The doors of St. Andrew the First Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, MD opened its doors to welcome hundreds of faithful of the local community, giving them a place of a warm environment (considering the strong wind and rain of the day) for prayer and reflection on a Sunday that the entire Holy Orthodox Church venerates the Most Precious Cross of the Lord.
With the chanting of the choir and in the presence of the clergy of St. Andrew Cathedral, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, the Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, brought forth for the sacred image of the Cross for veneration by the faithful of the local community.
In his sermon the hierarch reflected upon the message of the Sunday Gospel narrative as well as upon the meaning of the Third Sunday of Lenten journey. Archbishop Daniel stated: “Today we venerate the Cross of Christ to not only remind ourselves of the coming of His crucifixion and Resurrection, but to gather strength from it and to thank Jesus Christ for what He did for us on the wood of the Cross. Let’s ponder on the symbol of the Cross for a moment. What a profound paradox this symbol is. An instrument that was used to kill people on becomes the instrument of salvation. It was through this instrument that Christ died, but it was also because of this instrument that Christ was able to defeat death, to rise on that first Pascha, and to open for us the gates of paradise…
Vladyka Daniel continued I his sermon: “On this Sunday of the Cross we hear Christ say: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.”
…Let us ask ourselves the question, what does the cross mean to me? When it is mentioned, do we think only of the first Good Friday and the hill outside Jerusalem? Is it no more than a historical fact that happened nineteen centuries ago? Unless we see it as a principle of everyday life, a way of living, of voluntary self-giving, we miss its practical meaning for us. The cross is not laid on my shoulder by another, or by accident. It is not imposed from without, but voluntarily assumed from within. It is going the second mile, doing more than conditions require. That impossible person at your place of work, grimly endured, is not your cross, Only when you meet his insults with, “Father forgive him,” do you become a cross-bearer. The monotony of housekeeping is not your cross. You take it upon yourself only when you do your work gladly, as unto God and your family…
…What should be our response to Jesus’ sacrificial love? Our response would be reflected in our attitude toward life, and toward all human beings as a whole. If our attitude toward people is one of honest sympathy, understanding and love, if we live sacrificially, giving of our time and means toward the elevation of humanity, living lives that have for their purpose putting God first, and the affairs of His Kingdom are given the pre-eminence, then it may be truthfully said that we know whom we have believed, we have a clear vision of the Man upon the cross.
The early Christians went through the Roman world telling people about a man who had been crucified and who rose from the dead. It was an arresting item of news. At first the listener would be shocked, but as the story unfolded and its meaning became clear, new hope and joy lighted up his face, for he found in this old story of the Galilean Peasant nailed to a cross a satisfying view of life. It turned a flood light on the mystery of human existence; it revealed the secret of living triumphantly over the things that get people down; it satisfied the age-old hunger for life beyond the grave.
The striking thing about this good news was that the road to life unending led by way of the cross. By giving your life you find life. By answering evil with good, hate with love, the world’s worst with your best, you rise with Christ from the dead! You and He were as One!
Think of it - the instrument of death that becomes the symbol of life is everywhere. It is around our necks, on top of the church, behind the altar, on top of the iconostasis, on the priest's vestments, in our homes, in our cars, on flags and coats of arms. Its even above grave sites as a reminder to us that because of the death on the Cross, the dearly departed can now enjoy everlasting life.
The Lord tells us that if we wish to go after Him we too must take up our cross and follow. This means that we must suffer with Him in truth and love, that we’ve got to live through the trials and tribulations that this world brings to us, and that we must endure the rejection of this world. We are rejected for being Christians, for living a Christian life, for standing before the world and saying "I believe in Jesus and follow his teachings". This means that we must put into practice the life that Christ Himself lived, the life that Christ Himself is, the life which is given to us in Christ’s name in the Church. Then will we gain the life that awaits us.
… Let us commit ourselves to rejecting a life of self-indulgence by taking up our cross, but not as a burden, for Christ promises, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).”
…Jesus extends His invitation to us once again to "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him." Our Church gives us this Third Sunday of Lent--Mid-point to Golgotha--to pause with Jesus, to refresh ourselves spiritually, to assess our Lenten journey and to continue with greater determination. But the initiative is still ours. There is no way into spring but that we endure the rigors of winter. There is no way we can arrive to Easter Sunday if we do not live the agonies of all our Good Fridays. There is no way we can achieve eternal life with God unless we deny ourselves utterly and totally in Christ. This we do when we endure and sustain our own personal crosses and follow Him.”
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel concluded with a quote from St. Ephraim the Syrian: “…The Cross is the resurrection of the dead. The Cross is the hope of Christians. The Cross is the staff for the lame. The Cross is comfort for the poor. The Cross is the deposing of the proud. The Cross is the hope of those who despair. The Cross is food for the sailors. The Cross is haven for the bestormed. The Cross is the father for orphans. The Cross is comfort for those who mourn. The Cross is the protector of children. The Cross is the glory of men. The Cross is the crown of elders. The Cross is light for those sitting in darkness. The Cross is freedom for slaves, wisdom for the ignorant. The Cross is the preaching of prophets, the fellow-traveler of apostles. The Cross is the chastity of maidens, the joy of priests. The Cross is the foundation of the Church, the establishment of the universe… The Cross is the cleansing of the lepers, the rehabilitation of the enfeebled. The Cross is bread for the hungry, a fountain for the thirsty…
Therefore on the forehead, and on the eyes, and on the mouth, and on the breasts let us place the life-giving Cross. Let us arm them with the invincible armor of Christians, with this hope of the faithful, with this gentle light. Let us open paradise with this armor, with this support of the Orthodox faith, with this saving praise of the Church. Neither in one hour, nor in one instant, let us not forget the Cross, nor let us begin to do anything without it. But let us sleep, let us arise, let us work, let us eat, let us drink, let us go on our way, let us sail on the seas, let us go across the river, let us adorn all our members with the life-giving Cross. And let us not be frightened 'by the terror of the night, nor by the arrow that flies by day, nor by anything roaming in darkness, nor by any calamity, nor any noonday demon' (Ps. 90:5, 6). If, O Christian, you will always take up the Cross of Christ on yourself as a help, then 'evil shall not come towards you, nor any scourge come near your habitation': for the opposition power seeing it trembles and leaves."
Following the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the faithful took their prayerful time to approach the image of the cross for veneration. Very Rev. Fr. Volodymyr Steliak, pastor of the cathedral’s community offered words of welcome to the hierarch of the Church and invited everyone in attendance to partake in the Lenten luncheon that was provided by the Sisterhood of the parish (Pani-Matka Marta Stelak – president), collecting about $1350 for the Diapers Project of the UOC of the USA, benefiting the orphans of Znamyanka orphanage in Kirohovrad region of Ukraine.
Photos by Seminarian Yaroslav Bilohan