Veneration of the Cross in Great Lent
This week of Mid-Lent we venerate the Cross. I shall say only a few words concerning a text of the prophet Isaiah read today (Wednesday, 4th Week) at the Sixth Hour. The reading describes two things: the killing of a dragon by the sword of God, and the fall of a strong city.
The killing of a dragon by the sword of God is a type of the Victory of the Cross over Satan. The Cross is the weapon of God: it is His sword. It is the most powerful weapon in the universe because it is made in the image and likeness of Christ: it is made out of humility and meekness.
The Cross of Christ is offered to you as a weapon. However, it will be your weapon only insofar as it becomes your own Cross. That is to say, insofar as you clothe yourself in the humility and meekness of Christ. If you do not know how to do it yet, then the liturgical texts of today will give you the answer.
Today at Matins (Ode 7) (and also at several places in the Octoechos) we are told that the Cross of Christ is composed of three types of wood: cypress, cedar, and pine.
The cypress is a tall tree in the shape of a sword, growing mainly in the Mediterranean world where its shade protects from the sun. It also protects from the wind, and when the wind blows, it moves like a willow and it sings like someone who mourns and weeps. The cypress represents compassion. Like a cypress, compassion offers protection to those in need. And like a cypress, compassion makes you care for those around you, sharing in their sufferings and afflictions. Compassion is your sword. It is both defensive and offensive, like the sword at the gates of the Garden of Eden. To evil deeds you answer with acts of compassion. And each act of compassion that you do in a day will cause evil to turn back.
The cedar is well-known for its qualities of resistance to all types of weather. It is particularly resistant to rot and decay. Moreover, it is aromatic: it smells wonderfully. The cedar represents faith. Faith is a sweet-smelling incense offered to God who in return sends upon us His Holy Spirit. Faith is our shield against all enemies: it protects us from corruption, rot and decay in all circumstances, afflictions and tribulations.
The pine is a soft wood. It is a very simple wood. If it is not cared for, it rots easily. It is common for building shelters and houses. Used as a finishing wood, it creates beauty. The pine represents charity. Like the pine, charity is soft and tender. It is simple: charity kills fear and anxieties, and through charity truth and sincerity flourish. But if charity is not kept active through deeds of love, like the pine it rots easily. Charity is your helmet. It is that which crowns your weaponry with beauty.
Being protected by the helmet of charity, the shield of faith and the sword of compassion, humility and meekness will grow in you like the vine protected from the weeds and the beasts by a strong fence. You are like the strong city of Isaiah, a city surrounded by walls. Satan will not hurt you, unless you allow him to do so.
How could this happen? The prophet Isaiah gives the answer. After having described the slaying of the dragon, Isaiah describes the fall of the strong city. The fall of the strong city is a type of your own fall when you sin. The city ó which is yourself ó is strong only because of the weapon of the Cross which is compassion, faith and charity.
But the city is a besieged city. Satan is not far, waiting for any weakness in your sword, your shield or your helmet. Weaken in deeds of compassion and charity and in your faith, and you become vulnerable. Turn your eyes away from the needy, do not answer the distress call of your brethren, question the teachings of the Church and argue, judge your brother, and self-love will grow. A small breach will appear in your walls; and the small breach will become larger and larger, up to the point when the enemy will be able to invade.
You may be a strong city thanks to Godís grace, but you are still a besieged city and always will be.
The prophet Isaiah describes with detail how the fall happens. It starts at night, when the inhabitants of the city sleep; then a few enemies enter. In other words, when you are not watchful, when vigilance has been weakened in your heart and mind, an evil thought will enter. It may even be like the Trojan horse: evil thoughts can clothe themselves in garments of light. Therefore, never stop being watchful.
If you are not vigilant, in the morning the doors of the city will be opened by the intruder. Then the armies of Satan will enter, destroy your walls, destroy your weapons, and make of you a prisoner or a slave, or even kill you.
The time of Lent is offered to you as a preventive medicine. Being watchful is like putting a sentinel on your walls and spying on the enemy. It is knowing your weaknesses. It is strengthening the weak places in you through which the enemy may invade. It is filling the cracks in your fences.
At Mid-Lent there are usually two types of temptations. If you do not prevent the future damage, you will die. The first temptation is discouragement. You are tempted to give up. This is because you expect to see results, which is caused by some form of self-esteem which is self-love. It drags you into despondency, which is spiritual death. The second temptation is being overly self-confident, trusting too much in your own strength, forgetting that the weapons are Godís weapons, not yours. This fosters pride, and when something wrong happens ó and it happens all the time ó you become despondent, which is spiritual death.
This is a war. You have three weapons: compassion, faith and charity. The material goods of the world wear out when they are used. On the contrary, compassion, faith and charity become more and more efficient the more you use them. Ever eaten, never consumed ó as the priest says while dividing the Holy Body of Christ before Communion. Next to these three weapons, you have two sentinels: fasting and prayer. Fasting will strengthen endurance, patience, and vigilance. Prayer will strengthen the presence of God. Both will keep away the enemy.
Hermitage of the Annunciation.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008.
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