The following sermon excerpt for the springtime Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross over Jerusalem was found among the archives of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989) at the Zohrab Center. Tiran Srpazan was one of the great Armenian Churchmen and teachers of the twentieth century. He was elected Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem and served as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church. He also founded St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. The sermon is written in Nersoyan’s own neat handwriting on five small leaves of paper. Unfortunately, neither date nor the place where the sermon was preached is mentioned.
Today is the Feast of the Apparition of the Cross. On May 7 in the year 351, the population of the city of Jerusalem beheld the sign of the Cross stretching from Golgotha to the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem, a distance of about two miles, across the sky, gleaming with intense light. The story is told in the letter of St. Cyril the Bishop of Jerusalem, addressed to the Emperor Constantius.
The significance of the apparition is obvious. The Cross that is born for the sake of God’s triumph against the Devil, for the triumph of life against death, is no more a sign of misery and defeat, but an instrument of glory. The Cross rises from earth to heaven. It is, as it were, the resurrection of the Cross, the glorification of suffering endured for God’s sake.
When we decorate ourselves with crosses of gold and precious stones when we elevate the Cross and carry it in procession or place it on the altar we show the victory of the Cross. We show suffering and triumph, Cross and Resurrection combined. And a Cross shown like that is entirely different from a crucifix.
But then we may ask, What has all this got to do with us now? What has it got to do with the business of making a living, in which we are engaged? It has everything to do with it. Are we not suffering while making a living? Are we not constantly falling and rising? Are we not engaged in a constant fight in this world? Are we not continually troubled in our souls? Don’t we encounter evil at every turn? Don’t we keep on falling day in and day out against all kinds of temptation? What can have more relevance to our daily lives than the same promise of triumph? What can have more to do with us than the assurance of life for us against death? Life of this soul against the death of the body?
But victory, triumph, glory, life can be achieved only through power. No one ever fell and then rose again without having the power for it. No one ever fought and won a victory without having the strength for it. So Christ rose from death through his divine power. And that life and power come from God, from above. From God, who dwells in us, who dwells in his Church; who dwells in heaven, who dwells everywhere.
And the point of being a Christian is nothing, absolutely nothing but to put ourselves in the condition in which we can receive that power, which is called grace. The Church, as Christ’s body, communicates that power to us through God’s Word, pronounced and proclaimed by the Church, and especially through the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The world around us is constantly in danger of falling. But let it rise. We are always in danger of falling, but let us rise. Because Christ is always rising. Christ is always risen. His Cross is always shining in glory. Let us rise with Christ in the Church. Let our prayer constantly be: “Raise us, O Lord with you, from death to eternal life.”
Glory be to the risen Christ. Amen.
Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989)