Monday, March 27, 2006

Yesterday was the Third Sunday in Lent, the Sunday of the Cross. As Father Alexander Schmemann describes it:

[T]he Cross is brought in a solemn procession to the center of the church and remains there for the entire week--with a special rite of veneration following each service. It is noteworthy that the theme of the Cross which dominates the hymnology of that Sunday is developed in terms not of suffering but of victory and joy. . . . The meaning of all this is clear. We are in Mid-Lent. On the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt, its burden becomes more burdensome, our fatigue more evident. We need help and encouragement. On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Easter grow in their intensity.

In our little congregation in Winchester we approached the cross set on a table in the center of the Church and surrounded by flowers. As we venerated the symbol of our salvation, we each received a few daffodils, in anticipation of the joy of the resurrection that meets us at the end of Lent. What follows is a little piece of liturgical drama that forms part of one of the hymns sung at Matins on the Sunday of the Cross. Hell itself cries out as the Cross of Christ undoes the fall of Adam.

Pilate set up three crosses in the place of the Skull, two for the thieves and one for the Giver of Life. Seeing Him, hell cried to those below: "O my ministers and powers! Who is this that has fixed a nail in my heart? A wooden spear has pierced me suddenly, and I am torn apart. Inwardly I suffer; anguish has seized my belly and my senses. My spirit trembles, and I am constrained to cast out Adam and his posterity. A tree brought them to my realm, but now the Tree of the Cross brings them back again to Paradise."