Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

St. Nicholas Patriarchal Cathedral
New York City, New York

March 14, 2004

St. Nicholas Patriarchal Cathedral
New York City, New York

Your Grace, Bishop MERCURIUS; Your Excellency, Mr. Ambassador; Reverend Clergy, and Beloved Faithful:

I am grateful for the invitation which Your Grace extended to me on behalf of His Holiness, Patriarch ALEKSY to join you in celebrating the Divine Liturgy here in Saint Nicholas Cathedral. I ask that you extend to His Holiness my fraternal greetings and gratitude for this invitation. It is a special blessing, as my visit coincides with the Sunday of the Holy Cross and the visit of the wonderworking Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God to this cathedral church. It is my prayer that she who stood beneath the Cross of her Son will continue her motherly protection and intercession for His Holiness and the hierarchs, clergy, monastics, and faithful of the Church of Russia.

Each year, in the middle of Great Lent, the Church gives us the Holy Cross as a source of encouragement to continue our lenten journey. Today, as we prepare to venerate the life-giving Cross, we have received an additional blessing: The wonderworking icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God, before which we pray today, offers us an additional source of encouragement, refreshment, and anticipation.

It was by taking flesh from the most holy Virgin Mary that the doors of repentance and salvation have been opened. It was by His suffering in the flesh that Our Lord transformed the Cross into a sign of victory, a sign of life—the new life which bursts forth from the empty tomb—rather than a symbol of death and corruption. As we sing in numerous hymns, it was through the Virgin Mary that our salvation was ensured. Having made her womb “more spacious than the heavens,” the One to Whom she gave birth invites us to share in His eternal victory, to repent continuously, and to focus our attention on “the one thing needful.”

Just as the Cross, which we will lovingly venerate this week, strengthens us to continue our prayer, our fasting, our almsgiving, and our ongoing journey to the empty tomb, so too the Mother of God, through her most holy icon, offers us additional strength, pointing as she does to the One Who is Life Itself, her Son. Burdened as we are by the difficulties of this life, she points us to look beyond our earthly cares, to embrace the One Whom she held in her arms, and to take up the same cross upon which His arms were stretched for the life of the world, not as a burden, but as a means of overcoming life’s difficulties, temptations, and deceptions. Placing ourselves under her protection, we joyously offer our thanks to the Lord Whom she bore, that we indeed might be made worthy of the blessed promise of His Kingdom, the promise of life eternal.

Today’s joy and blessings are further multiplied as we consider how our journey to the empty tomb mirrors that of this most precious and beloved icon, which has been a consolation to countless generations of God’s People throughout the world. Tracing its origin to the very land in which Our Lord proclaimed the Good News and accomplished the final victory over death, the Mother of God, through her wonderworking icon, brought consolation to God’s People in Constantinople, who for several centuries offered prayers before it in the Church of Blachernae. After the icon’s miraculous appearance over Lake Ladoga in the fourteenth century, the Mother of God protected the faithful of the Russian lands for nearly 600 years. As the icon made its way to Western Europe and North America, protected from those who would do it harm, the Holy Virgin continued to bring consolation to many. And now, on the eve of the icon’s final journey—to its home in the Dormition Cathedral of the monastery in Tikhvin, Russia—the joy which filled those who have gone before us becomes our joy, our refreshment, uniting us to all, saint and sinner alike, who have sought her intercession.

As we begin our final journey to Pascha, let us render thanks for all that the Lord has done for us, and for the protection His most Holy Mother unfailingly offers us. Let us, in imitation of the Holy Virgin, follow Our Lord on His final journey to the cross. Let us, like her, remain faithful to the end, ministering to her divine Son with the same love and devotion with which the myrrhbearing women ministered to Him. And let us rejoice in the special blessings we have received today, for armed with the Holy Cross and protected by the Mother of God through her wonderworking icon of Tikhvin, our Lenten journey has been greatly enriched, and our lives have been—and will continue to be—strengthened beyond measure.

May the most Holy Mother of God, through her wonderworking icon of Tikhvin, console us, guide us, and bring our prayers before the One Whom she bore in her womb, that He may forever abide in our hearts and our lives.