Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Power of the Cross - Fr Sergius Bulgakov

From a sermon preached by Fr. Bulgakov (1871 - 1944) for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 14 September, 1924. (Go HERE for Archbishop Rowan Williams' brief talk on the life of this great man.)

Today the Lord's Cross is raised before all the world; today 'the Cross is raised and the world hallowed', and the faithful are called to worship the thrice blessed Tree on which Christ was crucified. We pray to the tree of the Cross, and we pray to the holy life-bearing Cross itself, we invoke it, we call to it: 'Thou art my mighty defence, tri-partite Cross of Christ, hallow me with thy power that I in faith and love may worship thee and glorify thee.' 'Rejoice, life-bearing Cross, unhindered victory of godliness, the door of Paradise, the confirmation of the faithful, the defence of the Church . . . impregnable armour, bane of devils . . . bestowing mercy upon the world.' 'O Cross of Christ, thou hope of Christians, teacher of those in error, haven of the storm-tossed, victory in battle, pillar of the universe, physician of the sick, resurrection of the dead, have mercy upon us.' 'Those who rely upon thee, O thrice blessed and life-giving Cross, rejoice together with the heavenly hosts.' 'Invincible, unfathomable and divine power of the life-giving and honorable Cross, do not forsake us sinners.' 'O glorious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help us together with our Holy Lady the Mother of God and all the saints, world without end. Amen.'

But however much we may revere the actual precious and life-bearing Cross of the Lord, surely we are not tree worshippers who pray to a tree as to a living being, as to an intelligible essence? Is it to a tree, even if it be thrice-blessed, that we pray, or to the divine power and mystery of the Cross manifested to us in that tree? Worship of Christ's Cross is indeed inseparable for us from the worship of of the Cross abiding in heaven, a divine and unfathomable power. The earthly Cross leads our minds to the contemplation of its archetype the heavenly Cross, as indivisibly united to it as the divine and the human nature are indivisibly but without confusion united in Christ. The heavenly Cross of the Lord shone forth on earth in the tree of the Cross, the instrument of our salvation.

At the creation of the world the seed of trees for the Cross was planted in it - the cedar, the oak, the cypress; on the day when the earth was bidden to bring forth every kind of plant, the trees for the Cross sprang up. But the Cross made of wood is the symbol of the Eternal Cross, the revelation of the mystery of the Cross. The sign of the Cross is written upon the world as a whole, for in the words of the Church anthem, it is the 'four pointed power' binding together the 'four corners of the world' as 'height, breadth, and depth'. It is written too in the image of man with his arms outstretched: Moses and Joshua praying with their arms uplifted prefigured the Crucified. The form of the body calls forth, as it were, the tree of the Cross, for it is itself a Cross, the centre of which is the heart. In the image of the Cross the Creator inscribed His own image in the world and in man, for according to the testimony of the Church, the Cross is the divine image printed upon the world. What does the sign mean? It proclaims God's love, and in the first place God's love for His creation. The world is created by the power of the Cross, for God's love for the creation is sacrificial. The world is saved by the Cross, by sacrificial love; it is blessed by the Cross and overshadowed by its power. But the mystery of the Cross, is even more profound, for it wondrously the image of the Tri-Personal God, of the Trinity in unity. The Church teaches that it is the symbol of the unfathomable Trinity, the three-membered Cross bearing the tri-personal image of the Trinity. The Cross is the revelation of the Holy Trinity, and the power of the Cross is a divine power. When we call in prayer upon the incomprehensible, invincible, and divine power of the precious life-giving Cross, we pray to the Source of life, the Trinity in unity, one and divine in life and substance. The Cross is God Himself in His revelation to the world, God's power and glory.

God is love and the Cross is the symbol of divine love. Love is sacrificial. the power and flame, the very nature of love is the Cross, and there is no love apart from it. The Cross is the sacrificial essence of love, since love is a sacrifice, self-surrender, self-abnegation, voluntary self renunciation for the sake of the beloved. Without sacrifice there can be no acceptance, no meeting, no life in and for another; there is no bliss in love except in sacrificial self-surrender which is rewarded by responsive fulfilment. The Cross is the exchange of love, indeed love itself is exchange. There is no other path for love and for its wisdom but the path of the Cross. The Holy Trinity is the Eternal Cross as the sacrificial exchange of Three, the single life born of voluntary surrender, of a threefold self-surrender, of being dissolved in the divine ocean of sacrificial love. The tri-partite Cross is the symbol of the Holy Trinity. How is this true? In the Cross three lines meet and intersect; they approach one another from different points but as they intersect they become one in the heart of the Cross, at their meeting point. Similarly in the Holy Trinity the divine life of the Tri-unity is an eternal meeting, exchange of self-surrender and of self-discovery in the two other Hypostases. No limits can be set on love or sacrifice. Renouncing oneself in order to live again in the other - such is the bliss of love. He who loves another loves the Cross as well, since love is sacrificial. Love itself, God, in the Eternal Cross surrenders Himself for the sake of His love. The three points in which the lines of the Tri-cross end are images of the Three Divine Self-subsistent Hypostases, and the point of their intersection is the co-inherence of the Three, the Trinity in unity in sacrificial exchange.

The bliss of divine love is the sacrificial bliss of the Cross, and its power is a sacrificial power. If the world is created by love, it is created by no other power than the power of the Cross. God who is love creates it by taking up the Cross in order to reveal His love for the creature. The Almighty Creator leaves room in the world for the creature's freedom, thus as it were humbling Himself, limiting His almightiness, emptying Himself for the benefit of the creature. The world is created through the Cross of God's love for the creature. But in creating the world through the Cross, God in His eternal counsel determines to save it, also through the Cross, from itself, from perishing in its creatureliness. God so loved the world that from all eternity He gave His only begotten Son to be sacrificed on the Cross to save the world and call it to eternal life through the death of the Cross and Resurrection. God seeks in the creature a friend, another self, with whom He can share the bliss of love, to whom He can impart the divine life, and in His boundless love for the creature He does not stop at sacrifice, but sacrifices Himself for the sake of the creature. The boundlessness of the divine sacrifice for the sake of the world and its salvation passes all understanding. The Son humbles Himself to become man, taking upon Him the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. The Father does not spare His beloved, His only-begotten Son, but gives Him to be crucified; the Holy Spirit accepts descent into the fallen and hardened world and rests upon the Anointed, Christ, dwells in His Mother, and sanctifies the Church. It is the sacrifice not of the Son alone, but of the consubstantial and indivisible Trinity as a whole. The Son alone was incarnate and suffered on the Cross, but in Him was manifested the sacrificial love of the Holy Trinity--of the Father who sends Him, and of the Holy Spirit who rests upon Him and upon His sorrowing Mother. The Cross was prepared in the world by God for God and was therefore prefigured in the Old Testament by many symbols and images. And the Cross appeared to the world as the salutary tree, as victory over the world; hence the sign of the Cross will victoriously appear in heaven at the second glorious coming of the Son of God, and in the heaven of heavens there ever shines the Holy Cross, the vision of which was vouchsafed to St. Andrew.

Demons tremble at the blessed sign of the Cross. The Cross is to them a consuming fire. Why do they tremble at this fore of love? Because they hate love, because they are darkened by selfishness and cannot abide the path of the Cross; they are united in their legions by the power of common hatred and not love. The cheering and comforting fire is to them an unendurable flame.

The Cross is the figurative inscription of God's Name, working miracles and manifesting powers, like the name of God revealed to Moses. The Cross is the symbol of the Holy Trinity, the sacred sign of God who is in love, burning up enmity, malice, and hatred.

This heavenly Cross has been revealed to us men in the Cross of Christ, in the blessed tree the image of which we worship and kiss with awe. We are signed with it as soldiers of Christ, we wear it on the breast and carry it in our hearts. A Christian is essentially a Cross-bearer. The sweetest Name of Jesus is said to have been inscribed on the heart of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the God-bearer; and similarly the heart of a Christian holds the Cross of the Lord which has pierced it once and for all and set it aglow. A Christian lives in God, and, in so far as he enters into the love of Christ, shares both in the burden and in the sweetness of His Cross. To worship the Cross and to glory in it is for him not an external commandment, but an inner behest: 'Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross, and follow Me.' we can only worship the Cross to the extent to which we share in it. He who is afraid of the Cross and in his inmost heart rejects it worships it falsely and deceives his own conscience. This is why today's feast is both sweet and terrible, and the Church accompanies its celebration with a strict fast. The Cross shines in the sinful darkness of our heart, illumining it and at the same time exposing it. Our sinful, self-loving nature fears it and resists it. Why deceive ourselves? The natural man is afraid of the Cross. And yet we must overcome this fear; we must bring forth the tree of the Cross in our hearts, lift it up, and worship it. We must lay on our shoulders, too, as did Simon, the Cyrenian passer-by, the burden of Christ's Cross. Everyone must take up his Cross and never leave it, and, raising the Cross in his own soul, help to raise it in the world.

The Saviour's command to bear one's Cross is not a harsh infliction of pain, but God's great mercy towards man. It is a sign of God's love for man, of great respect for him. God wants His highest creation to participate in His Cross, in His joy and bliss. It was vouchsafed to Adam while still blissfully ignorant of good and evil to taste the sweetness of the Cross through obeying the divine command not to eat of the fruit of tree of knowledge. The tree of life and the tree of knowledge grew together in the garden of Eden. That was the paradisal sign of the Cross: renouncing his own will and doing the will of the heavenly Father, man was crucified on the tree which became for him the tree of life, full of eternal bliss. But through the whispering of the wily serpent, Adam and Eve rejected the Cross; they came down from it having willfully disobeyed. And the tree became deadly for them and gave them knowledge of good and evil, which entailed exile from paradise. But the New Adam, the Lord, the Son of man and only-begotten Son of God, ascended the Cross which the first Adam had forsaken; He was lifted up on the Cross so as to draw all men unto Him, for there is no way except that of the Cross to the sweetness of paradise. The ancient serpent tries to get Him too, saying to the Crucified through the mouth of his servants: 'Come down from the Cross!' But the new temptation was rejected, and the tree of knowledge became once more the tree of life, a life-bearing garden, and those who taste its fruit partake of immortality. In every man so long as he lives there lives the seed of the old Adam; he hears the unceasing whisper seconded by his natural frailty and infirmity: 'Come down from the Cross, don't torture yourself.' The world wars against the Cross, is driven to fury by the preaching of the gospel; love of the world is hatred of the Cross. But love of God is also love of the Lord's Cross, for our hard, rebellious heart can only love it if it be pierced by the Cross. Sweet are thy wounds to my heart, O most sweet Jesus, and it knows of no greater sweetness!

O Glorious Miracle, the width of the Cross matches the breadth of heaven, since divine grace hallows all. Amen.


Unknown said...

Wow this is just so beautiful it has almost brought me to tears!!!

Post a Comment