The third Sunday of Great Lent Orthodox Christians venerate the precious and life-giving cross. It is the same hand cross that the congregation comes forward to kiss at the end of every service as the priest says, “The blessing of the Lord and His Mercy come upon you.” But on this Sunday the priest lifts the cross over his head and processes to the middle of the church as the choir and the people sing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: Have mercy on us.” When the priest reaches the doors into the altar area he lifts the cross up and sings out, “Wisdom! Let us attend!” Immediately the choir and the people begin singing the apolytikion of the cross:
O Lord, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance. Granting to thy people victory over all their adversaries; and by the power of thy cross, preserve thy community.
Here is the theological one-two punch:
It is at this point that that entire congregation sings three times and makes three prostrations:
We adore thy cross, O Master, and thy holy resurrection we glorify.
The choir then chants:
Come, ye faithful, let us adore the life-giving wood, on which Christ the King of glory, stretched out his hands of his own will. To the ancient blessedness he raised us up, whom the enemy had before despoiled through pleasure, making us exiles far from God. Come, ye faithful, let us adore the wood, through which we have been made worthy to crush the heads of invisible enemies. Come, all ye kindred of the nations, let us honor in hymns the cross of the Lord. Rejoice, O cross, complete redemption of fallen Adam. With thee as their boast our faithful kings laid low by thy might the people of Ishmael. We Christians kiss thee now with fear and, glorifying God who was nailed upon thee, we cry: O Lord, who on the cross was crucified, have mercy on us, for thou art good and lovest mankind.
When I kissed the cross my cheeks brushed the flowers that surround it. I thought immediately of the kids in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe who brushed the fur coats in the wardrobe as they past from this earth to the kingdom of Narnia. The Cross is the Wardrobe. It is the ladder from earth to heaven.