Homily – Sunday of the Life-Giving Cross 2018
The following is a homily I gave upon Fr. George Ajalat’s request. He
was hoping to share more convert stories at our parish – St. Simeon
Orthodox Church in Santa Clarita. I shared this on the Sunday of the
Life-Giving Cross during Great Lent last year. And here it is.
Today, the Church directs us to attend to the precious and life-giving
Cross. We are weary from the fast and in need of encouragement and
refreshment. The Gospel read today tells us to “take up our cross and follow
Christ.” What does this mean? Fr. Thomas Hopko of Blessed Memory says,
“Lent is our self-crucifixion, our experience, limited as it is, of Christ’s
commandment… ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself
and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34). So, what does it mean
to take up our cross? It means we are joining ourselves to Christ’s
crucifixion in Great Lent. The Church calls us to go without in order to grow
in love, not because going without meat and cheese will save us, but
because we are fulfilling Christ’s commandment to join ourselves to Christ,
even His Cross. The cross certainly reminds us of suffering, but the Church
wisely puts the cross before us today to spiritually refresh us. Let us not
forget, the cross is love. It is a supreme sacrifical love.
The Synaxarion says how the cross is our aid. It says, “We are like
those following a long cruel path, who become tired, see a beautiful tree
with many leaves, sit in its shadow and rest for a while and then, as if
rejuvenated, continue their journey.” The cross is that tree of rest and
rejuvenation today. So, behold the cross before us and take comfort in the
Lenten struggle. Let us be reminded and encouraged – the cross is love.
TRANSITION: The veneration of the Cross is so natural for Christians. It
has always been this way. Having been blessed to be raised in a Christian
home, the cross has always been prominent in my life.
I grew up loving church. We attended an very large Protestant church.
I loved choir, small groups, youth group, summer camp, vacation bible
school. My parents were very involved in my spiritual upbringing. I have
them to thank for instilling in me a love of and knowledge of the Holy
Scriptures. I truly was given a rich inheritance in the faith.
At around 15 years old, I noticed a longing rise up within me. This
longing feeling made me restless spiritually. I tried more Bible studies…
which I loved! I tried different prayers and that helped. But everything I
tried, seemed to increase that longing. It didn’t quite make sense at the time
because I was so well plugged at my home church. Why was I still restless?
That feeling in me could not be ignored. My parents were gracious and
followed me to another parish as they oversaw my spiritual well-being.
Never did I think that choice at 15 years old would begin a 7 year journey
with more than 8 different churches . Bouncing from church to church was
painful. I would invest in a community and then up and leave. It broke my
heart each time. Why did I keep leaving why did I keep “church shopping”?
Longing . I couldn’t ignore it and I couldn’t quench it any place I went and
so I kept searching. I don’t recommend doing this. I mean who was guiding me through
this process? What made me leave each parish or community and what
made me pick the next one? I was coming up with the standards. Looking
back, I thank God for keeping me spiritually safe and for his Holy Spirit’s
guidance and protection over me and for bringing me here under His
But how did I get here? In 2008, I traveled to Greece and saw ancient
Christian Churches. In 2009, I was speaking to a friend of mine – Keith
Buhler – and he invited me to St. Barnabas in Costa Mesa. I had friends
there. So, another friend, Michelle and I decided to attend the Palm Sunday
service. We were on the search again after attending an Anglo-Catholic
Church and this was our next stop. My first impression of a Divine Liturgy was paradoxically repulsion and intense attraction. I was drawn to the icons, the music was
transcendent, and the reverence of the Faithful could be felt. But plenty still
didn’t make sense. Afterward, we were warmly greeted. We stayed for
Coffee Hour. A week later I came back for Pascha. I could not believe the
fervor of the Faithful at 1 in the morning! I cried. They loved the
resurrection. They anticipated the victory of Christ over sin and death and
sang, nearly yelling, the Paschal hymns. Time stopped for me. That longing
that I had felt for 7 years left me so thirsty for the reality of God’s Kingdom.
At Pascha, I was drowning in the spiritual depth and reality of God’s
Kingdom Here and Now. I was home.
So, Great and Holy Saturday, of 2010, I was Christmated. Joy doesn’t
begin to describe what I felt. I feel that same joy at each baptism I attend, at
each first communion I witness. The Orthodox Church has satified my
longing, transformed it into a longing for the Kingdom of God.
My longing for the kingdom is increased praying the Jesus Prayer.
My longing is increased participating in the Divine Liturgy.
My longing is increased reading the Scriptures guided by the Church
My longing is increased reading the lives of the saints.
I use to long for finding the early Church, and now I long to be
worthy of it.
There’s one more thing that increases my longing for the Kingdom of
God that I never saw coming as a Protestant. Holy relics. I never would
have dreamed that I could touch the Apostles. Before then, the Apostles felt
so distant – so far away. Years later, I would venerate the relics of Sts. Peter
and Paul at St. Herman’s Monastery. I always loved the cross, I wanted to
kiss it, bow before it, and honor it. Years later, I found myself able to
express that gratitude. While following my husband’s graduate studies to
Kentucky, in a small store front parish, I venerated a tiny fragment of the
True cross. It had all come full circle for me. The reality of the New
Testament Church… I found it. What a grace from God!
Now, I’m a mother, raising “cradle Orthodox Christian” children. I
hope to pass on to them a love of the Holy Scriptures, an ownership of their
faith, and an appreciation of the riches they are inheriting. Our inheritance
is the glory of Christ and the Cross of Christ.
You’ve heard it said the Church is a hospital where we come to heal
our weak and broken bodies and souls. But the Church goes beyond what a
hospital can do. For, we walk into hospitals sick and “God willing” walk out
well. The Church can help us walk in sick, and walk out deified .
May God help us cradles and converts to zealously embrace the Cross
so we too may be transformed like the saints before us.
To Him be glory honor and worship, in the Name of the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit, Amen.