Not only the Third Sunday of Great Lent, but the week that follows, are devoted to welcoming the Precious Cross of Christ. This adoration of the Cross does not have a penitential character, but rather the opposite: “through the Cross joy has come to the whole world.” Having reached the midpoint of Lent we take refreshment, as though at a spiritual oasis, in the shade of the Cross, which is the banner and emblem of Christ’s victory. The Cross is a sign of our joy in Christ’s triumph. The liturgical texts express this joy; all the hymns in praise of the Cross have a victorious note to them. The Canon of Sunday Matins resembles the Paschal Canon of Saint John of Damascus.
Saint Hippolytus of Rome teaches:
This Cross is the tree of my eternal salvation, nourishing and delighting me. I take root in the roots of the Cross; I am extended in the branches of the Cross; the dew of the Cross is my delight. The spirit of the Cross refreshes me like a lovely breeze. The shade of the Cross shelters me in my tent; when I flee from excessive heat I find the Cross a refuge, moist with dew, The flowers of the Cross are my flowers. The fruits of the Cross delight me altogether; the fruits of the Cross are always reserved for me, and I feast on the fruits of the Cross unrestrainedly. When I am hungry, the Cross is my nourishment. When I am thirsty, the Cross is my fountain. When I am naked, the Cross clothes me, for its leaves are no longer fig leaves, but the very breath of life. When I fear God, the Cross is my safeguard. When I falter, the Cross is my support. When I go into battle, the Cross is my prize, and when I triumph, the Cross is my trophy.
The Cross is the ladder of Jacob; the Cross is the path of angels; the Lord is truly enthroned at the summit of the Cross. The Cross is my tree, wide as the firmament. The tree of the Cross extends from earth to the heavens, with its immortal trunk established between heaven and earth. The Cross is the pillar of the universe; the Cross is the support of the whole world; the Cross is the joint of the world, holding together the variety of human nature and riveted by the invisible bolts of the Spirit, so that it may remain fastened to the divinity and impossible to detach. The top of the Cross touches the highest heaven; the roots of the Cross are planted in the earth, and in between the giant arms of the Cross embrace the ever present breaths of air. The Cross is wholly in all things and in all places.
For us Christians, the Cross of Christ is our boast! Saint Paul said, “God forbid that I should boast, except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” To show our pride in the Cross, just after the Great Doxology at Sunday Matins, we bring out the Cross into the nave of the church for veneration, and we adorn the precious Cross with flowers. Thus we express our faith that what might have seemed to be the “dead wood” of the cross became the bearer of Life. Dry wood is highly inflammable, yet in the Kondak we sing that:
… no longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden, for in a strange and glorious way, the Wood of the Cross has put out its flames, and My Saviour, You have stood on the Cross and called out to those in hell: ‘enter again into Paradise.’
Our liturgical poetry about the Cross of Christ makes much of the many scriptural references to wood, since the Cross of Christ was made from wood. “The Tree of the Cross replaces the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.” Thus it is best to have a suitable wooden cross for veneration on these feast days. Many Christian cultures have a tradition of carved crosses; our Ukrainian carved wooden crosses are sometimes exquisitely beautiful.
The precious Cross remains in the nave of the church for veneration throughout the week, until Friday. Most of us are not able to come to church each day, but of course we can all pray at home, however briefly. So during this week, we should also have the cross in a place of honour in our home, with some flowers to adorn the cross, and be sure to kiss the cross and pray at least “We bow down before Your Cross, O Master, and we glorify Your Holy Resurrection!” Thus we keep the joy of the Cross throughout the week, and we strengthen the link between the family and the church.
Excerpt from Our Paschal Pilgrimage. A Guide for the Great Fast for Ukrainian Catholics by Bishop Basil Losten
Before the beginning of the service, the Precious Cross is brought from the table of the Prothesis or the sacristy and placed on the Holy Table. A candle is lit and left burning in front of it.
“Blessed is the man…” is sung.
At Psalm 140
In Tone 3
Lead my soul forth from prison* that I may give thanks to Your name.
By Your Cross, O Christ our Saviour,
the power of Death has been vanquished
and the deceit of the devil has been destroyed.
Therefore, mankind, saved by faith,
offers You hymns of praise forever.
The just shall gather around me* when You have been good to me.
O Lord, all creation has been enlightened by Your resurrection,
and Paradise has been reopened;
therefore, all creation extols You
and offers You hymns of praise forever.
Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord;* O Lord, hear my voice!
I glorify the powers of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
and I praise the dominion of the undivided Divinity,
the consubstantial Trinity,
Who reigns forever and ever.
Let Yours ears be attentive* to the voice of my prayer.
We adore Your precious Cross, O Christ,
and with hymns of praise we glorify Your Resurrection;
for by Your wounds we have all been healed.
If You mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?* But with You forgiveness is that You may be revered.
Let us sing the praises of the Saviour,
Who was incarnate of the Virgin;
for He was crucified for our sake,
and on the third day He arose from the dead,
granting us His great mercy.
I have waited for You as You have commanded; my soul patiently relies on Your promise,* for it has trusted in the Lord.
Christ descended into Hades and announced to those confined there:
Take courage, for today I have conquered death.
I am the Resurrection, the One Who will set you free.
I shattered the gates of the realm of death.
In Tone 5
From the morning watch until night* let Israel trust in the Lord.
Shine, O Cross of the Lord,
shine with the light of your grace upon the hearts of those that honour you.
With love inspired by God, we embrace you, O desire of all the world.
Through you our tears of sorrow have been wiped away;
we have been delivered from the snares of death
and have passed over to unending joy.
Show us the glory of your beauty
and grant to us your servants
the reward of our abstinence,
for we entreat with faith your rich protection and great mercy.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him there is plentiful redemption;* and He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Hail, life-giving Cross,
the fair Paradise of the Church,
Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory:
through you the hosts of demons have been driven back;
and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord,
as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast.
You are an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold;
you are the victory of kings and the glory of priests.
Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ
and to His Resurrection.
Praise the Lord, all the nations;* proclaim His glory, all you people.
Hail, life-giving Cross,
unconquerable trophy of the true faith,
door to Paradise, succour of the faithful,
rampart set about the Church.
Through you the curse is utterly destroyed,
the power of death is swallowed up,
and we are raised from earth to heaven:
invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs,
true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation
bestowing on the world great mercy.
Strong is the love of the Lord for us;* eternally will His truth endure.
Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother,
who fell from the choir on high through the envy of the murderer of man,
when of old with bitter pleasure you tasted of the three in Paradise.
See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near!
Run with haste and embrace it joyfully,
and cry out to it with faith:
O precious Cross, you are our succour;
partaking of your fruit we have gained incorruption;
we are restored once more to Eden,
and we have received great mercy.
In Tone 3, Glory…
O Christ our God, of Your own will You have accepted Crucifixion,
that all mankind might be restored to life.
Taking the quill of the Cross, out of love for man
in the red ink of royalty with bloody fingers
You signed our absolution.
We are in danger once again of being parted from You;
O forsake us not!
Take pity on Your people in distress,
for You alone are longsuffering.
Rise up and fight against our enemies in Your almighty power.
In Tone 3, Now…
O Lady most honourable,
how can we but be rapt in wonder
at you giving birth to the Incarnate God
who, without a mother, was born of the Father before all ages?
You gave Him birth in the flesh without a father,
without a man instrumentality.
He is God and man whose two natures are intact,
neither one losing any of its properties.
Therefore, O Virgin Mother,
intercede with Him to save the souls
of those who believe and confess in true faith
that you are the Mother of God.
In Tone 3
O Christ, Who darkened the sun by Your passion
and enlightened all creation by Your resurrection,
accept our evening prayer; for You love mankind.
The Lord reigns, He is clothed in majesty. Robed is the Lord, and girt about with strength.
O Lord, Your life-giving Resurrection has enlightened the entire universe
and has revived Your creation which lay in corruption.
Therefore, we, who have been released from the curse of Adam, cry out to You:
Almighty Lord, glory to You!
For He has made the world firm, which shall not be moved.
O God, although in Your divine nature You are unchangeable,
yet in Your human nature You underwent change by suffering in the flesh.
All creation was prostrate with fear
when it saw You hanging on the Cross,
and it groaned in sorrow as it sang the praises of Your long-suffering.
But You descended into Hades and arose on the third day,
granting life and great mercy to the world.
Holiness befits Your house, O Lord, for length of days.
You suffered death, O Christ, to deliver mankind from death.
And when You arose from the dead on the third day,
You enlightened the world
and resurrected all who acknowledge You as God.
In Tone 4, Glory… Now…
O Lord who helped gentle David in the combat
and enabled him to overcome the Philistine,
come to the aid of Your orthodox people,
and by the weapon of the Cross cast down our enemies.
In Your compassion show us Your mercy as of old,
and make them know in truth that You are God,
and that we who put our trust in You shall conquer.
At the constant intercessions of Your most pure Mother,
grant us Your great mercy.
In Tone 3
Let the heavens be glad, let the earth rejoice,* for the Lord has done a mighty deed with His arm.* He trampled death by death. He became the first-born of the dead;* He saved us from the abyss of Hades* and granted great mercy to the world.
In Tone 1, Glory…
Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance.* Grant victory to Your faithful people against enemies,* and protect Your community by Your Cross.
O Holy Tabernacle, when Gabriel called out to you:* Rejoice, O Virgin, full of grace,* the Lord of All became incarnate of you,* as the righteous David had foretold.* In bearing your Creator, you have shown yourself to surpass the vastness of the heavens.* We, therefore, cry out: Glory to Him Who dwelt in you!* Glory to Him Who came forth from you!* Glory to Him Who has set us free* through your life-giving birth!
SERVICE OF THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
At the Matins Service or just before Divine Liturgy, the priest, vested fully in red, stands before the Holy Table on which lies the Precious Cross with branches of basil or flowers. As the faithful sing “Holy God” he goes around the Holy Table, incensing the Cross from four sides. As the conclusion of “Holy God” is sung, he takes the Cross, and placing it on his head, proceeds around the Holy Table and out of the sanctuary through the north deacon doors. The Cross is preceded with processional candles, the seraphic fans and by the deacon with the censer. The priest stops in front of the Holy Doors, facing the east, when the final “Holy God” is sung, and says:
Deacon: Wisdom! Let us be attentive!
The priest then takes the Cross to the tetrapod and places it there. As the deacon incenses It from four sides, the faithful sing the Troparion of the Cross, three times:
Troparion, Tone 1
Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance, * grant victory to Your faithful people against enemies, * and protect Your community by Your Cross.
Afterwards, the following is sung three times in the usual manner.
To Your cross, O Master,
we bow in veneration,
and we glorify Your holy Resurrection.
At the Veneration of the Cross
The faithful now come to venerate the Precious Cross as the following verses are sung:
In Tone 2
Come, O faithful, let us bow before the life-giving Cross
on which Christ, the King of glory, freely stretched out His hands.
By this He raised us up to our former happiness,
which we had lost because of the ancient Enemy
and the bitter pleasure that exiled us from God.
Come, O faithful, let us bow before the Wood
which lets us crush the head of the invisible enemy.
Come, all you families of the nations,
let us venerate the Cross of the Lord with our hymns:
Rejoice, O perfect redemption of the fall of Adam;
Rejoice, O venerable Cross.
Filled with fear and awe, we embrace you; we glorify God, and we say:
O Lord, You were nailed on the Cross;
in Your goodness and love, have mercy on us.
In Tone 5
Come, O people, let us contemplate the marvellous wonder;
let us bow before the power of the Cross.
For the tree of Paradise gave rise to the reign of death,
and now a Tree has made our life blossom forth,
when the sinless Saviour was nailed upon it.
And now, all the nations that are nourished by this incorruptible food sing praises:
You destroyed death by Your Cross and set us free.
O Lord, glory to You!
The word of Your prophets Isaiah and David is now fulfilled,
for they spoke of You, O Lord, and said:
All the nations shall come to You and bow before You.
Behold the people who are now filled with Your grace
in Your sanctuary in the temple of Jerusalem.
O God of goodness who suffered on the Cross for us
and gives us life through Your holy resurrection,
protect us with Your care, O Lord, and save us.
In Tone 6
Rising from the depths of the earth on this day,
the Tree of Life strengthens our faith
in the resurrection of Christ who nailed on it.
His raised hands announce His ascension into heaven,
which permitted Him to dwell in our nature in this fallen world.
We also cry out in thanksgiving:
O Lord who was raised on the Cross and raises us with You,
grant heavenly joy to those who praise Your name.
The four corners of the earth are sanctified today, O Christ our God,
by the four ends of Your exalted Cross.
With it, exalt your faithful Christians
who destroy the power of the enemy through your Cross.
You are great, O Lord, and wondrous in Your works; glory to You!
The words of the prophets have told of the most holy wood
by which Adam was delivered from the ancient curse and from death.
On this day of its exaltation, creation raises its voice
to beg God for the abundance of his mercy.
O Lord, your compassion is beyond measure;
spare us, O God, and save our souls!
In Tone 8, Glory… Now…
Behold the words of the prophet Moses are fulfilled, O Lord;
for he said: You shall see your life suspended before your eyes.
Today the Cross is exalted, and the world is freed from error.
Today the Resurrection of Christ is renewed;
the ends of the earth exalt with joy.
At the sound of the cymbals of David,
they offer a hymn of praise and say:
In your goodness and love for all,
You have brought about our salvation in the middle of the earth, O our God.
Through your Cross and Resurrection You save us.
O Lord all-powerful, glory to You!
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated today.
Troparia and Kontakia
Troparion, Tone 3: Let the heavens be glad, let the earth rejoice,* for the Lord has done a mighty deed with His arm.* He trampled death by death. He became the first-born of the dead;* He saved us from the abyss of Hades* and granted great mercy to the world.
Troparion, Tone 1: Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance.* Grant victory to Your faithful people against enemies,* and protect Your community by Your cross.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Kontakion, Tone 7: No longer does the flaming sword guard the gate of Eden;* the tree of the Cross has quenched its flames gloriously.* The sting of death and the victory of Hades are banished,* and You O my Saviour came and called to those in Hades: “Return again to Paradise!”
Instead of Holy God
To Your Cross, O Master,* we bow in veneration,* and we glorify Your holy Resurrection!
Prokeimenon, Tone 6
Save Your people, O Lord, and bless Your inheritance.
verse: Unto You I will cry, O Lord my God, lest You turn from me in silence. (Psalm 27:9,1)
Alleluia, Tone 8
verse: Remember Your congregation which You acquired from the beginning.
verse: But God is our king before the ages; He has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. (Psalm 73:2,12)
Hymn to the Mother of God
In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices: the angelic ranks and all the human race. Sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, virgins’ pride and boast, from whom God is made flesh and became a little Child; and He who is our God before all ages, He made your womb a throne, and He made it wider that all the heavens. In you, O Full of Grace, all creation rejoices. Glory be to you.
Let the light of Your countenance, O Lord* shine upon us.* Alleluia, alleluia,* alleluia. (Psalm 4:7)