NEWS AND EVENTS - Monday, April 22, 2013
ORATORICAL FESTIVAL IN NEW GRACANICA AND MIDWESTERN DIOCESE
New Gracanica, IL - The following is an essay delivered at the New Gracanica and Midwestern Diocesan Assembly.
By This Sign, You Will Triumph
by Ana Mihajlović
Your Grace, Reverend Fathers, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It is my honor and privilege to be among all of you today – among the representatives of all parishes of our New Gracanica – Midwestern American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Thank you for giving me this blessed opportunity to humbly present to you my essay titled “By This Sign You Will Triumph”, at the final stage of our Diocesan Youth Oratorical Festival.
In this blessed year, we are asked to remember a truly Divine event – the declaration of the Edict of Milan in 313 – 1700 years ago – by the Great Emperor St. Constantine and, soon after, the finding of the Precious Cross by his pious mother, St. Helen. Before the decisive Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine had a God-given vision of the sign of the Cross, under which was written “by this sign, you will triumph.” The succeeding Edict of Milan legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, sparing Christ’s followers from further persecution. Wishing to find the Cross upon which our Lord and Savior was crucified, St. Constantine sent his mother to Jerusalem in search of it. After devoted prayer and excavations, St. Helen and those working with her were able to uncover the Precious Cross, which began performing miracles immediately upon rediscovery. These holy events prompt us to consider what it means to be Christians today, and to recognize that the sign of the Cross is just as powerful in our modern setting as it has always proved to be for our forebears. Along with giving protection and comfort, the sign of the Cross serves to remind us of the Great Sacrifice given for us, of the undefeatable power of the Cross, and of the kind of life we should live as Christians today.
The sign of the Cross encourages us to recall the great suffering by which Christ gave His life in order to fulfill the faith that He gave to us. Christ underwent countless physical and internal hardships in establishing our truly God-given faith, suffering through these difficulties with relentless endurance and humility. He did this for the protection of our faith. So too are we called upon to defend Christianity. The sign of the Cross reminds us that many in Christ’s day were nonbelievers, many renounced His magnitude. Whether it be the Jewish high priests, the scribes, or Pontius Pilate, there were definitely those who refused to believe in the God-given faith that Christ brought and interpreted to us. This is similar to how many people today dismiss the Christian faith and God altogether, often making a spectacle of testing and ridiculing Christian beliefs. In that respect, we may find ourselves enduring many of the same trials that Christ faced. Christ went through these tribulations as a man in order to give us the perfect example of how we should respond when tried. The Cross identifies us in unity, but it is up to us to never deny that which the Cross represents, neither in our hearts nor in the faces of our peers. Although the logic imposed upon us by this secular society does not often understand our faith, it is our duty to never minimize or trivialize Christ as the Perfect God and Perfect Man and the only Savior of the World. We may sometimes feel that it is challenging to explain our faith to those that chose not to share it with us, but just as Christ’s disciples convinced the world of His glory, so too must we defend and share our faith. This is never done through self-righteousness, arrogance, or by force, but rather through the pious humility that Christ embodied. As St. Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović said of enduring tribulations for our faith, “Only through your own willingness to carry the Cross can you see the importance of the Cross.” Christianity does not come without endurance, but when we realize that our perseverance is for the strengthening of our faith, we begin to rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that our humility is bringing us closer to joys promised to us by God.
The hardships that Christ endured for Christianity are often paralleled in our own lives. Perhaps the example closest to our hearts is that of our brothers and sisters in Christ that are suffering in our rightful lands of Kosovo and Metohija. Living in the fear of churches being destroyed and of Christians being persecuted, our fellow Christians in Kosovo and Metohija are models of the courage that it takes to suffer for faith. Just as Christ endured much unjust adversity on the Cross at Golgotha, and was then resurrected in triumph, those in Kosovo and Metohija face the challenge of standing with their faith in the face of unfair circumstances, and will be blessedly rewarded for doing so. We as Orthodox Christians are called upon to bear the weight of injustices and even sometimes to carry the consequences of our own actions, all with the good faith that God will fulfill His joy-filled promises. If we answer that call to live with Christian courage for our faith, we can be sure that we too will be lead to God’s glory.
When we think of the Cross, it is fitting to recognize all of the miraculous power that comes with it. Upon finding the three crosses on which Jesus and the two thieves besides Him were crucified, the three crosses were touched to a corpse in order to discern which cross held Christ. When the Precious Cross touched the corpse, the dead man came to life. The life-giving sign of the Cross holds tremendous ability to perform miracles by virtue of the Name of the Holy Trinity. The miraculous vision of the Cross of St. Constantine changed his life, and by his life he changed the entire Roman Empire. We must learn to recognize these miracles in our everyday life. Reflecting upon my own life and experiences with the miraculous nature of the Cross, it is difficult to choose just one moment to give as an example. I see the miraculous power of the Cross in the laughter of my friends, in the hard work of my mother, the wisdom of my father, the loving care of my brother. To me, the power of the Cross cannot be defined in one moment, because it is in all moments, in every aspect of my life. The Cross has the power to revive and to heal, to raise us up from our despairs. It protects us from our fears, and comforts our worries. It reminds us that we are loved, that our transgressions can be forgiven, and it inspires us to share the loving kindness of our faith with others. The joy of the Cross is all around us. To ascertain the true miraculous power of the Cross, it is only necessary that we have complete faith in all of its capacity. Once we allow faith to guide our lives, the miraculous becomes undeniable.
Perhaps one of the most important roles of the Cross is that of reminding us how to lead our lives as Christians today. It is of course necessary that we develop our spiritual character through prayer, fasting, confession, Communion, and great faith. However, we must also consider that the way in which we interact with other people, in whom we must remember that the Holy Spirit resides and who we must see as the children of God as well (whether or not they are aware or accepting of this fact) is an accurate reflection of whether or not we are truly living a Christian lifestyle. Tolerance is considered a key aspect of Christian living, but when we think of tolerance, we should think of the way in which our Lord Jesus Christ lived and taught. Christ knew that His way was the way of the truth. He loved all of his brothers and sisters, those who placed their faith in Him and even those fighting against Him, but He still maintained that His teachings were the way of the truth. Today we are often taught to believe that whichever beliefs or way of life one is practicing can become the right path for them. That is not true. Although each individual has a free will and can live according to his or her own lifestyles (because God loves us so immensely that He gives us such true freedom), that does not mean that any way of life is the correct way to live. God’s path is the true path. By virtue of our Christian tolerance and humility, we are never to judge our brothers and sisters that have veered from this path. Rather, we are to use honest kindness and respect to lovingly guide them towards the path of truth, the path towards God. We must remember that each person we encounter is an icon of our Lord and Savior. Since anything we do unto them, we do unto Him; we must always act out of kindness and love.
In receiving the sign of the Cross, it is important that we stay focused on the joy-filled promises awaiting us as we become ever-closer to God. We must live Christian lives complete with patience, and avoid distracting pursuits of pleasure or trivial delights. It is necessary that we recognize the Cross continuously gives unto us all of the fullness of Divine grace that it has given our predecessors. Through earnest faith, we can begin to recognize all of our God-given blessings. Having received the Word of God and being able to rejoice in our faith, we know that we are a blessed people, and for that we must always be thankful. God has given us much. Therefore, much is expected of us. Through living by the lessons learned from St. Constantine the Great about the Cross, we can achieve lasting Christian peace – inner peace – peace of mind and soul, knowing that by accepting the sign of the Cross, we too can triumph.