Der Vasken's Sermon on October 29, 2017
Nov 1, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
"But the Cross is foolishness for those who don't believe, but to us it is the power of God." [1 Cor. 1:18]
Today is the Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross. As I was preparing my thoughts for today, I recognized that I "see" so many of the feasts we celebrate differently then I originally did. I view them differently and I think this is why.
I've had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land four times since the year 2000 and the stories and events of the Bible, the feast days and the geography of the Bible are so much more clear in my heart and mind now than they were before. Let me use today's feast to explain what I mean. I remember walking down into the lower levels of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem the last time I went and entering into what is now called the Chapel of St. Helena. The Chapel of St. Helena is where today's Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross took place. It was down in that once forgotten part of the Holiest Church in the world--the church that houses the Tomb of Christ, the site of His Crucifixion and so many other important places related to His death and Resurrection--that in the year 327 AD, St. Helena went to find what she believed to be the most important relic of the Christian faith--the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.
With the army and financial backing of her son, the Emperor Constantine of Rome, St. Helena was eventually able to discover that true Cross. But as the event is described, her men found not one cross but three. Which then would be the cross upon which Jesus was crucified? There are local beliefs and traditions that tell much about the years surrounding the early Church. One of these traditions describes the discovery of the Cross. A young boy had recently died somewhere around Jerusalem and as his lifeless body was being carried to his burial place, St. Helena thought that the boy's body would show her which cross was without doubt the true Cross of Christ. So she had the young boy's body laid upon each of the crosses. On the first one, nothing happened. On the second cross, again nothing. But upon laying the boy's body on the third cross, the boy woke up because life re-entered is body. The cross upon which Jesus was crucified and died was changed into a life-giving Cross--a Cross that can even breathe life back into the dead. It's that life-giving Breath of God--that which our Church Fathers call "Asdvadz-a-shounch"--that breathes life into our lives and renews us.
When we look at the cross, what we see is important. Do you see a symbol of Christ's weakness or a symbol of His Strength?
- The Cross is the "bridge" by which we can reach God.
- The Cross is the "hospital" where our soul and spirit can be healed and uplifted.
- The Cross is the "lighthouse" directing our path in life.
- The Cross is the "school" where we learn about truth, about right and wrong and about God's forgiveness.
- The Cross is the place from where we can draw strength to continue on.
- And the Cross is the place where every human being can meet Christ.
"But the Cross is foolishness for those who don't believe, but to us it is the power of God," says St. Paul. About seven years ago, a group of our parishioners visited our ancestral homelands. We saw many destroyed churches and monasteries on our visits to Kharpert, Van, Bitlis, Erzeroum and the once great City of Ani. These monasteries no longer had domes to hold up their crosses. There were no crosses on the altars because the altars were torn down and removed long ago. The doors no longer displayed the image of a cross because the doors were burned down, but I remembered something when visiting those destroyed holy places. We were the living "crosses" of that monastery on that day on display for the local Kurdish people to see. We were the living "crosses" of our faith proclaiming to each village we entered that the faith of Jesus Christ is part of our family heritage. It is written on our heart by the blood of our ancestors. It is who we are.
If we are the living "crosses," then we must take the Cross of Christ into the world in which we live and hold the Cross of Christ into the world in which we live and hold the Cross of Christ in our hands to do the work of God in this world--to visit the lonely, befriend those who sit alone and care for the forgotten. If we are the living "crosses," then we need to shed God's Light where darkness has taken over. We need to speak hope into the hearts of those who only see gloomy days and speak encouraging words to someone who needs to hear it--not once or twice--but make that a part of who we are in life. If we are the living "crosses," then we must be the owner of the title and live our lives with the realization that Jesus Christ will resurrect everyone who believes in His Name and carries His Cross into the world.
This is the meaning of today's Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross. So let's take advantage of this feast day and ask ourselves:
- Do I believe that the Cross is essential to Christianity?
- And do I use the Cross as the lens to understand the world around me?
We each had a cross placed on our foreheads when our godparents presented us for our baptisms. That cross was placed there never to be removed. May it light the path for each one of us and guide us and protect us as we live our lives in this world.