SUNDAY OF THE CROSS – Midpoint of Great Lent
The third Sunday of Lent is called “The Veneration of the Cross.” At the Vigil of that day, after the Great Doxology, the Cross is brought in a solemn procession to the center of the church and remains there for the entire week– with a special rite of veneration following each service. It is noteworthy that the theme of the Cross, which dominates the hymnology of that Sunday, is developed in terms not of suffering but of victory and joy. The meaning of all this is clear.
The Cross is not a sign of humiliation, at least not for the Christian. For the Christian, the Cross is an emblem of victory, a weapon against worldly powers, most especially the principalities of darkness. It is no longer a symbol of death, but the giver of life. As Orthodox Christians, we have three feasts of the Cross (on Aug. 1, Sept. 14 and the Third Sunday of Lent), the sixth and ninth hours of prayer are dedicated to the events on Golgotha, Wednesday and Friday are consecrated to those same events. In short, the Cross is omnipresent in our daily prayers and hymns and theology.
So, why have the Third Sunday of Lent dedicated to the Cross? It is precisely because we need it. Most of us cannot attend the daily vigil nor pray the sixth and ninth hours on our own. Even the most devout Orthodox may have difficulties going to the extra prayer services which help bring before us the reality that we are enslaved to the desires of worldly powers through the fear of death and need the Cross.
We are in Mid-Lent. One the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt, its burden becomes more burdensome, our fatigue more evident. We need help and encouragement. On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Easter grow in their intensity. Lent is our self-crucifixion, our experience, limited as it is, of Christ’s commandment heard in the Gospel lesson of that Sunday: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). But we cannot take up our cross and follow Christ unless we have His Cross which He took up in order to save us. It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.
Adapted from Fr. Alexander Scmemann’s “Great Lent”