory of our Lord
      Jesus Christ.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)