FROM ARCHBISHOP ANTHONY

September 14, A. D. 2017
The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross

To the Most Reverend and Right Reverend Hierarchs, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Monastics,
and Faithful of The Orthodox Archdiocese of America (New York)

Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

For none of us lives, and equally, none of us dies, for himself alone.
Romans 14:7

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross, a day that the Orthodox West makes equal to a Sunday in terms of its solemnity, and, when all is said and done, in its obligation to participate in worship. But weekday Feast-days are difficult to observe in church, and so, for many, it will come and go as does any other day.

However, it goes without saying that the Cross is at the center of the Orthodox Christian Faith. However I sometime think that the Cross is so firmly at the center of our Faith that when we look at it we have forgotten what it means. And unless we know what it means, we cannot know what Jesus means when he asks us to “Take up our Cross.” So let us look at Crucifixion.

Crucifixion, in the time of Jesus, was not an unusual form of execution. It was very common, and raised by the Romans almost to high art in the ways in which it was applied. Crucifixion was a fundamental part of the way in which the Romans kept control over their extended empire. This is how order is maintained. And so Crucifixion was both a very frequent event and it was always a very public event: in as public a place as possible. Roadways were lined with crosses, a stake to which a cross piece was added either as a cap at the top, or into a cut out 8 to 10 feet above the ground. Sometimes there was a kind of seat to prolong the agony of this most horrible of deaths.

The crucified person dies of slow asphyxiation–strangulation, if you will–as his arms pulled up against the weight of his body pulling down. The nails were, perhaps unintentionally, an act of kindness; they made the prisoner bleed, and he might bleed to death before his weight prevented him from breathing any more. Equally important for us to note is that not only is it an exquisite and horrible pain, it is psychologically painful as well, both for the prisoner, as well as for the spectators. And please note, crucifixions were carefully located where there would be many spectators. This combination of physical and psychological pain made crucifixion something that was just never mentioned, apart from the time when it was being witnessed.

I cannot emphasize how revolting, disgusting, nauseating, loathsome, appalling, gross and repulsive this act was to all in the empire, whether Roman citizens or ordinary folk. No matter how horrified we may be at some events that we have witnessed or heard of initiated by our own government, we cannot begin to approach the horror of crucifixion.

From the very earliest moment of Christianity, the Cross was at its center. That crucial center was supported and surrounded with three more concepts: first, the New Family, the Church, open to all people without any racial or ethnic requirements; second, the radically different manner of living with caring love for all; and, third, the abolition of animal sacrifice through the sacrifice of the Cross. Each and all of these are the fundamental stuff of the Eucharist. Even as early a person as Paul followed an existing format for the Eucharist. And, within fewer than 100 years, the Christian Religion was so strong and of such a threat that the Roman Empire had an official policy against it.

Most western Christian denominations made some radical changes about 30 years ago. These changes have moved them closer to the concepts of the early Church, when the church was a wildfire, sending the sparks of the spirit among the stubble of the socially unacceptable. However, clergy defaulted to becoming “social workers with collars on” and often the response to these changes has been to fight to retain things as they were; unable to separate the Faith from the culture, the result has been an almost complete failure of evangelism.

“Take up your cross”, says Jesus. The Cross means the death of sin, pain and evil in this world; the Cross means a transformation of all life; the Cross means giving up things, things that most people think are important; the Cross means taking on things like commitments to worship and praise and pray to God especially through official prayer, and above all, the prayer of personal example. The first Christians were not afraid to give up their life for the Lord Jesus he had given up his life for them.

What should be done? I can't tell you, because only family entities dioceses, parishes, orders, smaller Christian groups only they can make such decisions. But there are some things that can be said to groups. Listen.

“Take the Cross” says Jesus? No! Not just any old hardship. And he doesn't say: “Take up MY Cross” either. You cannot imitate Jesus. It is take up YOUR Cross. If you take up your cross it will cost you something; you will feel it in your life; you will feel it in your bank balance; you will feel it wherever your are, whatever you do. Because if you do not have these experiences in your life, these disturbances of the “usual and ordinary way of living” whether you are retired or go to work or whatever, if you do not experience this pain, this difficulty, this change and disruption, in your life, you are NOT taking your Cross.

Our Orthodox Christian Faith is not a matter for you alone. During this past week as a nation we came close to sharing the pain that is needed to allow love to shed its warmth over all. For the Cross is a matter of shared life; and that is painful. But that is the reason the Cross is at the center of our religion: to remind us that our God wants us to change the evils of this world here and now: that cannot be done either alone, or without pain. And as the Roman empire learned, it cannot be done with force or war. The God who made us all, the God who sent his Son to show us true Universal Love, through Jesus that God says: “Take up your cross; take up your cross; take up your cross.”

For none of us lives, and equally, none of us dies, for himself alone.

Faithfully in Christ,

+Anthony

Archbishop of New York

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Over the years, some have asked to have a copy of Archbishop Anthony’s Prayer. Here it is:

Archbishop Anthony's Prayer

 

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