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God Forbid that We Boast in Anything but the Cross of Christ

Homily on the Sunday before the Elevation of the Holy Cross by Protopresbyter Peter Heers

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Sunday before the Elevation of the Cross, brothers and sisters, and the Church presents before us the Holy Cross in preparation - and then with the Sunday after the feast, in thanksgiving - for the great feast.

We, with Paul, throughout all the generations, boast of the Cross, and only in the cross. The Cross is our boast as Christians! And, as we heard in the Epistle, Paul, the great Apostle, spent most of his time preaching the Gospel face to face with the Judaizers - those Jews who, as he says, sought to make a good showing, a good impression, in the flesh of the converts. And that means they sought to have a good word, a good image with the unbelievers, those Jews who had not converted.

These were Christians, Jewish Christians, who remained tied down, bound to the law, and the perception of the law. They taught the Christians in Galatia to keep the law, including circumcision, and they meant the ceremonial law, which had been fulfilled in Christ, and replaced by the freedom of grace, and in this, as St. Paul says elsewhere, they taught another gospel. They taught another gospel! Nothing less than another gospel, because they refused to see the fulfillment, and they remained with the type, with the shadow, with the purely human, which does not redeem, which does not make people new creations in Christ.

This is who he speaks of in the Epistle that we heard. Let's hear this excerpt again. He says, "As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised; only that they may not suffer persecution for the Cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the Law, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh." And listen to this, this is the key, "But God forbid that I should boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal 6:12-14)

The question is why did the Jewish Christians teach this? Why did they seek to remain with the old Law…to be trapped in the mentality that we are still in the type, in the shadow, waiting for fulfillment. They sought to appear well in the eyes of those unrepentant Jews who claimed that the Jewish converts had abandoned the traditions of the fathers. That is, they sought to compromise with the spirit of the world and the unbelief of the Jews, with the enemies of the Cross! To compromise, in order to avoid reproof, because they did not believe. Underneath all of this worldliness, this resistance, was ultimately lack of faith in the sacrifice of our Lord. Apparently, they had not, yet tasted of regeneration and they wanted to avoid persecution. They wanted to avoid the Cross!

The history of the Church is full of such people, up to our day, and in our day perhaps we have many - many of such false, traitorous Christians. Saint John Chrysostomos says that they prefer to offend and even reject Christ in order to be pleasing to men; rather we offend God in order to please men! They are men pleasers, co-workers with the enemies of the Cross. The life of the Cross requires sacrifice. Christ requires of us sacrifice, because sacrifice is love. When we do not sacrifice, we do not love; when we do not love we cannot be united to the God Who is love.

The Cross is our path, our opening to the life of love with the Master and the Eternal life that we all seek. If we put aside the Cross, we put aside the path to God; we put aside love. Only those who lift up the Cross of Christ are led into the freedom of grace. If we deny the Cross we deny the sacrifice, we deny the crucifixion of our intellect. Then we remain enslaved, as they were, to a shadow, but a shadow, of the greatness of the Gospel that is being offered to us.

And inevitably they serve two masters: the world and Christ. They become two-faced, double-minded people. We have many of those today in the Church. Two-faced, double-minded: one thing among the faithful, another thing in the world, one thing among the monastics, another thing amongst the world’s leaders. One thing here and one thing there. They are two-faced, double-minded inevitably because they deny the power of the Cross in their lives. They seek ease and comfort; this is the greatest heresy of our day: a Christianity without the Cross; a Christianity without sacrifice; a Christianity without asceticism. Christianity without love!

We talk of love today, we hear about love all the time, and most of the time it has nothing to do with the love of God, but [rather] the love of self! And we remain trapped in self-satisfaction: we are good [we believe] and we [live] according to all of the law, fulfilling it; we are just in the eyes of God, so we believe. We are satisfied with ourselves, with our community, with our identity, but, alas, the love of Christ, the love of His Cross is far from us. These people who remain in the shadow, who remain in self-love, in self-satisfaction, they are living traps within the Church, they distort the Christian worldview, the phronema, and the Christian ethos.

Whether they fall toward the right or to the left, it matters little, they are still of the world. This is one aspect, one area, where many do not see and fall. There are those who are of this mindset on the right, and in the temptation on the right. The zealots for the form, the zealots for the packaging, for the law, for the secondary, the tertiary or even the contrary. There are zealots for many things, thinking that in this they are saving or being saved and yet they are of the world, and yet to sacrifice and love. They are not able to hierarchize the things, to put them in the right order. They don't see the source of all the goodness and the blessings.

First Christ; first the Cross - and then everything else, including our worldly identity. And only in Christ, and only in the Cross, does the rest have meaning, depth and regeneration. Only in Christ, and in His Cross! And so when we lose the hierarchy of things, we lose everything. We think we are saving the form, the history, the identity, the Nation, but in fact we are losing all of that, because we have lost Christ! Only He can save the nation, only He can save the people, only He can save the Church, only He can save us. And when we deny the sacrifice of the Cross, we deny His salvific grace, the freedom that comes with grace. . . We are putting the cart before the horse, and we go nowhere in the end.

And on the left, many fall also because they seek to serve two masters, the world and the Lord. So you have the worldly, the modernists, the innovators, that deny the crucifixion of their mind, and of their body, and of their life [in this world]. They mock asceticism, they mock abstinence, they have zeal for the externals, they don't have zeal for exactitude of the faith, of confession of the faith, and those who do, they call fundamentalists. They speak of updating, but what they mean is changing, perverting, distorting, compromising with the world, because they cannot say with Paul that, "God forbid that I should boast, in anything except the Cross of Christ."

Can we say that? Can we say that? Or do we boast in ourselves, in our achievements, in our supposed gifts. This is on the personal level: many of us can spot that - the arrogance, the vanity, the pride in ourselves; not all of us, but some of us, many of us, can do that. Can we spot the other kind? That we have pride in an identity, which is worldly and earthly, and we think that this saves… that we belong to the club of the saved. "God forbid that I should boast in anything except the Cross of Christ, by whom the world,” (both on the right and the left), “has been crucified to me and I to the world.” And then he says: for in Christ Jesus, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything”; and we can add as we heard the other Epistle read today, “neither Greek nor Jew”, neither Russian nor American “neither slave nor free, neither man nor woman” (Gal 3:28-29); neither circumcision or uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.

Are we being regenerated? Have we overcome the passions? Have we become free from the passions, the delusions of this age, the identity of the world? The identity of the world! Many of us think that there is salvation in our worldly identity. Brothers and sisters, in heaven there is not one Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, American Orthodox soul. There is only an Orthodox Christian soul who lived out his life in America, or in Russia, or in Greece. There are no identities of this world in the next world. Let us not confuse this temporary, quick passing life, and our identity in it, with regeneration, with the Cross of Christ, with sacrifice and love! They are two different things. We can have one, Christ and the Cross [and] all the rest is regenerated. This is the glory of the history of the Church! That the Cross came, Christ came, and regenerated and renewed and saved and brought up to heaven and made holy human endeavors in the arts, in literature and music. But first Christ and His Cross, and then this regeneration and then this new creation, as Paul says.

And he gives us this rule of faith. He gives us this rule of faith and he says, as many as walk according to this rule of regeneration, of crucifixion of the mind, of crucifixion of this worldly identity, peace and mercy be upon him, and upon the Israel of God! He says [this] to the phyletists of his age, to those who are trapped in the identity of this world, the Jews, who had a monopoly on Christ for thousands of years! Who could claim that their culture, their identity, should be the identity of everyone on the face of the earth, except the Jews, from which came our Savior?!. . .They could claim it? No they could not.

[For], it was for a time, it was but a shadow leading to the light! So he says to his fellow Jews, peace and mercy be upon you, if you walk according to this rule; if [however] you remain in this world (whether you be on the right or the left it matters little), if you remain a foreigner to the Cross and the sacrifice, you are lost!

He bears, he says - and here he finishes - the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we also, imitating Paul, be made worthy to bear the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucifixion of our intellect, the crucifixion of our worldly identity!

In the ancient Church when they were persecuted, they said what? I am a Christian from Jerusalem and not from Athens? . . .No. They said: “I am a Christian”, period. I am a Christian, period. . . “I bear the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucify me and give me life!” they said to their persecutors. This is what we need in these end days, we need such Christians… may we be made worthy, may we be made worthy…

September 24, 2017

Transcribed by Anna-Athanasia

Edited for better readability and clarity.

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