March 18th, 2020

ON THE SHELTER OF THE CROSS

This Sunday is the Veneration of the Holy Cross, 3rd Sunday of the Great Fast. While we won’t be gathering in the temple due to the pandemic, I’d like to offer you this sermon for your prayerful consideration:

Homily On The Shelter of the Cross
by Archpriest Basil Rhodes

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!

I'd like to begin this morning, by reading a few verses from Psalm 90 in the Septuagint
(91 in the Hebrew.) In the first verses, David speaks. In the last verses, God Himself speaks. Listen:

1. He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven.....4. With His shoulders will He overshadow thee, and under His wings shalt thou have hope....14. For he hath set his hope on Me, and I will deliver him; I will shelter him because he hath known My name. 15. He shall cry unto Me, and I will hearken unto him. I am with him in affliction, and I will rescue him and glorify him. 16. With length of days will I satisfy him, and I will show him My salvation.

Whenever I have read Psalm 90, about being under the “shelter under God's wings,” I have always had in my mind the image of the hen and her chicks; an image which I suppose I got from the Gospel:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! (Luke 13:34)

And I suppose I have always had the same mental image when chanting the concluding Great Prayer of Intercession at the Litiya:

“...make our prayer acceptable, grant us forgiveness of our trespasses, shelter us under the shelter of thy wings, drive away from us every enemy and adversary, give peace to our life, O, Lord. Have mercy on us and on thy world and save our souls, for thou art good and lovest mankind.”

This mental image is certainly a correct one. “Shelter beneath the wings of God” implies our protection, our safety, from the harmful elements and dangers of this world. This would imply rescue and protection from many things: sin, despair, hopelessness. All these things are named specifically in the Psalm. As long as we are resting beneath the wings of God, we will find help, hope, deliverance, and ultimately, salvation. Another thing specifically mentioned in Psalm 90, is our protection from demons
(foes and adversaries). But perhaps the most important implication from the 90th Psalm is that resting beneath the shadow of the wings of God, is deliverance from death. “With length of days I will satisfy him.”!

Maybe that's why when I was preparing this homily, a section from Matins, from the Menaion to be precise, jumped out from the page, and tweaked my mental image in a whole, new direction. Here's the sticheron, from the Afterfeast of the Exaltation of the Cross, a composition of Andrew of Jerusalem:
“Today the holy words of David have received their fulfillment; for lo! We manifestly worship the footstool of Thine all-pure feet, O most compassionate one, and cry out to Thee, placing our trust in the shelter of Thy wings: Let the light of Thy countenance be shined upon us! Exalt Thou the horn of Thine Orthodox people through the elevation of Thy Cross, O greatly merciful Christ!” (“Now and ever” from the Aposticha at Matins for September 16.)

Never, ever, had I thought of the “wings” of God as being the arms of the Cross! And, once the shock and surprise of the moment passed, I smiled to myself, relishing the grace, and the light. Maybe everyone else already knows this. Maybe this is old news. But for me, I felt like a child at Christmas, filled with wonder and delight.
Amen.