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MARCH 19, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a boy, it was always a huge treat whenever we got to go to San Francisco. San Francisco was the City! I lived in a small, mostly agricultural town of 11,000 people. San Francisco was massive, it was spell-binding, it was magical, it was exciting! Whenever we went to the City it was to do something fun. There were plays, symphonies, concerts of all kinds. There were great restaurants, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Wax Museum, shopping at Macy’s on Union Square, the City of Paris, Gump’s...all sorts of wonderful and dazzling sights and sounds. And then, there were Giant’s games. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and so many others.
What thrills we had!
The trip itself, driving from Yuba City to San Francisco took about 3 hours in those days. It was a long time in the car, especially when you’re a kid. It seemed like forever. Our parents had to constantly deal with high-pitched, whiney voices asking over and over, “Are we there yet?” Luckily, there was a respite, a way-station of sorts, that had existed in Vacaville since 1921, The Nut Tree. Originally a fruit stand located beneath the shady branches of a gigantic walnut tree, the Nut Tree evolved into the perfect half way stop for kids, and adults, on the way to the Foggy Metropolis. At the Nut Tree there was a great restaurant, there were shops with dried fruits, nuts, jams and jellies, loads and loads of candy, toys, hats, books, and there was a miniature railroad which ran around the entire property. As kids, we were almost as excited to go to the Nut Tree, as we were to visit The City.
Today, the 3rd Sunday of the Great Fast, represents the half-way point of our journey to Holy Week and the bright and glorious Feast of Feasts, Holy Pascha. The Sunday of the Holy Cross sees us resting beneath its shady branches, protected by its broad leaves, regaining our strength, refreshing ourselves with the energy of grace that can only come from the power of the precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord. Without the Cross there can be no Pascha. Without the Cross, there is no Christianity. Without the Cross there is no point to Great Lent, to fasting, to asceticism, to prayer. Without the Cross, the devil wins, death conquers, and the passions run rampant - unchecked and unimpeded. Without the Cross, (to borrow from the Great Canon) the mind is wounded, the body is feeble, the spirit is sick, the word loses its power, life ebbs, the Law grows weak, the Gospel goes unpracticed, the whole of the Scripture is ignored; and the words of the Prophets and of all the Righteous lose their power” (cf. Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, Ode 9, Thursday of the 5th Week.)
But Christ died on the Cross so that we might be saved; so that we might be empowered for our journey not only to Pascha but ultimately to heaven. Listen to these verses from last night’s Vespers:
“Hail! life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection.
Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, aid to the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.
See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all..! Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our helper; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy.”
(From the Great Vespers on Saturday Evening before the Third Sunday of Lent)
St John Chrysostom said that "The Cross, is wood which lifts us up and makes us great...The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue."
St John of Kronstadt wrote in his diary: “Glory, O Lord, to the power of Thy Cross, which never fails! When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling, and I, lacking freedom in my heart, make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… For the faithful, the Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils, from the malice of the invisible foe.”
So, beloved, if the Nut Tree was a welcome and refreshing rest stop half way through a worldly journey, how much more is this rest stop of the Holy and Life-giving Cross of the Lord, half way on our journey to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ! Amen.


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