“Before Your Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Your Holy Resurrection we glorify.” As the moving hymn was sung loudly, deliberately, and without haste, the Royal Gates swung open and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, descended from the Altar of the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois along with parish priest Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lamar, Very Rev. Fr. Ihor Semenihin, (Orthodox Church in Ukraine) visiting from Kherson, and Protodeacon Andrii Fronchak.
The clergy, all dressed in varying shades of red vestments, slowly walked to the center of the nave, where they respectfully fell to their knees and prostrated thrice before the Cross, decorated lovingly with flowers, which lay before them on the Tetrapod.
The Divine Liturgy continued with the clergy and faithful praying for peace and the safety of the whole world, for favorable weather, abundance of fruits of the earth, deliverance from affliction, wrath, and danger. The choir, under the directorship of Reader Volodymyr Lymar, sang the responses beautifully as the service continued.
Archbishop Daniel read from the Gospel of John, retelling how Christ was wrongly accused and sentenced to death, and how He was crucified between two thieves. On the Cross, in pain, the Lord directed the Apostle John to take the Virgin Mary, as his own mother, before giving up His Spirit. To ensure the death of those crucified, the soldiers broke the bones of the thieves, but, finding that Christ had already died upon the Cross, the soldier did not break His bones, but pierced His side and out came blood and water.
His Eminence delivered a moving sermon, stating that today we honor the Elevation of the Cross. He explained how after the Lord’s Resurrection, the Early Church was violently persecuted by the Roman Empire, which actively destroyed not only Jewish holy sites, but Christian ones as well. He explained that the only remaining Jewish structure is a single wall which remains of the Temple of Jerusalem – the Wailing Wall. To this day Jews pray before the wall of the Second Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, believing that the Grace of God exists in that wall.
Likewise, the early Christians has erected a small church atop Golgotha where the Lord was crucified, but it was also destroyed by the Romans who sought to destroy Christianity. The early Christians would gather in mausoleums and crypts below ground, among the tombs, to escape persecution, pray, and worship the Holy Trinity. Today, our church’s doors stand wide open, and everyone is free to enter and pray, but nobody comes. In the old days people risked their lives to go to church, but today people find other things to interest them.
In 326 AD the Emperess Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, traveled to Jerusalem to discover the ancient Christian Holy Sites. With much effort she finally located the site and found three crosses buried in the rubble. While two were dark and blackened with age, one was covered with a fragrant green plant which nobody had known to this point. This plant was then named Basil (Vasylki) which means “King” because it was found growing upon the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. To this day the Cross is decorated with flowers and basil.
Once the Cross was found and determined to be the True Cross, Patriarch Macarius brought it into Jerusalem as crowds gathered and sang, “O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance…” Lifting the Cross and blessing all four directions of the world with it, the Patriarch raised it up high so it could be seen from a great distance, allowing people to come forward, pray, and venerate the miraculous Cross of the Lord.
The Cross was lost, it was found, it was elevated… and then over the years it was stolen, recovered, lost, splintered… Little fragments exist all over the world today. His Eminence continued by pointing to the decorated Cross lying next to him on the Tetrapod, and stated that while we bow before this Cross, there is yet another Cross we need to pay attention to. Just as the True Cross was found and lost over time, often so has the cross been lost that we were gifted in our infancy, or adulthood, when we were baptized. The chain broke, or we hid it away too well and have forgotten where it is. But that is not the Cross the Lord expects us to elevate. Every morning when we arise from sleep, we are to elevate the Cross of our faith. We are to lift it up high, so everyone around us can see it, and they too can be saved. The expectation of God is that we do not hide this Cross in the rubble of our lives, but raise it high, and let it brightly shine dispelling the darkness around us and bringing others into the Light of salvation.
As the faithful partook of the Holy Eucharist and the Liturgy came to a conclusion, Archbishop Daniel once again stepped out into the nave and imitating the first Elevation of the Cross, as Patriarch Macarius, he lifted the Cross up high and blessed all four directions of the earth as the choir and faithful repeatedly sang “Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!” Placing the Cross back upon the Tetrapod everyone fell to their knees solemnly singing, “Before Your Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Your Holy Resurrection we glorify.”
Before dismissing the faithful His Eminence stepped out on the ambo and reminded the faithful that this day is a strict fasting day and asked that they try to the best of their abilities to honor the spiritual requirements of the day with all their physical and spiritual strength. These days during war, many ask repeatedly what must be done to rid Ukraine from this evil. In Holy Scripture, we are repeatedly reminded that such evil can only be eradicated through fasting and prayer. We as Christians have the most powerful weapons to combat evil, and that is our heartfelt prayers, and our dedication to strict fasting.
Vladyka asked, “How many people from the beginning of this war in Ukraine, have spent even a single day in prayer and fasting for a cessation to this violence?” He asked everyone to look deep into their own hearts and give an honest answer and think about what they must do. We talk much about Ukraine, wear our vyshyvanky, attend fundraisers and festivals, rallies, and special events. But, as Christians, our duty is to pray and fast. Again, he repeated, “When was the last time that any of us spent the entire day forbidding ourselves from indulging, and praying to the Lord for peace throughout the day? On this day of the Elevation of the Cross, I challenge you, as Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, to fast and pray for Ukraine.”
His Eminence thanked the choir for their beautiful singing, and expressed his gratitude to the chanters who did an amazing job. He stated that the service was very moving and reminiscent of olden days in Kyivan Rus and felt as if they had prayed together in some beautiful Medieval cathedral with the incense, clergy, deacon, and beautiful voices in the background chanting. He thanked everyone for such a spiritually uplifting experience.
Pausing, Archbishop Daniel called up Mark Nicholas Contreras, and with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, awarded him a Blessed Hramota for his dedication and devotion to God, as exemplified by his contribution in iconography and chanting made selflessly for the benefit of the faith, the growth and development of the St. Volodymyr Cathedral Parish Family and the UOC of the USA.
There was one more reason to celebrate this day, as His Eminence greeted Pani Dobrodiyka Lilia Lymar on her birthday. He wished her strength and endurance, and a continuance of the love she has always shared with those around her. As the choir broke out in a loud rendition of Mnohaya Lita (Many Years), Archbishop Daniel blessed everyone present and then stepped down and walked over to Dobrodiyka, to personally bestow God’s blessings upon her, exchange a warm hug and gift her a lovely bouquet.
He then greeted Fr. Ivan, and Fr. Ihor from Ukraine whom he just met earlier. Parish Priest, Fr. Ivan Lymar thanked his hierarch for coming to visit and praying with them and invited him to come more often and led everyone in singing Many Years for their beloved Archbishop. His Eminence emerged from the Altar holding an icon, which he blessed at the request of Protodeacon Andrii Fronchak. The Protodeacon and his family had spent countless hours creating the beaded icon of the Birth-Giver of God (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) as a gift to Dobrodiyka Lilia for her birthday.
As the Royal Gates closed, the faithful came up to venerate the cross, keeping in mind the gravity of the day instilled in them by the words of Archbishop Daniel. Each prayed not only for themselves and their families and needs, but, for Ukraine and for peace and the wellbeing of all the world.
“O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory unto Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of They Cross, preserve Thy habitation." (Troparion of the Cross)