Holy cross

Sunday Homily before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – Homilies

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America

Sunday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September 12, 2020

Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

Merrick, New York

My beloved Christians,

I look forward to being with you today, fresh out of a spiritually enriching visit to our Blessed Mother Church in Constantinople and the September 11 celebrations at our St. Nicholas Church and the World Trade Center National Shrine. I cannot help but notice that the day after each commemoration of September 11, we very soon arrive at the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Today we happen to celebrate the Sunday before the Exaltation, and with a very special Reading from the Holy Gospel. The Lord Jesus compares His Cross to a very unusual incident in the life of Moses, as recorded in the Old Testament Book of Numbers. He says:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have everlasting life. ” [1]

Consider for a moment what this “serpent in the wilderness” was and why the Lord compared to it.

The story concerns the children of Israel after they were freed from Egypt and crossed the separated waters of the Red Sea. Saint Paul sees in it an image of our own Baptism, for he writes to the Corinthians:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know that our ancestors were all under one cloud, and they all crossed the sea. And they were all baptized into Moses by the cloud and by the sea. [2]

The miracle of the “cloud and the sea” is very similar to our baptism and our chrismation, because we are born again by water, and infused with the Holy Spirit, which is the “cloud” mentioned in the scriptures.

But even after such a great wonder as the parting of the Red Sea, the children of Israel strayed from God in their hearts as they wandered through the wilderness of the Sinai Desert on their way to the Promised Land. And are we really that different, my friends? Regardless of the age at which we receive the baptism and the grace of the Holy Ghost, we also tend to go astray – just like lost sheep.

When the children of Israel went astray, they were swallowed up by snakes and serpents that attacked them, and many died of their wounds. Many more fell ill. But the Lord spoke to Moses and said:

“Make a fiery serpent, and put it on a pole: and it will come to pass that whoever is bitten, when he beholds him, will live. ” [3]

Moses obeyed God and “made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any one, when he looked at the serpent of brass, he lived.” [4]

It was all they had to do. Just look at the Brazen Serpent on the pole, and they’d be healed.

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ:

This is why we raise the Precious Cross on the Feast of its Elevation and at all times with the Cross of Blessing, or even by making the sign of the cross in our minds and hearts. Because it is the shining icon of the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ gave his life for the life of the world – for your life, for my life, for every life. Even if our lives are swallowed up by evil, the Cross can save us. There is no act of hatred, violence or misery that it cannot overcome. It is the “ὅπλον εἰρήνης, ἀήττητον τρόπαιον – the weapon of peace, the invincible trophy”. [5]

The Cross is the ultimate act of love, demonstrating God’s love for every human being, no matter who they are or what they have done. As the Lord Jesus said:

“Verily, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. “[6]

Have you heard that, my friends? So that we do not perish, but have eternal life. It is the healing that occurs in our lives as we look to the Cross of our Lord, and we understand that we must also endure the infirmities of others with the same love and forgiveness that He has shown us.

This image of the serpent reminds us that all of our imperfections, sins and faults were taken by Christ and transfigured on the Cross out of love. And that means we can, by his grace and power, do the same. We can transform the negativity around us through love, through mercy, through forgiveness.

Even on this twelfth day of September, just one day after our annual 9/11 commemoration, we can transform the hatred, intolerance and violence that marked that day by engaging our faith, renewing our hope and expressing our love .

May we always have this awareness and this willingness to push ourselves forward, and to go to His Precious Cross for our own healing, and to demonstrate that love can heal the world.

Amen.


[2] I Corinthians 10: 1-2.

[5] Kondakion of the Feast of Universal Exaltation.