In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We have been keeping these days the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. There is a passage in the Gospel in which the Lord says to us, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). These words resolve the antinomy between the horror of the Cross and the glory of it, between death and the Resurrection. There is nothing more glorious, more awe-inspiring and wonderful than to love and to be loved. And to be loved of God with all the life, with all the death of the Only-Begotten Son, and a to love one another at the cost of all our life and, if necessary, of our death is both tragedy and a victory, but mainly victory. In the Canon of the Liturgy we say, "Holy, most Holy art Thou, and Thine Only-Begotten Son, and Thine Holy Spirit! Holy and most Holy art Thou because Thou hast so loved Thy world that Thou hast given Thine Only-Begotten Son, that those who will believe in Him will not perish but have life eternal; Who hath come and hath fulfilled all that was appointed for our sakes, and in the night when He was betrayed (no! when He gave Himself up), He took bread, and brake it and gave it to His disciples ..."
This is divine love. At times it is easier to give up one’s own life than to offer up to death the person one loves beyond all, and this is what God, our Father has done. But this does not diminish the sacrifice of Him who is sent unto death for the salvation of one person, or of the whole world.
And so when we think of the Cross, we must think of this strangely inter-twined mystery of tragedy and of victory. Because Christ's death was than of an innocent, and because this death was a gift of self in an act of love, the Cross, an instrument of infamous death, of punitive death to which criminals were condemned, becomes victory.
This is why Saint Paul could say, Not I, but Christ liveth in me (Gal. 2:20)—Divine love filled him to the brim and therefore there was no room for any other thought or feeling, any approach to anyone apart from love, a love that gave itself unreservedly; a sacrificial love, love crucified, but love exulting in the joy of life.
And when we are told in today's Gospel: Deny yourself, take up your Cross, follow Me (cf. Mk 8:34), we are not called to something dark and frightening. We are told by God: Open yourself to love! Do not remain a prisoner of your own self-centeredness. Do not be, in the words of St. Theophan the Recluse, like a wood shaving rolling around its own emptiness. Open yourself up! Look—there is so much to love, there are so many to love! There is such an infinity of ways in which love can be experienced, fulfilled, and accomplished... Open yourself and love, because this is the way of the Cross! Not the way trod by the two criminals together with Christ as they were punished for their crimes, but the wonderful way of giving oneself unreservedly, turning away from self, existing only for others, loving with all one's being so that one exists only for the sake of others— this is the Cross and the glory of the Cross.
So, when we venerate the Cross, when we think of Christ's crucifixion, when we hear the call of Christ to deny ourselves (and these words simply mean: turn away from yourself! Take up your cross!) we are called to open ourselves to the flood of Love Divine that is both death to ourselves and openness to God and to everyone.
In the beginning of the Gospel of St. John we are told, And the Word was with God. In the Greek it says "Godwards". The Word, the Son had no other love, no other thought, no other movement except towards the Beloved One, giving Himself to Him Who gave Himself perfectly to Him. Let us learn the glory of crucified Love, of this sacrificial Love, which is, in the words of the Old Testament, stronger than death, stronger than hell, stronger than all things because it is Divine Life conquering us and poured through us onto all those who need to be loved in order to come to Life, to believe in Love, to become children of Love, children of Light, and inherit Life eternal. Amen.