Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy, Precious and Life-Giving Cross

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy, Precious and Life-Giving Cross

“O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance, granting peace to the world.
And preserve your community by the power of your Cross.”

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Before I continue, let us seek a blessing in the words of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople – “The Cross is the true hope of Christians, the staff of the lame, the comfort of the poor, the destruction of all pride, the victory over demons, the guide of youth, the pilot of seafarers, the refuge of those who are in danger, the counsellor of the just, the comfort of the afflicted, the physician of the sick, and the glory of martyrs.”

Perhaps unnoticed by many outside the State of Victoria, there has recently been an interesting debate which was essentially about the power of symbols. In a number of jurisdictions both in Australia and abroad, there have been moves to ban the public display of signs and symbols originating in National Socialist Germany during that period of particular darkness. In Australia, the Victorian Parliament will ban the public use of Nazi symbols, especially the swastika.

I mention this because it is a pertinent reminder that even at an essentially secular or non-religious level, symbols and signs as “containers” of memory do indeed generate immense power.

A simple distinction can be made between sign and symbol. A sign is usually an elementary indicator of something without asking an in-depth response. Like the Golden Arch of a certain take-away outlet, this “sign-logo” says “food” – the only complications being the variety of the menu.

A symbol, however, goes further and draws us into a reality which is beyond the first level of recognition. A first century inhabitant of the Roman Empire would have seen a cross as a sign – a sign of torture and death; however, the person who leads a life in Christ sees the Cross as the
re-presentation of the mystery of salvation. The Romans saw the Cross with bodily eyes, we see the Cross with the eyes of faith.

There would be few symbols throughout history, across cultures or amongst ethnic groups, better known or more easily recognised than the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Even at a non-religious level the Cross is used as a sign demanding attention and eliciting a mode of civilised behaviour. We are all aware of the outrage that follows a military attack on a hospital ship or a field hospital – and no excuse is accepted because safety for the wounded is claimed by the cross painted on such vessels or buildings.

Although the first Christians were all too familiar with the cross as an instrument of torture, they were not totally reluctant to invoke it as a sign of their Faith. The North African lawyer, Tertullian (c.160-c.220) wrote, "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting off our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross." (De Cor. mil. iii)

The Holy Cross is indeed both sign and symbol. As sign it speaks to us of Jesus Christ, and of the historical reality of his sufferings and death. As symbol it places before us the inexpressible mystery of his sufferings, and it calls us to enter into that Mystery. St Paul says, “God forbid that I should boast of anything, except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal 6:14)

I would suggest that today there is a pressing need for us to take that simple truth to heart – the Cross of Jesus Christ is the invitation to share in the sufferings of our Lord, and at the same time it is the promise of triumph, a participation in his glorious resurrection.

During these last eighteen months, we have seen across the world, and throughout the entire human family, the misery imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of humanity has undoubtedly endured the situation as an unfortunate burden – and many would have seen little or no point to the suffering visited upon whole nations. In Australia, we have been spared the worst possible outcome; and for this we should be ever grateful to a Merciful Providence.

As for the future, the immediate response must be that we place all in the hands of the Good Lord. The Holy Cross is also a sign of our faith-filled trust in God. I am fond of quoting St Augustine who urged the Faithful of Numidia, “We must pray as if everything depended on God, and we must work as if everything depended on us.”

Our Lord urges us in the Gospel not to be concerned with things over which we have no control – “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  (Mt 6:27) I appreciate that this present situation is indeed a time of uncertainty and distress for so many. However, for the time being, we must try to make the best of an especially difficult situation. Now indeed is the time not only to say Insha’allah, (Arabic for ‘God willing’), but to truly mean it.

Attributed to several American personalities is the statement that “In war, the first casualty is truth.” And I am sure that in the battle against Covid-19 none of us wants to be a victim of the collateral damage caused by anti-scientific nonsense, fake news, manipulated statistics, psychobabble and countless other thorns sown by the ignorant and misinformed.

It is important that we co-operate with the civil authority in all things that are legitimate and for the good of the entire community. That does not mean uncritical or blind obedience. If you have concerns about any aspects of the present situation express them but do so in a considered and lawful manner; and avoid gossip and keyboard slander. The Apostle James notes, “…. the tongue is indeed small…... However, a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” (see Jas 3:5)

Although, in some communities, there has been a certain hesitancy concerning the Covid-19 vaccines that are available in Australia, the prudent theological opinion is that no one should have any concerns as to the morality surrounding the manufacture of the accessible vaccines.  At a religious level, I would encourage our community to accept the Covid-19 vaccines.

Regarding the medical details of this particular vaccination, I urge individuals not to take a negative stance without discussing the matter at least with a doctor, preferably their own GP or family physician. The saying attributed to Sir Francis Bacon in the seventeenth century that “Knowledge is power” – on the question of Covid-19 vaccination, knowledge could mean your life or the life of a loved one.

I would advise everyone to be especially wary of “information” touted across cyberspace. Remember that the keyboard warrior hides behind electronic anonymity. Whatever dangerous, ill-informed or foolish opinions are peddled by the “know-it-all”, the victim has little if any redress. Don’t entrust your well-being and that of those you love to someone out there, in the darkness of cyberspace.

I fear that caution or prudence are often thrown to the wind when we sit down in front of the Personal Computer. Respond to dubious internet pandemic information with the same wariness that you would exercise if a hacker were trying to get into your bank account!

I wish to extend my very best wishes to our many students, of whatever age, who are dealing with home schooling – and, of course to your long-suffering parents who are home schooling you, usually Mum. It’s good to remember that you stand in a very long tradition of home schooling in Australia. For many years, young people in remote communities were educated by correspondence packages, “distance learning”, and later by the radio based “School of the Air” – they managed and so can you. Australians were amongst the first to have formal at-home distance education; and it is my hope that the gift for learning at home has not disappeared. Young brothers and sisters, we have the greatest confidence in you, and the greatest hopes for you. May all the Blessed Teacher Saints keep watch over you.

I would also assure our young people facing exams in the next few months that not only myself, but your families and our entire Melkite Community are with you in prayer and with much fraternal affection.

Soon there will be a scheduled school vacation after which it is hoped there will be a return to classroom learning in one form or another. For all our Melkite students at whatever school, we should pray earnestly that their education will soon be back to at least something like normal.

And I would send a special message of encouragement to the Principal, teachers and administrative staff, and all the students at Holy Saviour School in Greenacre, NSW. I look forward to your return to “your” school.

And speaking of being confined to the house, even the largest of family homes can become increasingly limited over prolonged periods of “lock down.” The early pioneers in several countries used often to speak of “cabin fever”. The only way to survive being “locked down, locked in, and others being locked out” is to support each other. I know it is easy to say be patient, tolerant and kind, however, like it or not we are “locked in” with our families - and that is how we will emerge from restrictions still loving those who should be most dear to us!

In Italy, at Loreto, there is a magnificent church built around a small stone house. A pious story says that this house was miraculously carried by angels from the Holy Land to the present site, and that this was indeed the house at Nazareth where the Theotokos lived as a young maiden. Perhaps, we should say a prayer each day to our Lady of Loreto to help us live in the same house with those we really do love!

Please do not forget those of your neighbours of whatever religion or faith community (or maybe of none), of whatever ethnic background or political persuasion – especially the elderly, the sick, the lonely – and all those who are confused or fearful. Let us do whatever we can to ease their burden. Keep in mind that nowhere in the Gospel is it ever recorded that a person in need came to Jesus and was turned away…. no Jew, no pagan Gentile, no man, no woman, was denied help. And Jesus promised that a cup of water given in his name would be rewarded with eternal life. (Mt 6:27)

With many areas in lock-down, we should not forget to keep contact with relatives and friends who are “geographically isolated”. Let them know that you are with them in prayer and in the thoughts of your heart.

And persons who should have a special place in our Christian watchfulness are of course those who were already facing the challenges of poor health or disability, even without the present difficulties! To be conscious of the needs and safety of others, one does not have to be a “sticky beak” or, as we would have said in America, a “nosey Parker”. One must simply not walk by or cross to the other side of the street – as did the “righteous” in the story of the Good Samaritan. (Lk 19:25-37)

If, as I have already noted, a cup of water given for the sake of Jesus can be rewarded with eternal life, surely also a kind word, an offer to help with shopping, a lift to the doctor, and a dozen other things that we do and take for granted. Remember the cry of both the sheep and the goats, “Lord, when did we see you in need?” (see Mt 25:39-41)

I would place before you some individuals and groups especially worthy of our prayerful support:

First – All who are involved in health care; doctors, nurses, ancillary personnel, paramedics, bio-scientists. Commend them in prayer to the care and protection of the Holy Physician Saints, especially those who remained with their people during epidemics, even facing danger and death themselves.

Second – Your priests and deacons.  Remember them and their families. Just as you need to know that they are there for you, it is a great support for them to know that they are in your thoughts and prayers.

And as we think about ministry, do not forget that if there is a sacramental emergency because of illness amongst you, contact your parish priest without delay, and he will find a way to bring the Holy Mysteries to you. And keep contact with your parish through whatever live-streaming is available.

Our Melkite priests and deacons have been exemplary in their unfailing care of our community, and for this they have my sincerest thanks.

I would also take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to the Hierarchs and clergy of our Sister Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, who have shown in so many ways that they have at heart the very best interests of our Melkite Faithful.

I have kept till now a moment to consider the problems facing employment and accompanying issues. It is an especially difficult position for those who, due to the Corona pandemic, have been negatively impacted by the limitations on industry and business, commercial endeavours and workplaces. I can only urge those in problematic situations to persevere as best they can. Do not hesitate to accept whatever assistance is legitimately available through welfare agencies, both government and private, not forgetting our Melkite Welfare organization, which has been truly “a good Samaritan”. My gratitude and thanks go to the whole team.

And to those of our Melkite Community who are employers, I would say be as considerate as possible to those employees who are facing hardship. Remember people reap what they sow - stand by those who work for you and “your reward will be great in Heaven.” (Mt 5:12) If you wish to say to the world, “I am a Melkite Catholic, and proud of it” do all you can to help your brothers and sisters in the Household of the Faith.

 

Dear Friends,

Today, Tuesday, 14th September, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy, Precious and Life-Giving Cross. This feast commemorates the finding of the Holy Cross in AD 326, by the Empress, St Helena (AD 250-330); the dedication of the Churches at the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Calvary; and the return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem in 629 after its seizure by the Sasanian Persians in 614.

Each year, we celebrate this Feast as one of triumph and glory, and with much thanksgiving. As we mark another Holy Cross Feast under the restrictions and difficulties imposed by the pandemic, let it also be a day of fervent prayer. Let us come before the Holy Cross, Precious and Life-Giving, the Throne of Glory, and commend to the Good Lord our Nation, our State and our Local Communities – and especially our families and friends, all those who are dear to us, that our Lord, Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen from the dead, will keep them all in his love, kindness and mercy.

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

If you keep one thing in mind today, let it be that I am with you in my thoughts and in my fervent prayers. We will emerge from this. It cannot go on forever. Keep always in your hearts the words of the Risen Lord as he greeted those blessed by his presence after the Glorious Resurrection, “Peace be with you. Fear not – It is I.”

And let us place all under the special care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the All-Holy Theotokos, who stood at the foot of the Cross.

St Helena, Holy and Glorious Empress, who found the True Cross, pray for us.

St Luke and All Holy Physician Saints, pray for us.  

“O Lord, save your people and bless your inheritance, granting peace to the world.
And preserve your community by the power of your Cross.”

Amen.

With prayers assured and with my paternal blessing,

Robert Rabbat, DD

Melkite Catholic Eparch of Australia, New Zealand and All Oceania.

 

From Our Lady of the Annunciation Melkite Catholic Church in Perth, WA,

for the 14th September 2021.