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Homily for 3/23/14 - L3 - the sign of the cross

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  • David
    Heb. 4:14-5:6 All religions have some kind of a priesthood – someone who is the intermediary between God and man. Because God and man are so far apart, it
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 24, 2014
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      Heb. 4:14-5:6

      All religions have some kind of a priesthood – someone who is the
      intermediary between God and man. Because God and man are so far apart,
      it was thought that no mere man could be good enough or high enough to
      speak to God directly and God certainly would not speak to just any man.
      This is a problem because only by communicating could God make his
      desires known to men and man could make his needs known to God. This
      problem was addressed by the institution of the priest – a man who
      somehow had access to God and thus could act as a kind of go-between,
      telling God what men wanted and telling men what God wanted from them.
      Even the worship of the One True God involved a priesthood, although
      that priesthood was not the exclusive avenue of communication between
      God and man. With the incarnation of the God/man Jesus Christ, the role
      of the priest was diminished because no longer was there a separation
      between God and man. God became man and dwelt among us and all men could
      see Him and talk to Him and hear His voice. Even after His Ascension
      into heaven, He sent to His Church the Holy Spirit who dwells within the
      hearts of men and continues this direct communication between man and
      God; an intermediary in the old sense was no longer needed. But in the
      Church today we have “priests� – what then is their role. The priest in
      the Christian Church is not the intermediary between God and man, the
      only channel by which one can communicate to the other; the priest is
      the helper and pastor leading men to God and assisting them as they,
      themselves, commune with God. The priest is able to do this task not on
      his own ability or holiness, but due to the grace of God given to him in
      his ordination. The priest is set in the place of the father of a family
      who provides for the needs of his spiritual children as they grow and
      mature and develop in their communion with God.

      Today in the Epistle, we heard that we have a “great High Priest� who is
      indeed the intermediary between God and man. He is the one who brings
      man to God and who brings God to man. This great High Priest is (and
      could only be) the God/man Jesus Christ. In order to bring God and man
      together, our Lord had to bridge the gap between Creator and creature.
      Man, as the creature, had also fallen into captivity and so not only had
      fallen further away from God, but was prevented from repairing that
      breach by his captors: sin, death and the devil. The God/man Jesus
      Christ as God incarnate bridged the gap between God and man and then by
      His death and Resurrection He defeated our captors, broke the chains of
      our captivity and leads all who will follow Him out of the prison of
      their sins.

      In the past, the priest had offered sacrifices to God due to the
      people’s sins that their captivity might be endurable and to offer hope
      that one day it would end. The God/man Jesus Christ came as a priest and
      also as a sacrifice; He offered Himself for the sins of all taking the
      struggle for the life of mankind on Himself. In doing so He proved to be
      greater and stronger than sin and having defeated sin, death and the
      devil, He freed us from our captivity and opened for us the path to God.
      All this He accomplished as our High Priest offering sacrifice for us,
      our mediator between man and God, and by Himself becoming the sacrifice.
      He is both priest and sacrifice, the offerer and the offered. As our
      High Priest our Lord makes this offering upon an altar and as the
      offering, our Lord places Himself upon that altar. That altar is the
      Holy, Precious and Life-giving Cross. It is through this altar that the
      One Who is the High Priest and the One Who is the sacrifice accomplishes
      our deliverance from sin and leads us to reconciliation with God.

      Today we celebrate the Holy Cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ, our
      High Priest, offered Himself for our salvation. He voluntarily ascended
      the cross for us that He might defeat our captors; sin, death and the
      devil, and might lead us into union and communion with God. The Cross is
      the axis of our salvation; it is the symbol of our victory; it is the
      means by which the demons are defeated; it is the instrument of our own
      death to sin and resurrection to the life to come. We mark our whole
      lives with the sign of the cross. We place the cross upon all that is
      holy in our lives, the Church and the holy things in her and our homes.
      Most importantly we place the cross upon ourselves. At baptism we are
      given a cross to wear throughout our lives as the symbol of our freedom.
      At chrismation, our bodies are anointed with chrism in the sign of a
      cross sealing all our senses. When we pray we make the sign of the cross
      upon ourselves as a key to open the floodgates of God’s grace upon
      ourselves and to drive away the demons that assail us. The cross is the
      symbol of our victory as well as the instrument by which that victory is
      made manifest in us.

      Throughout the whole history of the Church, even before the coming of
      Christ, the cross has been with us as the powerful symbol of our
      victory. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness just as our Lord
      Jesus Christ was lifted up upon the cross, to save the children of
      Israel from the poison of the vipers and later he stood with his arms
      outstretched as though upon a cross himself insuring victory as the
      Israelites fought for the possession of the promised land. With the sign
      of the cross Moses divided the Red Sea and Elijah turned back the waters
      of the Jordan. These are but a few of the examples of the foreshadowing
      of the Cross in the Old Testament. From the very beginning the Apostles
      and the whole Church signed themselves with the cross. This sign of the
      cross has taken many different forms throughout the centuries and
      continues even today within the Church in many ways. Most simply it is
      seen by simply tracing a cross on one’s brow, lips and breast with the
      finger. It is made also with two fingers and with three, crossing from
      right to left or from left to right. Throughout the whole of the
      Christian world the sign of the cross is with us in many forms.

      In our tradition – the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church we make
      the sign of the cross upon ourselves by bringing together the thumb and
      first two fingers of the right hand signifying the Trinity – one God in
      Three Persons. The other two fingers are pressed into the palm of the
      hand signifying for us that Jesus Christ who descended from heaven to
      earth is both God and man, having two natures (divine and human) united
      in one person. We then touch our brow (forehead) with the three fingers
      signifying the sanctification of our mind (and thus the life of the
      body), then our breast signifying the sanctification of our heart (and
      thus the life of the soul). We then make the crossbar by touching both
      shoulders first the right and then the left signifying the
      sanctification of our labors and deeds. As we mentioned before, just as
      there are many languages and cultures within the Church, there are also
      many other variations of this cross which we trace upon ourselves within
      the Church and they are all filled with great meaning and significance.
      In order to avoid confusion and discord, however, we should all be
      united in following the tradition which has been given to us and to make
      together the sign of the cross in the same manner.

      I have previously spoken of our liturgical prayer as a symphony in which
      we are all players and we all bring our personal prayer and join it
      together in a scripted and coordinated manner, making of our many
      individual prayers a beautiful single work of prayer, just as the
      players in a symphony bring their instruments and join them together
      according to the score and conductor to produce a single beautiful work
      of music. One of the things that contributes to the beauty of the music
      of a symphony is the visual beauty of the actions of the musicians. Each
      of the violinists, for example, moves his bow across the strings of his
      instrument in perfect unison with all the other violinists, producing a
      beautiful sight of many moving as one. So in the Church our movements –
      that is the making of the sign of the cross – should also be in unison,
      many moving as one to emphasize the unity and beauty of our common
      prayer. This we should learn to do together, just as we learn to pray
      together in the same language (even if it is not the language of our
      birth). We come to the Church and join ourselves to one another and thus
      sacrifice our own individuality so that we might together produce a
      beautiful symphony of prayer and worship for our God.

      The sign of the Cross is the sign of our victory – the victory of the
      God/man Jesus Christ over sin, death and the devil. The sign of the
      Cross is the sign of our unity with one another and with God. The sign
      of the Cross recalls for us the altar upon which our Lord Jesus Christ
      is both the offerer and the offering sacrificed to free us from the
      captivity of our sins. The sign of the Cross which we trace upon
      ourselves is the brand which marks us as Christians. Let us therefore
      make it boldly, with joy proclaiming that we have been freed from our
      captivity and are no longer the slaves of sin, but the servants, even
      the sons and heirs of God.

      We bow down before the image of the cross and we worship the One Who
      offered Himself upon it.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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