The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, celebrated on September 14th, has a special meaning for me personally. I had wondered away from the Orthodox Church for nearly ten years but last year for this Feast I felt drawn to visit my old parish. As I like to tell the story, while there I felt I was hit by a “spiritual two by four” to return to the Church. I had known for awhile that my heart’s home was in the faith of Orthodoxy but for various reasons I resisted making the journey home. As I entered into the celebration of the Feast as I visited my old parish last year, what seemed complicated was made simple. It was not a decision based on emotion for I had worked through the doctrinal issues earlier. Still, when the simplicity of the decision was made obvious there was great emotion. When I told a friend tonight at Great Vespers of my anniversary and of that “spiritual two by four,” she quipped, “You mean, the Cross?”
I realized what was necessary was not great theological knowledge of the differences between Orthodoxy and other faiths. Nor was I called to plumb the schism between East and West. God has not called me to be a great theologian, nor to any clerical ministry in the Church. I realized that God was calling me to to a simple faith — to live in the Holy Orthodox Church and leave the rest to Him. So, what I needed to do was quite simple: seek reconciliation with the Church.
Much of my spiritual journey has been, as St. Paul says, “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but there are those moments when the way becomes quite clear. I had no “Damascus Road” experience, but for me the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross will always be a special anniversary.
What follows are selections from the liturgical service for Vespers for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross (from The Festal Menaion):
Come, all you peoples, and let us venerate the blessed Wood, through which the eternal justice has been brought to pass, For He who by a tree deceived our forefather Adam, is by the Cross himself deceived; and he who by tyranny gained possession of the creature endowed by God with royal dignity, is overthrown in headlong fall. By the blood of God the poison of the serpent is washed away; and the curse of a just condemnation is loosed by the unjust punishment inflicted on the Just. For it was fitting that wood should be healed by wood, and through the Passion of One who knew not passion should be remitted all the sufferings of him who was condemned because of wood. But glory be to You, O Christ our King, for Your dread dispensation towards us, whereby You have saved us all, for You are good and love mankind.
The Cross is raised on high, and urges all creation to sing the praises of the undefiled Passion of Him who was lifted high upon it. For there it was that He killed our slayer, and brought the dead to life again: and in His exceeding goodness and compassion, He made us beautiful and counted us worthy to be citizens of heaven. Therefore with rejoicing let us exult His Name and magnify His surpassing condescension.
Moses prefigured the power of the precious Cross, O Christ, when he put to flight Amalek, his adversary, in the wilderness of Sinai: for when he stretched out his arms in the form of a cross, the people became strong again (see Exodus 17:10-14). And now the fulfillment of these images has come to pass for us. Today is the Cross exalted and devils are put to flight; today the whole creation is set free from corruption: for through the Cross every gift of grace has shone upon us. Therefore all of us rejoicing fall before You, saying: How marvelous are Your works, O Lord: glory to You!
O most venerable Cross, attended by ranks of rejoicing angels, you are exalted today, and by divine command you lift up again all those who, through the stealing of the fruit, had been made outcasts and were sunk in death. Therefore, embracing you in faith with heart and lips, from you we draw sanctification and we cry aloud: Exalt Christ, the God most good, and venerate His divine footstool.