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The Third Sunday of Great Lent: Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

March 6, 2010

Introduction

On the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, the Orthodox
Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ. Services include a special veneration of the Cross,
which prepares the faithful for the commemoration of the Crucifixion during
Holy Week.

Historical Background

The commemoration and ceremonies of the Third Sunday
of Lent are closely parallel to the feasts of the Veneration of the Cross
(September 14) and the Procession of the Cross (August 1). Not only does
the Sunday of the Holy Cross prepare us for commemoration of the Crucifixion,
but it also reminds us that the whole of Lent is a period when we are
crucified with Christ.

As we have “crucified the flesh with its passions
and desires” (Galatians 5:24), and will have mortified ourselves
during these forty days of the Fast, the precious and life-giving Cross
is now placed before us to refresh our souls and encourage us who may
be filled with a sense of bitterness, resentment, and depression. The
Cross reminds us of the Passion of our Lord, and by presenting to us His
example, it encourages us to follow Him in struggle and sacrifice, being
refreshed, assured, and comforted. In other words, we must experience
what the Lord experienced during His Passion – being humiliated in a shameful
manner. The Cross teaches us that through pain and suffering we shall
see the fulfillment of our hopes: the heavenly inheritance and eternal
glory.

As they who walk on a long and hard way and are bowed
down by fatigue find great relief and strengthening under the cool shade
of a leafy tree, so do we find comfort, refreshment, and rejuvenation
under the Life-giving Cross, which our Fathers “planted” on
this Sunday. Thus, we are fortified and enabled to continue our Lenten
journey with a light step, rested and encouraged.

Or, as before the arrival of the king, his royal standards,
trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king
himself appears in a triumphant parade, jubilant and rejoicing in his
victory and filling those under him with joy, so does the Feast of the
Cross precede the coming of our King, Jesus Christ. It warns us that He
is about to proclaim His victory over death and appear to us in the glory
of the Resurrection. His Life-Giving Cross is His royal scepter, and by
venerating it we are filled with joy, rendering Him glory. Therefore,
we become ready to welcome our King, who shall manifestly triumph over
the powers of darkness.

The present feast has been placed in the middle of
Great Lent for another reason. The Fast can be likened to the spring of
Marah whose waters the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness.
This water was undrinkable due to its bitterness but became sweet when
the Holy Prophet Moses dipped the wood into its depth. Likewise, the wood
of the Cross sweetens the days of the Fast, which are bitter and often
grievous because of our tears. Yet Christ comforts us during our course
through the desert of the Fast, guiding and leading us by His hand to
the spiritual Jerusalem on high by the power of His Resurrection.

Moreover, as the Holy Cross is called the Tree of Life,
it is placed in the middle of the Fast, as the ancient tree of life was
placed in the middle of the garden of Eden. By this, our Holy Fathers
wished to remind us of Adam’s gluttony as well as the fact that
through this Tree has condemnation been abolished. Therefore, if we bind
ourselves to the Holy Cross, we shall never encounter death but shall
inherit life eternal

Icons Of The Commemoration

The most common icon associated with the Veneration
of the Cross is the same icon used on the Feast of the Veneration of the
Cross on September 14. In the icon, Patriarch Macarius is standing in
the pulpit elevating the Cross for all to see and venerate. On each side
of the Patriarch are deacons holding candles. The elevated Cross is surrounded
and venerated by many clergy and lay people, including Saint Helen, the
mother of Emperor Constantine.

In the background of the icon is a domed structure
that represents the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This church
was one of the churches constructed and dedicated by Emperor Constantine
on the holy sites of Jerusalem.

Another icon related to this feast depicts the actual
service of veneration that is conducted in the churches on the Third Sunday
of Lent. In the center of the icon is the Cross (1). It is on a table
surrounded by flowers (2). Above the Cross is the image of Christ in a
partial mandorla representing His glory (3) . He is blessing those who
have gathered to venerate the Cross, the rulers, clergy, monastics, and
laity.

1. The priest stands amongst the people holding the Cross. 2. At the foot of the cross are flowers.

As in the service of veneration, the icon shows the
priest venerating the Cross as the people chant the hymn “We venerate
Your Cross, O Christ, and Your holy Resurrection we glorify,” which
is inscribed on the table holding he Cross.

3. Christ appears about the congregation extending
His blessings.

Orthodox Christian Commemoration
of the Sunday of the Holy Cross

The Sunday of the Holy Cross is commemorated with the
Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is preceded by the Matins
service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening. The hymns of
the Triodion for this day are added to the usual prayers and hymns of
the weekly commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ.

Scripture readings for the Sunday of Orthodoxy are:
At the Orthros (Matins): The prescribed weekly Gospel reading. At the
Divine Liturgy: Hebrews
4:14-5:6
; Mark
8:34-9:1
.

At the conclusion of the Matins (the traditional practice
in association with a vigil) or of the Divine Liturgy, a special service
is held. The Cross is placed on a tray surrounded by basil or daffodils
and is taken in solemn procession through the church to the chanting of
the Thrice Holy Hymn. The tray is placed on a table before the people,
and the hymn of the Feast of the Cross is chanted. As the priest venerates
the Cross, the priest then the people chant, “We venerate Your Cross,
O Christ, and Your holy Resurrection we glorify.” At the conclusion
of the service, the people come and venerate the cross and receive the
flowers or basil from the priest.

Hymns of the saint

Apolytikion (First Tone)

Save, O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance;
grant victory to the faithful over their adversaries. And protect Your
commonwealth, by the power of Your Cross. Listen »

Kontakion (Grave Tone)

No longer does the flaming sword guard the gate of Eden,
for a marvelous quenching is come upon it, even the Tree of the Cross.
The sting has been taken from death, and the victory from Hades. And,
You, my Savior, has appeared unto those in Hades saying: Enter again into
Paradise.

Troparion of the Sunday of the Cross (Tone 1)

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed is He that comes
in the name of the Lord.

Verse 1: O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good,
for His mercy endureth forever.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed
is He that comes in the name of the Lord.

Verse 2: All nations compass me about, but in the name
of the Lord will I destroy them.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed
is He that comes in the name of the Lord.

Verse 3: I shall not die but live, and declare the works
of the Lord.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed
is He that comes in the name of the Lord.

Verse 4: The stone which the builders refused has become
the headstone of the corner, this is the Lord’s doing and it is
marvelous in our eyes.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us, blessed
is He that comes in the name of the Lord.

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,
granting to the faithful victory over all adversaries and by the power
of Thy cross preserve Thine estate. Listen »

References

The Lenten Triodion. translated by Mother
Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary
Press, 1994), pp. 53, 334-352.

Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent: Journey
to Pascha (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1969),
pp. 76-78.

Barrois, Georges. Scripture Readings
in Orthodox Worship (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary
Press, 1977), pp. 64-65.

Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections
on the Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp.
106-108.

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