The 3rd Sunday of Lent: The Precious and Life-Giving Cross

 

In Paradise of old the tree stripped me bare; for by giving me its fruit to eat, the enemy brought in death. But now the Tree of the Cross that clothes men with the garment of life has been set up on earth, and the whole world is filled with boundless joy. Beholding it venerated, O ye people, let us with one accord raise in faith our cry to God: His house is full of glory. Third Kathisma for the Holy Cross

The 3rd Sunday of Lent is The Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. We are now at the midpoint of Great Lent proper, and then at halfway through the week following the 3rd Sunday also halfway to Pascha (Holy Week is not considered part of Great Lent). In some outward respects, the purpose of the Sunday of the Cross is similar to the Elevation of the Cross commemorated in the early Autumn, yet it is also different. Christ is coming and will enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and as one writer expresses it, “…before the arrival of a king, his royal standards, trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king himself appears in a triumphant parade… so does the feast of the Cross precede the coming of our king, Jesus Christ.” (Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion, p79)  

Every Sunday during Lent serves to remind us of the coming of Pascha – the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His resurrection signaling the defeat of Death, and the restoration of Mankind to communion with God. We have had two commemorations of Orthodox history and theology, first with the Sunday of Orthodoxy (with the final affirmation of the Incarnation of God in the flesh), and then the Sunday of Gregory Palamas (affirming that while God is unknowable, He makes Himself known to us through His energies), and now the affirmation of how the symbol and tool of a painful death is turned in its purpose into a symbol of eternal life. Throughout the services of this day, we are reminded of this counterpoint time and again. As Adam brought death into the world through consuming fruit from a tree, the Cross has instead become the tree of life, and the curse of Adam has been broken. The outstretched arms of Moses before the Red Sea are compared to the Cross as well. There are many more besides, referenced throughout the Canticle read during Orthros.

The Cross has, especially since the end of the Roman persecutions, been adopted universally by all of Christendom as the one true and universal symbol of the faith. Regardless of whether one is Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, while many other symbols have been disputed (the icons, the altar, the real essence of Communion or the Eucharist, and even baptism to one degree or another), the Cross remains the eternal symbol of unity. It is rare that a church will not have a cross featured prominently somewhere in the sanctuary or nave, or on the exterior of the church building. While not all Christians will cross themselves, a great many will wear a cross of some time quite frequently, some prominently while others tucked quietly under their shirt. Without the death on the cross, and the resurrection, Christianity would be meaningless and vain. And on the third Sunday of Lent, all Orthodox Christians venerate the Cross, the tree of death that also became the tree of Life.

Examples of some of the many different variations of the Cross in Christianity today.


Author’s Note: OK, it’s only a week late this time. But I’ve already started on the 4th Sunday, The Sunday of John of the Ladder, and that one should almost certainly be posted before the 5th (and final) Sunday of Lent – St. Mary of Egypt.

There are 6 comments.

  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I’m always moved by these posts, @skipsul, because your deep faith is so apparent. I think people who live their lives firmly in faith with such devotion are a great model for all of us. Is there a reason for the natural colors, browns and golds, in the art you used, or was that coincidental?

    • #1
    • April 7, 2019, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I’m always moved by these posts, @skipsul, because your deep faith is so apparent.

    If only. My faith is often so very wavering. That’s partly why I write these posts, to help me understand it all. The gospel reading for today was from Mark, and there is a particular line that always resonates with me (bolded):

    At that time, a man came to Jesus kneeling and saying: “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.

    And that’s where I so often am. When trials and hardships come, I can all to easily find myself wallowing in doubt, which is not a pleasant place to be. And this is something that comes up time and again, both through the gospels and the lives of the prophets and kings: the people see the miracles, and they still doubt. Look at the life of Elijah too – even he wavered when Jezebel came after him, and he hid for a time.

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I think people who live their lives firmly in faith with such devotion are a great model for all of us.

    Absolutely. Certainly the lives of the historical saints and martyrs are wonderful examples, but they so often feel so distant from us, and at times fantastical. Yet there have been contemporary saints too, like Nektarios or Paisius, of whom there is living memory, and still we doubt at times. I have talked to people in my own church who have borne witness to miracles, and still when I am put to the test I so often fail and am put to shame.

    • #2
    • April 7, 2019, at 4:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Is there a reason for the natural colors, browns and golds, in the art you used, or was that coincidental?

    That was happy coincidence. It was a graphic I already had on file, and it just happened to coordinate with the icon I found.

    • #3
    • April 7, 2019, at 4:01 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Absolutely. Certainly the lives of the historical saints and martyrs are wonderful examples, but they so often feel so distant from us, and at times fantastical. Yet there have been contemporary saints too, like Nektarios or Paisius, of whom there is living memory, and still we doubt at times. I have talked to people in my own church who have borne witness to miracles, and still when I am put to the test I so often fail and am put to shame.

    We have a lot in common, although our faiths are different. I often feel sad for my lack of practice to support my faith. My writing helps me, too, to make that connection. My doubts are not about G-d, but about my ability to commit through action and observances. Thanks for your candor, Skip. We both can remind ourselves that this is all part of the journey. And we are both probably too hard on ourselves, too.

    • #4
    • April 7, 2019, at 4:05 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Boss Mongo Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    When trials and hardships come, I can all to easily find myself wallowing in doubt, which is not a pleasant place to be.

    I don’t want to sound like a theologian here, but: we all suck. We all fall short of the measure. We all need to learn to get over it, and to reconcile our sins with the Big Guy.

    My faith in the Big Guy is adamantine. My ability to follow the path He wants us on, not so much. My faith that my failures to be the right kind of man were paid in blood by a young carpenter nailed up on a cross unjustly? That’s adamantine, also.

    We should rage against the fading of the light with every fibre of our being, but at least when the plug gets pulled, we get to find out the real deal.

    As a man steeped in sin and violence against my fellow man, all I want to hear, when I stand for judgement, is “That’ll do, pig.

    • #5
    • April 8, 2019, at 8:45 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. She Thatcher
    She

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    When trials and hardships come, I can all to easily find myself wallowing in doubt, which is not a pleasant place to be.

    I don’t want to sound like a theologian here, but: we all suck. We all fall short of the measure. We all need to learn to get over it, and to reconcile our sins with the Big Guy.

    My faith in the Big Guy is adamantine. My ability to follow the path He wants us on, not so much. My faith that my failures to be the right kind of man were paid in blood by a young carpenter nailed up on a cross unjustly? That’s adamantine, also.

    We should rage against the fading of the light with every fibre of our being, but at least when the plug gets pulled, we get to find out the real deal.

    As a man steeped in sin and violence against my fellow man, all I want to hear, when I stand for judgement, is “That’ll do, pig.

    One of the world’s best movies. One of the site’s best comments.

    • #6
    • April 9, 2019, at 1:17 PM PDT
    • 2 likes