The third Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to the Veneration of the Cross. What perhaps is not so obvioius in Lenten piety is that the veneration of the cross focuses on salvation, victory, joy, resurrection. The focus is not on the suffering of Christ, nor is it on our joining in this suffering by taking up our own crosses. Rather the hymns of Matins focus on Christ’s victory over death and His Resurrection. In the Matins Canon for the day, all of the Irmos hymns are the same as those sung on Pascha night. For example, today’s Irmos from Canticle One joyfully proclaims:
This is the day of Resurrection: let us be illumined, O People! Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord! For from death to life, and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us, as we sing the song of victory! Glory to You, our God, glory to You!
We are celebrating the resurrection of Christ in the middle of Great Lent. We don’t pretend that the Resurrection has not yet occurred, but rather openly celebrate it on this Lenen Sunday. We do indeed live in the world of the Fall, but also it is the world of the Resurrection! Here is a sample of the hymns from today’s Matins that proclaim the joyous nature of this day honoring the Cross of Christ as a sign of victory not suffering. Monastic Lenten piety has tended to emphasize self-denial and suffering, but this Sunday’s hymns are about rejoicing and experiencing the salvation accomplished for us by Christ through His Cross and His Resurrection:
This is a festival day: at the awakening of Christ, death has fled away; The light of life has dawned; Adam has risen and dances for joy! Therefore let us cry aloud and sing a song of victory!
This is the day of the veneration of the Precious Cross: now it is brought before us, shining with the brightness of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us all draw near and kiss it with great rejoicing in our souls!
Behold, Christ is risen! said the angel to the Myrrhbearing women! Do not lament, but go and say to the apostles: Rejoice, for today is the world’s salvation! The tyranny of the enemy has been destroyed through the death of Christ! (Canticle Four)
Today as we celebrate the joyful veneration of Your lifegiving Cross, we prepare ourselves for Your most holy Passion, O Christ our Savior; for You have wrought the salvation of the world in Your almighty power!
Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Paradise; it has been mysteriously quenched by the wood of the Cross! The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished, for You, my Savior, came and cried to those in hell: Enter again into Paradise! (Kontakion)
For those who think Lenten piety means darkness, denial, doom and death, the Third Sunday of Lent reminds us of the true message of Christianity. This Sunday is a midcourse correction for the faithful to focus on the Gospel, the joy of being Christian, and the salvation gifted to us by our Lord. The Gospel means joy and salvation not doom and gloom. Paradise is opened and hell is vanquished. We are to give thanks to the Lord for opening paradise to us and for granting us eternal life.
Today there is joy in earth and heaven, for the sign of the Cross is made manifest to all the world! The thrice-blessed Cross is set before us; a fountain of ever-flowing grace to all who show it honor!