Sunday, April 1, 2012

Met. Ephrem on the Veneration of the Cross

This sermon was given in Tripoli on Sunday, March 18, 2012. The Arabic original can be found here.

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

Beloved, we are on the third Sunday of the Fast in which we celebrate the veneration of the Holy and Honorable Cross. You know that in the liturgical year we commemorate the cross several times and during the time of the holy fast the veneration of the cross comes in the middle, leading up to Passion Week and Good Friday, when we commemorate Christ's death upon the cross, and then afterwords the Resurrection.

For us, the cross is a cause for joy. It is the axis of our life. A Christian cannot go without his cross, even if he wanted to. The cross that stands in our life is a symbol of the pains and difficulties of life, but through faith it becomes a symbol of joy. This is what you will see during the procession at the end of the divine liturgy, when the cross is placed between the three candles and the flowers, when each one of you will take a flower after venerating the cross, in order to know to rejoice, even when bearing your cross. How can we understand this wonderful mystery?

This Gospel passage clearly and succinctly explains the meaning of the cross when it says, "He who wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." The hardest thing in the world for a human being to do is to deny himself. Who is able to empty himself? Each person behaves according to his weak nature, trying to preserve himself. But the one who loves others sacrifices. The one who loves Christ is the one who receives power from God, not from his human nature, and at that point he even sacrifices himself.

And so the cross is the axis of the human being but not of the self. It is the axis of Christ. It is tied to sacrifice through giving freely and through love. This is why we say, "through the cross joy came into the world." The Gospel says, "What benefit is it to a person if he gains the world but loses himself?" This question is posed to each one of us. It is posed to every person who lives in the world today. What do you profit if you gain the world, if you have wealth and properties, possessions, honor, and a position in the world, if you have lost your soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul? This is the result of experience. If he possesses the world, he does not have true joy. On the other hand, one who gives his life for the sake of the world-- one who sacrifices-- possesses great joy. Experience shows that such a person possesses joy, true joy that can be felt from the depths of one's heart, a richness of life that cannot be matched by anything in this material world. This is why it says, "There are some present here until the see the Christ rising and coming in His eternal kingdom." The kingdom of heaven that we read about in the Gospel and as it is interpreted by the fathers is not a place. Heaven is not a place and neither is hell. It is nothing other than a state that a human being experiences.

The kingdom of God is life with God. If you are alive with Christ, you will see this kingdom. This joy will come to you through the cross, through victory over death.  Amen.

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