September 13, 2013

Troparion—Tone 1
O Lord, save Your people, / And bless Your inheritance. / Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians / Over their adversaries. / And by virtue of Your Cross, / Preserve Your habitation.

Kontakion—Tone 4
As You were voluntarily raised upon the cross for our sake, / Grant mercy to those who are called by Your Name, O Christ God; / Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Your power, / Granting them victories over their adversaries, / By bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Your weapon of Peace.

What a curious mixture of paradoxical images in these hymns for the Veneration of the Cross celebrated this weekend. On the one hand: victories, power, adversaries, trophies, weapons. And on the other: the Cross, blessing, salvation, peace. Keep in mind that the troparion was the “national anthem” of the Byzantine Empire, and that victory over its enemies (literally, “over the barbarians”) was thought of in very realistic terms, for example, repelling Slavic raiders from the north. In this world, as Christians we still live with the tensions between worldly power and Cross power.

In the crucified Christ however we have a picture of total powerlessness. Not only in the sense of being utterly physically helpless, but primarily because of he rejects calling down legions of angels or fire and brimstone on his enemies. He voluntarily accepts the Cross and in so doing destroys its power. As the Lord told Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). But the Lord could say this with authority only because he first lived it.

Psalm 6 is a prayer for healing, and it describes in realistic detail the cross of physical suffering. I am languishing, my bones are troubled, I am weary with my groaning, I waste away because of grief. But the fact that we use this psalm in Lent at Great Compline says that healing concerns most the struggles of our inner life. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). And against these enemies, the only truly invincible force is the weapon of Peace.

Cross at Butovo, Russia
Cross at Butovo, outside Moscow

When I was in Russia this summer one of the most moving visits was to Butovo, the “killing fields” outside Moscow where thousands were put to death during the Stalinist purges. The massive wooden cross there now is a witness to the enduring power of that weapon.

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Metropolitan Tikhon returned from France last night and after visiting his grandmother in her last days (she remains stable). Today he goes to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery for the feast of the Elevation of the Cross.