27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 28 Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; 31 and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Revised Standard Version)
The following reflections are based on the Gospel reading for Seventh Sunday after the Holy Cross, Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross:
Matthew 24:30-36 was the Sunday Gospel reading on the Third Sunday after the Holy Cross and Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak. Click here to read themes for that day.
The Weapon of Victory
In the 4th century, St. Constantine the Great sent his mother, Queen Helena, to find the actual Cross upon which Jesus was crucified. In 326, the location of the Cross of Christ was disclosed, but three crosses were found. To authenticate the true Cross of Christ, the body of a youth who had recently died was placed on each of the three pieces of wood. The Holy Cross of Christ was discovered when the body of the youth came back to life. This is the Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross (Գիւտ Խաչ) that the Armenian Church celebrates.
Christians in Jerusalem began to venerate the true Cross of Christ, and since then it has been broken into fragments and dispersed among various church traditions. Within the Armenian Church, there is at least a fragment of the true Cross located in Etchmiadzin, as well as St. Vartan Cathedral of the Eastern Diocese.
Discovering the Cross in our lives today
A discovery in history, but even today, we are called to discover the mystery of the Cross in our daily lives. What is that mystery? Christ redeems all suffering through his grace and life-giving presence. Jesus transformed the Cross, at one time a symbol of torture and execution, into a symbol of faith and salvation, a weapon of victory over death. The mystery and sting of death has been stripped, unveiled by the mystery of the Cross!
St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:55):
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”
As we sing during Badarak,
You, unchangeable, became man and you were crucified, O Christ our God, and you trampled down death by death.
In his festal hymn composed for this feast, 7th century Catholicos, Sahak Dzoroporetsi writes,
To your miracle-working and mighty wooden cross, Christ, staff of strength on earth revealed; come people let us bow down in worship. To the treasure that could not be hid though ignored by the Jews, which revealed by the yearning of the queen as the wood of life; come people let us bow down in worship. This is the weapon of victory for the faithful, the champion and victory seal against the enemy. Come people let us bow down in worship.
In his encomium dedicated to the Holy Cross, St. Gregory of Narek addresses the Cross with praise:
You are the holder of victory with utmost power, O almighty sign, witness to the lordly acts of the One who dwelt in you physically, who is described symbolically by the seer in the Apocalypse…as the Lamb riding a white horse and repelling the dragon’s deriding charge.
Also from the same encomium, St. Gregory writes,
This life-giving cross is the acknowledged sign of victory in the decisive battle waged in the divide between destruction and restoration.
The epistle reading for this Sunday is from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He writes,
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18).
How does the Cross impact our lives?
Do we believe in the power of the Cross to give us new life in Christ, as did St. Paul? Are we willing to be placed on the Cross, to lay down our own lives, allowing its power to give us new life in Christ?
How do we as a community suffer? How can we unite that suffering with Christ through the power of the Cross? For example, how can the atrocity of the Genocide be a testament to the power of the Cross in the life of the Armenian people and the Armenian Church? How can the Cross steer our course as individuals, as families?
What do the above quotes from St. Gregory of Narek, St. Paul, and Sahak Dzoroporetsi mean in light of the many horrific and unjust acts still being waged in the world today? How can their words, the words from our own Badarak, inspire us to pray?
In the Old Testament we see the Cross in the reading for this Sunday from Wisdom:
Again, one preparing to sail and about to voyage over raging waves calls upon a piece of wood more fragile than the ship which carries him…but it is thy providence, O Father, that steers its course, because thou hast given it a path in the sea, and a safe way through the waves…Therefore men trust their lives even to the smallest piece of wood, and passing through the billows on a raft they come safely to land…For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes. (Wisdom 14:1-7)