This homily was preached on 1-24-08 at the inaugural meeting of the Holy Cross Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! For the first few meetings of this new group, tonight and in two weeks on Feb 7, I’d like to reflect a bit on the name given to this OCF and missionary effort in Hattiesburg by our Archbishop DMITRI. Holy Cross Orthodox Christian Fellowship. The Christian faith is not a philosophy or ideology or moral structure or set of rules or even religion in the worldly sense of that word. Rather, the whole identity of the Christian is not connected to a teaching, but is a life totally defined by a Person—Jesus Christ (who is the incarnation of all teaching, the living teaching of God, and even more, the living presence of God Himself). Christ is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (He doesn’t just show it to us, He is it). So the Christian faith is not in books (even the Bible), or services or traditions or history or interpretations. The Christian faith is in Jesus Christ—and all of the outer expressions of living this faith in the Godman in this world, everything we claim and do as Christians points us (and those around us) continually to Christ. And when we point people to Christ, when we look to Christ ourselves, we see the Cross. The central moment in the life and the work of Christ is the Cross. A work inseparable from everything else He did (Virgin Birth, Baptism, Resurrection, Ascension). The work of Christ for our salvation is really one act, spanning from the Creation to the Second Coming. And the Cross stands in the center, as the apex, of this work. Christians have always identified himself with the Cross. St. Paul writes (1 Cor 1:23) that we preach Christ, and Him crucified. From the very beginning, the Cross of Christ was the witness of the Church. Today sometimes we shy away from the Cross, and we prefer to preach the Good Shepard, even the Friend, or the Beatitudes, the Miracles, the Parables, Christ the Philosopher even. But all of these things have content because they come from the One who was crucified. The most full revelation of God to man is in Christ. And what does Christ do, what does God do when He comes to earth and walks among men—He dies on the Cross. And the Fathers of our Church say that this only makes sense…mankind had done nothing but reject God from the beginning, so when He comes to earth the obvious response would be to try and kill Him…God know this, He comes anyway, and He allows us to do it. The ultimate revelation of God to man is the Cross. This is what God does—salvation has been worked in the midst of the earth. This is divine humility, this is the way God is. No wonder we don’t understand God and the Cross, God’s complete revelation of Himself is so diametrically opposed to the way we live on a day to day basis. No wonder man can’t find God in the modern world, all he knows is so different than what God reveals. On the Cross Christ says “It is finished”—everything has been done, everything has been accomplished. Mankind was created, we fell, the God sent the patriarchs, the judges, the Scriptures, the Law, the prophets, and finally God Himself is incarnate and walks among us, and ultimately He dies on the Cross. As Fr. Thomas Hopko says, “Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more God can do. Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more God can say. Beyond the Cross, there is nothing more to be revealed. There is nothing more to be done, at least in the context of this world.” There’s nothing more because God has given us everything, even to the point of being willing to die, so that we could find salvation. For a God of love, that’s the ultimate expression—to die for those you love, no matter how they might treat you. Unconditional love even to death. But from the beginning, this Cross has been a difficult thing to preach. St. Paul writes that the Cross was “for the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor 1: 23). For those who want worldly power (the Jews were looking for a conquering king for a Messiah) the Cross is a scandal, stumbling block, crazy. Because it’s the opposite of worldly power. For those who want wisdom (rational teaching, the Greeks) it is foolishness, moronic. Who would want to follow a God that acts in this way, it doesn’t make sense in the mind of the world—a God who suffers abuse from His creation all the way to the point of death. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power and wisdom of God…because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1: 18, 25). So we’ve chosen to name this missionary effort in Hattiesburg, MS after this most central reality of Christian life and faith. There is the Cross—Christ bore it for our salvation, and He tells us to take up our crosses, and that in following Him, we will suffer in the world as He suffered in the world. And so at our next meeting I hope that we can continue with this reflection, and more specifically think about how we’re called to follow after Christ, to bear our Crosses—what does that mean, and how do we do it?