Homily on the Apodosis of the Exaltation of the Cross

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. 20 September 7528 (Oct. 4, 2020, on the civil calendar)

Dearest to Christ, we have the angels with us today in our worship, even without the Holy Eucharist, because we are gathered as Orthodox Christians in prayer to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, and asking our Lady the Most Holy pure and glorious Theotokos for her intercession, and for the intercession of all the saints. We are here with our spiritual family portraits, the icons around us, from across the ages. We hear the Epistle and the Gospel, the Word of God. We worship with the one holy catholic and apostolic church today.

This week two books came out related to our humble mission. One had its publishing date Thursday, Healing Humanity, a book from the conference that our mission helped organize at our seminary in Jordanville NY. It deals with the moral crisis facing our nation and today’s increasingly secular and anti-West, the crisis of pansexualism that seeks to undo the nature of God’s creation and eradicate Christianity. The other book is related, and by one of the contributors to the first, an Orthodox Christian writer, Rod Dreher, it is called Live not by Lies. That title is from a phrase written by the great Orthodox writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Live not by Lies. The Gospels tell us that the devil is liar and father of lies. Lying is idolatry, the objectification of a delusional state of living apart from God. Solzhenitsyn called totalitarianism the permanent lie that seeks to replace God with a manmade virtual reality, like the Tower of Babel or Sodom and Gomorrah, all about pride and false pleasure. Brother Rod interviewed many elderly former dissidents in the ex Soviet lands about how to survive totalitarianism because they see it coming to us now in the West accompanying our nihilistic morality. It will be a cultural totalitarianism drawing more on pleasure and ostracism than on open physical violence, he writes. We will be tempted more by our addiction to comfort and pleasurable materialistic stimulation than by atheistic Marxism and revolutionary class struggle as such. It will be more like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than George Orwell’s 1984, although with elements of both. It is through the comfort and power of our technology that atheistic cultural Marxism marching hand-in-hand with consumer capitalism tempts us to worship idols and power, through educational and media systems today working with our own sins, to the destruction of our souls.

In the acknowledgements section of his new book, Rod Dreher states, “I am not at liberty to thank some of those who helped me research this book, because it would put them at risk of retaliation in the workplace. None of these anonymous helpers live in the former Soviet bloc; all are Americans.”

Last week he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to talk about this. He told the host what he learned in writing the book. “It taught me about how much we Americans need to learn how to suffer better…. We have got to be a lot more patient with our suffering so we can endure what is to come. Because this is what the soft totalitarians are going to do: they’re going to use our addiction to comfort to control us.”

This resonates with the readings from the Gospel today, appropriate for the Leave-Taking or Apodosis of the Exaltation of the Cross.

“The Lord said, ‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.’ And He said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here who shall not taste of death till they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power.’ “

But the second Gospel reading today holds the remedy in humility and repentance and worship of our Lord. The Syro-Phoenician woman asked Him for mercy and said, “the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’Then Jesus answered and said unto her, ‘O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.’ And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

Today we face the spirit of anti-Christ, which as the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian said denies that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, denies the Incarnation of God, and thus seeks to eradicate traditional Christianity from culture and society, from professional careers and education and media. Where Christianity is still encouraged by the totalitarian system it will be like the Living Church under the Soviets a renovationist perversion and not Orthodox, except for the remnant Orthodox Church of martyrs.

St. Anatole the Younger of Optina was one of the last of the Optina elders, a spiritual son of Elder St. Ambrose. He was visited by Communist soldiers who tormented him. They said they would return the next day to arrest him. That night, he reposed, God took Him to save him that additional struggle. St. Anatole left us this prayer:

“O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, deliver us from the seductions of the coming antichrist, abhorred by God and crafty in evil, and from all his snares. Protect us and all our right- believing Christian neighbors from his devious nets, keeping us in the hidden refuge of thy salvation. Grant, Lord, that our fear of the devil may not be greater than our fear of thee, and that we not fall away from thee and thy holy Church. But instead, grant us, O Lord, to suffer and die for thy holy Name and for the Orthodox faith, and never to deny thee, nor to receive the marks of the cursed antichrist, nor to worship him. Grant us, O Lord, day and night, tears and lamentation for our sins, and on the day of thy dread Judgment, O Lord, grant us pardon. Amen.”

There is a powerful answer to the spirit of Anti-Christ abroad in our land today in the Song of the Three Holy Children, one of the canticles of the Church, which is featured in the Holy Saturday Vesperal Divine Liturgy. It is in Chapter 3 of Daniel in the Septuagint Bible that we use as Orhtodox Christians, but is also found in the Apocrypha of the King James Bible, from a Greek text believed by many scholars to be authentically part of the Holy Prophet’s book originally but lost from the later Hebrew manuscripts. In it, first one of the youths Azarias makes a powerful statement of repentance, then the three sing of God’s glory. They have been thrown into the fiery furnace by the evil ruler in their strange land of exile, and as they praise God, a fourth form appears, a theophany of Christ before the Incarnation, and shields them, so that the smell of smoke is not even on them. In icons of this, in the form of an angel He bears the Cross.

You may recall on Holy Saturday the wonderful joy of this reading, as the chorus sings, “Praise the Lord, exalt Him to all the ages!” Remember that joyful singing as I read the King James version and pray with the children in the furnace and with me, that we may too see Christ with us in the fires to come, sheltering us and our children and spiritual children and grandchildren, preserving the Church that is the New Israel from the flames of the spirit of Anti-Christ and his evil coming.

1 And they walked in the midst of the fire, praising God, and blessing the Lord.

2 Then Azarias stood up, and prayed on this manner; and opening his mouth in the midst of the fire said,

3 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: thy name is worthy to be praised and glorified for evermore:

4 For thou art righteous in all the things that thou hast done to us: yea, true are all thy works, thy ways are right, and all thy judgments truth.

5 In all the things that thou hast brought upon us, and upon the holy city of our fathers, even Jerusalem, thou hast executed true judgment: for according to truth and judgment didst thou bring all these things upon us because of our sins.

6 For we have sinned and committed iniquity, departing from thee.

7 In all things have we trespassed, and not obeyed thy commandments, nor kept them, neither done as thou hast commanded us, that it might go well with us.

8 Wherefore all that thou hast brought upon us, and every thing that thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment.

9 And thou didst deliver us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful forsakers of God, and to an unjust king, and the most wicked in all the world.

10 And now we cannot open our mouths, we are become a shame and reproach to thy servants; and to them that worship thee.

11 Yet deliver us not up wholly, for thy name’s sake, neither disannul thou thy covenant:

12 And cause not thy mercy to depart from us, for thy beloved Abraham’s sake, for thy servant Issac’s sake, and for thy holy Israel’s sake;

13 To whom thou hast spoken and promised, that thou wouldest multiply their seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that lieth upon the seashore.

14 For we, O Lord, are become less than any nation, and be kept under this day in all the world because of our sins.

15 Neither is there at this time prince, or prophet, or leader, or burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place to sacrifice before thee, and to find mercy.

16 Nevertheless in a contrite heart and an humble spirit let us be accepted.

17 Like as in the burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, and like as in ten thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and grant that we may wholly go after thee: for they shall not be confounded that put their trust in thee.

18 And now we follow thee with all our heart, we fear thee, and seek thy face.

19 Put us not to shame: but deal with us after thy lovingkindness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.

20 Deliver us also according to thy marvellous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord: and let all them that do thy servants hurt be ashamed;

21 And let them be confounded in all their power and might, and let their strength be broken;

22 And let them know that thou art God, the only God, and glorious over the whole world.

23 And the king’s servants, that put them in, ceased not to make the oven hot with rosin, pitch, tow, and small wood;

24 So that the flame streamed forth above the furnace forty and nine cubits.

25 And it passed through, and burned those Chaldeans it found about the furnace.

26 But the angel of the Lord came down into the oven together with Azarias and his fellows, and smote the flame of the fire out of the oven;

27 And made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind, so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them.

28 Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed, God in the furnace, saying,

29 Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

30 And blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

31 Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.

32 Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

33 Blessed art thou on the glorious throne of thy kingdom: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.

34 Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: and above all to be praised and glorified for ever.

35 O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever,

36 O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

37 O ye angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

38 O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

39 O all ye powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

40 O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

41 O ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

42 O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

43 O all ye winds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever,

44 O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

45 O ye winter and summer, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

46 O ye dews and storms of snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

47 O ye nights and days, bless ye the Lord: bless and exalt him above all for ever.

48 O ye light and darkness, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

49 O ye ice and cold, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

50 O ye frost and snow, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

51 O ye lightnings and clouds, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

52 O let the earth bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

53 O ye mountains and little hills, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

54 O all ye things that grow in the earth, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

55 O ye mountains, bless ye the Lord: Praise and exalt him above all for ever.

56 O ye seas and rivers, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

57 O ye whales, and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

58 O all ye fowls of the air, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

59 O all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

60 O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

61 O Israel, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

62 O ye priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

63 O ye servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

64 O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

65 O ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever.

66 O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever: for he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death, and delivered us out of the midst of the furnace and burning flame: even out of the midst of the fire hath he delivered us.

67 O give thanks unto the Lord, because he is gracious: for his mercy endureth for ever.

68 O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, praise him, and give him thanks: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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