Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two Sermons on the Cross by Met. Ephrem

This sermon was originally given on September, 11 2011 at the Church of the Dormition, Kfar Aqqa.The Arabic original can be found here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, we meet today in this beautiful, blessed church consecrated in the name of the Theotokos Mary, and on this occasion you have heard a passage from the Gospel that talks about the Cross because today is the Sunday before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is possible for a faithful person to think, “Why did the Church establish these feasts and arrange them in the summertime, such as the Feast of the Transfiguration and then the Dormition of the Theotokos, then the Nativity of Our Lady and the Feast of the Cross?” The Church arranged these feasts in a logical manner, since each feast is connected to the last and all the feasts are connected to each other and complete each other because “the mystery of God” is one in the Church and we come to know it and live it in all its aspects. Today it is the aspect of the Cross and the Virgin is the aspect of the saints, since she is the holiest of the saints, that is the person who has most come to resemble the crucified Christ and who has been glorified as he was glorified on the Cross. So first of all let us understand the Feast of the Cross, which we will celebrate this coming Wednesday. Every feast has two aspects. One is the historical aspect which is the event that happened in the past, for example Christ’s crucifixion. The commemoration of the “Exaltation of the Honorable Cross” occurred historically when it was found by Saint Helen, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, and you can read the story in the Synaxarion.

The other aspect of the feast is the essential part, the concept that the feast teaches us. What is the meaning of the Cross and of the Exaltation of the Cross? As you see, in every church we raise it up above the iconostasis, in the hope that we will raise it up in our life! What is the importance of the Cross? And why do Christians hold fast to their faith in the Cross? This is an important and central question. The faith of the Christian in the Cross is not faith in a piece of wood or metal or in the sign of the cross. It is faith in the crucified one, in the Lord Jesus. This is why in our Church we do not use the Cross without the one crucified and so the cross in our church is either painted or engraved because our faith is that the Lord Jesus Christ is God and not only man. For this reason he is able to save us, since he saved us through his death on the Cross, where he manifested his ultimate love. He suffered and was crucified for our sake. You heard in this gospel passage this important phrase that we also say in the divine liturgy, if we listen closely to the hymns, “You loved your world so much that you sacrificed your only-begotten son so that those who believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life.” The Apostle John says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” God manifested His ultimate love for the world, for every one of us, for those within the Church and those outside it, for every Christian and for every person in the world! Our Creator who created existence came and manifested His love for the whole world. Eternal life is the life that transcends this earthly life and it transcends death because for the Christian there is no death, since death is always tied to the Resurrection and suffering is tied to joy. There is no joy without suffering. There is no resurrection without death. This is why we also say, “Having seen the Resurrection of Christ let us bow down to the Holy Lord who alone is free of sin… To your Cross, O Christ, we bow down and we glorify your Resurrection.” We also say, “Through the Cross joy came to the whole world.” For this reason we hold fast to the Cross and wear it upon our breasts. Every baptized person is given a cross by their godfather to accompany him throughout his life. One who knows to bear the Cross and to bear the pains of this world, to be patient with them without grumbling, will have joy, because through your cross comes joy, not the joy of this passing world, but true joy, and one who believes in Christ crucified will acquire true, eternal joy and when he reposes will be transported to eternal life. Amen.

This sermon was originally given on September 14, 2011 at Holy Cross Church, el-Danniyeh. The Arabic original can be found here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Today is the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy, Honorable Cross. You heard today in this gospel passage that talks about the Crucifixion about how the Lord Jesus was lifted up and died on the Cross. During the year, there are a number of feasts for the Cross. In the middle of Lent we commemorate the Cross and during the Summer we commemorate the Elevation of the Cross.

Our faith is that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God. He is God who became man and did not abandon his divinity. The Jews crucified him because he claimed to be equal to the Father, that is equal to God. We believe that the Lord Jesus is man and is God and that he is our God. But why does our God die no the Cross?! The great, basic reason for this death is his love for man who fell in the time of Adam through the trickery of the serpent, who symbolizes the devil and evil.

The Lord Jesus was raised up on the Cross on the day of Good Friday and this is why a believer fasts every Friday, because Christ was crucified at the sixth hour, which is at mid-day, which is the same hour when Adam fell, being tricked by the serpent through Eve. The Lord wanted to be crucified at the same hour that Adam fell. This is what the Evangelist John means when he says, “It was the sixth hour when they crucified him.” According to the Gospel, the Lord was crucified at Golgotha, meaning the place of the skull because according to tradition Christ was crucified in the place where Adam was buried, that is the place where Adam’s skull was. This also means that the Lord Jesus came to give life to fallen Adam and the Church calls Christ “the New Adam.”

Adam represents every person because every one of us is fallen and sinful. Every person who believes that the Lord Jesus was crucified for our sake becomes “a new Adam,” that is he becomes a new person. This is the meaning of the gospel passage that you heard today! This is the meaning of today’s feast.

Every person who believes in the Lord Jesus, if he keeps the commandments, becomes a new person and is victorious over evil just as he was victorious! We hope that this feast will renew our souls so that we can live a new life with the Lord Jesus. Amen.

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