The Prelate’s Sermon
Sunday, September 11
Today, the Armenian Church Celebrates the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, based upon two historical events. First, there is a revered tradition during the first half of the first century, Saint James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ (James is the son of Joseph who had been married and widowed before marrying Mary the mother of Jesus; see Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3), who became the first Bishop of Jerusalem, elevated the Cross during a religious ceremony while chanting the hymn, “Khatchee koh, Krisdos, yergeer bakanemk” (Before thy Cross, O Christ, we bow down and worship). The second event commemorated on this feast-day took place in the seventh century. In 612, the Persians conquered Jerusalem, and seizing the relic of the True Cross, carried it back to Persia. In 630, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius waged a war against the Persians, and after liberating the Cross, returned the most sacred relic back to Jerusalem, where it remains one of the most important witnesses of our Lord’s Passion. Indeed, the Armenian Apostolic Church holds a piece of the True Cross in our Patriarchate in Jerusalem, and we continue to safeguard this relic with faith and reverence.
On this occasion I would like to share the following thoughts with you.
- The cross, as a means of Roman punishment for criminals, was notorious for its cruelty in condemning someone to death. The description “excruciating” comes from the Latin word “crux” which means “cross”, and is applied to the agony, sorrow, and painful manner in which a crucified person suffered death. In Christianity, however, the Cross has become honored as the Redemptive instrument over Death. It is the most famous sign of Christian identity and is found on the domes and over the altars of churches, sewn on vestments and decorating jewelry and artifacts, placed in special places in homes, and most importantly, drawn upon the body, using the fingers of the right hand, to demonstrate Christian faithfulness in following the One who was crucified for our salvation. These external phenomena are valid points. Yet there is a dimension which truly constitutes the essence of the Cross, and which brings us closer to Whom we trust, to Whom we commit ourselves and Whom we follow.
- The Cross for Christians is a clear journey of lifestyle, starting at the Baptism as “the adopted child of the Heavenly Father, bought by the sacred Blood of Christ from the servitude of sin, and transformed into the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” as we are instructed by the Baptismal prayer The Unconditional Love, which pours upon us freely the heavenly grace, calls upon us all to imitate the One whom the Father sent (Jn 5:30), in order to live by His example in combating temptations, grief, persecution, physical needs such as fatigue, hunger, and thirst, and by which we are taught never to deviate from the ultimate destiny designed for all of us by a Caring Creator.
- The Cross stands for clear awareness and consciousness that we have a mission to fulfill. As much as we are obligated to meet our needs as well as the needs of others, yet we have a sacred mission to be the light and salt (Matt 5:13-16) in a dark world and in a society which has lost its sight in darkness.
- This yoke vested upon us is not easy, yet as its Proto-Carrier promised to us it will be easy and light (Matt 11:30). When we carry this yoke in the same way as He did, then we will be enriched by the Fruit of the Spirit, acting with Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control (Gal 5:22-23), and edifying not only ourselves but also the fellow temples of Christ.
- This mission to be fulfilled has a clear scope. It is not limited to this earthly and temporary life, but rather is full of Hope for a transformed eternal Life. As a pilot of an airplane announces the intended flight path before or right after taking off, including the duration, the bumps, the weather, the arrival at the destination, etc., likewise the Cross in Christ is the proclamation of the finest journey in body, mind, and soul to enjoy all the bliss prepared since the Creation for all those who consciously enter the gate of His Kingdom and serve the Lord joyfully (cf. Ps 100:2).
With this positive understanding, while kneeling in His presence, let us all elevate and revitalize the triumphant message of the Holy Cross in our hearts and sing, “Խաչն կենարար, որ եղեւ մեզ փրկութիւն, սովաւ ամենեքեան զՔեզ բարեբանեմք (“Khatchun genarar, vor yeghev mez purgootyoon; sovav amenekyan uzkez parepanemk”), The Life-giving Cross which has become our Salvation; through this, let us all praise thee, O Lord”, and worship the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.