Sunday of the Adoration of the Cross
sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
Dearest brothers and sisters in Christ! We have come a long way on our Lenten Journey. It might not seem like much, but this weekend consists of the halfway point for the 40 days of fasting until we reach Holy Week. We are fully within the fast and within the journey towards Pascha. However, as for most of us, these past two weeks probably felt like they were the hardest journey to Pasha that any of us have ever encountered. One by one, the things that we had grown accustomed to have been shut down. Services have been reduced to a handful of people. But even outside the Church all non-essential goods and services have been closed. This really brings you to a realization of what is important and what is not. Food and medicine is open, but all sorts of entertainment and luxury stores are closed. The only one that I feel is essential is the Church and thank God that we can still have services, although with a limited gathering.
Before this outbreak happened, many of us might have taken our faith for granted. Many might have been coming to Church, but still having their minds on this world. Now the things of this world are fading and we should come to an appreciation and a longing of what we had before this outbreak happened. The things of this world are fading and gone, and yet even though we do not have the Church in the same way, our prayers are still present. We can always lift up our arms to God and have him hear us. The Church is still open, we are here praying for everyone, offering these commemorations up to God. However, while this is happening at Church, at home we should be praying even more than before. Our prayers lifted up to God will protect and shield us through this time.
This is why this Sunday is so important to us, especially during this time. We see here placed in the center of the Church the perfect symbol for us, to guide us and to protect us: the Cross of our Lord. This is not surprising that we have this beacon placed in front of us during the halfway point of Lent in order to show us the direction that we are going towards. We know that we cannot have the resurrection of Christ without first having His crucifixion. And this is exactly the message we hear in today's Gospel. Christ speaks to his disciples and tells them in order to attain life, they will have to lose their lives for his sake. Who shall be ashamed of Christ, so too will the Son of Man be ashamed of them. What powerful and frightening words. But we see, by giving up our worldly cares and that around us, we too will be glorified with Christ. Maybe we did not give up our worldly cares when we had the chance. Now unfortunately, we don't have a choice because they have been closed and taken away from us. This epidemic going on is exactly what is going to lead us towards salvation.
Another feast we have today is the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. These 40 soldiers were all Christians. After a great victory, the pagan leaders compelled them to offer sacrifice to the false idols. After witnessing their Christian faith to those pagans, these 40 honorable soldiers were put to death. During the evening, they were placed on a frozen lake where they had to endure the bitter cold. In order to temp them more, a warm bath house was set up on shore. 39 of these 40 endured until the end. One of them, tempted and afraid of death tried to escape and in his escape he died. However, his place was taken by one of the soldiers on the shore in order to maintain the 40. In the morning Christ had protected them, they had not died but rather angels were ministering to them. The soldiers came and broke their legs and they finally met a martyr's death. What an extraordinary account! And fitting too to fall on the day of the Cross. These Martyrs are a living example of what it means to take up one's cross. They were tempted in order to embrace worldly pleasures. And yet they endured until the end, and now they are crowned with glorious Martyrs crowns. And if we need help in times of trouble, we can call upon them to pray for us and to intercede for us to God.
What I want to add is that most of us end up putting faith in science. We see this with the state officials who took the advice of the scholars of this age by putting us in quarantine in our houses. And I do agree, science is important and we should absolutely listen to the doctors and scientists. However, we are also Christians, and we should also have absolute trust and faith in our Saviour. If God forbid, we contact the virus, do we not believe that God can destroy it and protect us? Do we not believe that when we are united to Christ's body and blood, that it can eradicate that destructive virus within us? Do we believe that the intercessions of the Saints and those around us, can shield us from this? We heard in the story of these 40 men surviving the night on a frozen lake, if so, we too will be protected if we approach this by taking up our Cross. Now I'm not saying to go out and try to get sick since that would be putting God to test, but we should also not have fear and not let this fear captivate us. We should turn our mind to God and constantly pray to him to help and give us the strength to endure these hardships.
So when we go out of our houses, when we have to do our essential shopping, we should not forget God. Someone I know had to go to the store this week. And when she was about to get out of her car, she had some thoughts like "What if I get this virus while grocery shopping? What if I then transmit it to someone that is high risk?" and right at that moment she saw on her car door a small icon of St. Nicholas Planas. Immediately she said, "All right then, St. Nicholas you gotta come with me to the store". And with this icon in hand, she felt the grace of God and the intercessions of God's saint protecting her. What a wonderful thing to have a Saint traveling with us! If we have to leave our houses, take an icon or something with us and pray to that Saint. We see that there are many saints that have claimed to protect people from the Coronavirus, such as St. Nicephorus the Leper, who appeared to someone in Greece saying that he will heal people of that virus as long as people pray to him. Brothers and Sisters, the question comes down to, do we really have faith that God will protect us? I would say that the faith we need to have in this time, is actually the cross that we have to take up. And taking up this cross of faith will be what will protect us from this virus at hand.