“O Lord save your people, and bless your inheritance,
Grant victory to your Church over her enemies,
And preserve your community by the power of your Cross.”
For Eastern Christians, this troparion in honor of the Holy Cross is perhaps one of the most familiar and most beloved in the hymnograhpy of our Church. We chant it not only on the third Sunday of Great Lent and 14 September, but also fairly often during the course of the year. But do we really listen to the words closely, do we really understand the meaning of the Cross for our lives?
Studying our hymnography, even short, familiar verses like this one, can be very revealing of the depths of mysteries of our faith. In three short lines, the essential meaning of the Holy Cross for us is summarized succinctly – it “saves”, it “blesses”, it grants “victory”, it “preserves”, gifts which are mediated to us as individuals through the collective of the Church as a whole (“your people”, “your inheritance”, “your Church”, “your community”), binding us together as God’s people, saving us. The Cross is essentially positive in its effect, in what it points towards, in what it brings us to.
The hymns of the Church reveal to us that the Cross is therefore a blessing, a gift, a salvation, that comes to us through the Church. But, every gift requires a giving and a receiving – the Cross, freely given as gift, as blessing, must also be received freely by each of us, embraced as gift, as blessing. Penetrating ever deeper into this mystery, we must all ponder what we, as individuals, do to accept the gift, the blessing of the Cross in our own lives – especially during this holy season, but also at other times, throughout our lives. How do we crucify ourselves, mortifying, or putting to death, our passions, killing sin in us, dying to ourselves – that we may truly live? And, in fact, how is this even possible for us, moderns living in the fast-paced world of the 21st century? The answer lies in the Cross of Christ. By clinging to that Cross, clinging to Christ’s victory, we are strengthened by Christ to bear our own Cross freely as a gift, as a blessing, and thereby be brought to truly live.
During this week of the Cross in the Eastern Catholic Churches, let’s share with each other the little ways we see the Cross in our own lives, and how we choose to embrace it, how we overcome the difficulties we encounter in doing so – helping each other bear our Crosses as the gifts that they are.