Friday, September 14, 2012

The Sweetness of the Cross

Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross!

On this feast we commemorate the finding of the Honorable Cross of Christ on Golgotha by the Empress Helena.  When, by the evidence of several miracles, it was determined that this was the true Cross, Patriarch Macarius elevated it in the air for all to see.  In remembrance of this event, it is tradition to adorn a hand cross with a wreath of red or purple flowers, which the priest raises up in the air during Matins.

I used a plant called "Sweet Annie" to form the base of the wreath to adorn the cross.  This plant is so named because of its sweet fragrance.  As soon as I step into the chapel I am overwhelmed by this fragrance!  This reminds me of the sweetness of the cross.
Making the wreath outside with my helpers Katie and Anna Clark
In the first reading at Vespers, we hear the story from Exodus 15:22-27.  The Israelites have just crossed the Red Sea and have traveled three days through the desert without finding any water.  Then they arrived at Marah where they could not drink the water because it was they grumbled.  When Moses appealed to the Lord about this problem, the Lord pointed out a certain piece of wood.  When Moses threw this piece of wood into the water, the water became fresh (or "sweet").
The prayers of the Church tell us that this piece of wood is a prefigurement of the Cross, which "plunged into our bitterness, can make it sweet" (The Year of Grace of the Lord).
"In times past, Moses transformed the bitter wells in the desert with wood; thereby, he prefigured the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles through the Cross."
Canon of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Ode 4
But why would we say that the Cross is sweet?

The Cross is sweet because, for one, it was through the Cross that our salvation was brought forth.
"...let us bow to the holy Resurrection of Christ, since through the Cross, joy has come to all the world."
"Having Beheld the Resurrection of Christ, from Matins" 
The Cross is also sweet when it appears in our own lives.  When we accept our own crosses we are closest to Christ, because it is in our suffering that we are with Him on His Cross.  There, we can experience the intimacy of our relationship with our Bridegroom.  There, we can be filled with the sweet fragrance of Christ, just as my nose is filled with the scent of the Sweet Annie when I bend in and kiss the cross in our chapel.  But it takes a bit of work to accept this place on the cross with Christ...a lifetime of work.  It also takes grace...a lot of grace...and fortunately, God has a lot of that, and wants to give it...

In its place of veneration in the chapel
It is through the power of the Cross itself that we are given this grace.
"Joy to you, life-bearing Cross of the Lord, invincible triuimph of the true faith.  You are the gate to Paradise, the strength of the faithful, and the stronghold of the Church.  Because of you, corruption no longer has meaning nor power.  By you we have been lifted up from earth to heaven.  You are an invincible weapon against evil, a glory indeed for saints and martyrs, and a haven for salvation.  You are the source of mercy to the world."
Aposticha, from Vespers for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
I'll leave you with one last quote...this one is on today's page in my "Wisdom from Women Saints" Calendar:
"Since this holy cross is so sweet that it relieves all bitterness, pick it up for your journey along this road.  For we pilgrim travelers need this holy wood for support until we have reached our destination, where our soul is at rest in our final home."
St. Catherine of Siena
Anyone have any other great quotes from saints about the Cross?  Leave them in a comment on this page to share with fellow readers!

To learn more about this feast, and the other feasts and liturgical seasons of the Church, we recommend the book, The Year of Grace of the Lord, by "a Monk of the Eastern Church."

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