We have arrived at the most significant four-week period of our liturgical calendar. The month of April 2021 is framed by the presences of the Holy Cross. On the third Sunday of Lent and in the last week of April on Holy Thursday, we process and venerate the Holy Cross. On the eve of Sunday of the Holy Cross in Vespers we chant:

Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee…Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away; we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy. Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy.

We have reached the middle point of the fast, we are physically tired and may be spiritually tired. The Church gives us the gift of the Holy Cross, our source of strength, hope, and grace, the ultimate example of struggle, but it is a struggle that ends in triumph, as the hymn above highlights.

On the third Sunday of Lent we are given the gift of strength and endurance, but also the opportunity to contemplate the Cross and what it means to each of us. We are reminded of our own struggles, vices and sins. Have we truly listened to the words of Christ, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me?” (Mark 8:34) During the previous few weeks, we have seen examples, a how-to-guide of self-emptying humility. The Publican taught the importance of repentance, metanoia, a change of mind, to be transformed. The Prodigal Son proved that when we repent, we have a path back home to the Father. The Sunday of the Final Judgement reveals the consequences of not repenting to the righteous God, “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise, you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22) To deny oneself is to refuse one’s ego and one’s prideful ways, to act in a wholly selfless manner. Saint Basil the Great teaches that self-denial is:

The entire forgetfulness of the past and surrender of ones will…the readiness to die for Christ… [to] regard the obstacles springing from the habits of life in society as major impediments thereto.
Saint Basil the Great, The Long Rules

For each of us to realize the Resurrection of Christ we must understand the struggle, our struggles, our vices, our sins. We recognize our struggles when we offer them up to Christ and take ownership of our shortcomings and ask Christ, in meekness for His forgiveness. This is picking up our Cross and humbling ourselves and it is the third Sunday of Lent that reminds us that it is not too late.

On Holy Thursday, we find ourselves once again standing in front of the Holy Cross of Christ. On this day, instead of joy as experienced on the first Sunday of April, we remember the sufferings of Christ: the mockery, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails, the thirst, the cry of anguish, and all that Christ endured for us on the Cross. We remember and mourn, but there is also hope as we anticipate the revelation of His eternal glory. On this day we chant, “Today, He who suspended the earth in the waters is suspended on a cross…We worship Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection.” Let us take this opportunity to contemplate our struggles, to pick up our Cross, so that we may truly realize the joy in the Resurrection.

Καλή Σαρακοστή!