Protopriest Nikolai Artemoff:
“The Meaning of the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross; Finding the ‘Wood
of the Cross’ in the Middle of Great Lent to Find Strength to Continue”
The following is a sermon by Protopriest Nikolai Artemoff of the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in Munich, Germany, which can be heard in Russian on the official website of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Our Cathedral has a part of the True Cross of the Lord, though it is a very small part. It hails from the Holy City of Jerusalem, from the very reliquary where a part of the Cross is found. The reliquary of the True Cross was seized when the Persians occupied Jerusalem in the year 614. In 624, the Byzantine Emperor Heracles defeated the Persians and returned the reliquary to Jerusalem, where it has remained ever since. In 2002, Archbishop Mark received this tiny piece of the Cross of the Lord from the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which had fallen off while the reliquary was being cleaned. This piece is set in wax and kept under glass in the center of a carved cross (see photo).
Holidays During Which the Cross is Brought Out for Veneration
In the middle of Great Lent, during Saturday evening vigil, the Cross is ceremoniously brought out of the altar and placed in the middle of church in order to remind the faithful of the sufferings and death of the Lord, thereby inspiring and edifying us to continue our podvig of fasting. Veneration of the Cross continues during the fourth week of Great Lent, through Friday, and the texts of the week’s divine services reflect the theme of the Cross. This week marks the midpoint of the fasting period.
The Third Sunday of Great Lent is the Veneration of the Cross. The meaning of this holiday is that Orthodox Christians, making the spiritual journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Pascha of the Lord, find in the middle of this voyage the “Wood of the Cross,” so that they can gather their strength in order to continue. The Cross of the Lord precedes Christ’s victory over death—His Bright Resurrection. With the aim of providing us with greater inspiration for patience in our spiritual labors, the Holy Church today consoles us by reminding us of the forthcoming Pascha, praising the sufferings of the Savior and also His joyous Resurrection: “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.”
The Elevation of the Cross of the Lord
In memory of the recovery of the Cross of the Lord by Holy Empress Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles, the Cross is brought out to the middle of the church at the end of all-night vigil. Prostrations are made before it as the same words are sung: “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.”
In the town of Limberg, Germany, on the River Lahn, is a Byzantine stavroteka (from the Greek stavros, or cross) which contain two large pieces of the Cross of the Savior. Around these two cross-shaped fragments are small doors with sections for other relics. The stavroteka was taken by the Crusaders who destroyed Constantinople in 1204 and looted a great number of holy items. The stavroteka is now on exhibit in the Diocesan Museum of Limburger Cathedral. There exists a film on the Limberger stavroteka with details and commentaries in German.
It is when we behold the oceans of wickedness and the cruelty of this world that we must understand that Christ on the Cross took this assault of evil upon Himself as the very center, and that with His presence, he reveals the true meaning of all things. Here, love conquers all, seeking to subsume all of us into itself, into the fullness of transformed life, into endless bliss. We are called upon this in complete freedom: pay heed to this unprecedented event. In silence, its depth is revealed.