Holding the cross high above his head, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora, stepped out of the Altar and descended into the Nave. As the choir sang “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master,” the faithful fell to their knees and prostrated.
His Eminence gently laid the Cross upon the tetrapod, censed it, and fell to his knees before the beautifully decorated Cross of the Lord.
“…and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify!”
As the hymn was sung, the incense lay heavy in the air surrounding the faithful, who with tears in their eyes, humbly bowed low before the instrument of God’s salvation.
The large wooden Cross, with the crucified Lord engraved upon it, lay resplendent upon a bed of flowers. Red lilies, fragrant mums, glorious hydrangeas, and royal roses decorated the Cross. Christ with His arms outstretched, as if inviting everyone to come near and to accept His embrace, had a serene look upon His face. At His feet was a small glass vile which contained a tiny fragment of the True Cross of Christ, bringing Golgotha to St. Andrew’s Memorial Church.
Returning to the Altar, with His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora’s blessing, Archbishop Daniel, surrounded by clergy from local parishes, and seminarians from the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, began the Divine Liturgy.
While always joyous, anticipation the Resurrection, today’s Liturgy held a somber undertone, reminiscent of Holy Week. There was anticipation of salvation, and yet the solemn realization of the gravity of mankind’s sinfulness, and the Lord’s love and sacrifice to save His creation.
As the clouds rolled in, dimming the cavernous interior of the church, His Eminence, vested in purple, read the Gospel from John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35, as the faithful relived Christ’s Passion, leading up to His crucifixion. Everyone listened intently, their heads bowed, with tears in their eyes as they listened how the Lord was wrongfully accused, judged, and crucified. Even though innocent, in pain, being ridiculed and humiliated, the Lord nonetheless emanated nothing but love. The loving gesture, ensuring His mother was cared for after His death, the forgiveness of His accusers, the final sigh knowing that all has been accomplished… left everyone wiping tears of repentance and sorrow which flowed freely down their cheeks.
Placing the Gospel back on the Altar Table, Archbishop Daniel delivered a short, but, moving sermon, stating that we are grieved when we listen and relive the crucifixion, however, each day we personally crucify the Lord. Even so, He gazes down upon us, as He did upon the people who stood before the Cross watching and asks the Father to forgive us. His Eminence reiterated that Christ is willing to forgive us if we realize our shortcomings, repent, and are determined to live as we should. He awaits us with open arms.
His Eminence continued as he gestured towards the Cross lying in the center of the Nave, stating that today we each have an opportunity to glorify Christ’s sacrifice, to thank Him, to spend a moment at His feet and ask for His forgiveness, for His help, and for His guidance. Archbishop Daniel told everyone to take a moment after Divine Liturgy, not to hurry, but to stop and retrospectively pray before the Cross of the Lord.
As the service continued, the faithful contemplated their hierarch’s words, each one in their own mind rethinking their lives, and rededicating themselves to Christ. As the Royal Gates swung open and the Eucharist was presented to the people, they quietly shuffled forward, realizing anew the value of the Gift being offered to them, and at what great price.
As the dismissal prayer was read, once again everyone gathered before the cross. Falling to his knees, His Eminence’s deep voice loudly sang,
Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify. (Thrice)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
And Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.
Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.
All the faithful fell humbly to their knees, glorifying the Lord. With the last words hanging in the air, Archbishop Daniel rose quietly to his feet and returned to the Altar.
The church was hushed, and in this silence, people were deep in thought and prayer as they fell in line to have their private moment with their Savior.
The first to approach and venerate the Cross, was His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, who reverently bowed, and with great humility and gratefulness kissed the Cross of the Lord, before returning to the Altar.
One by one the people approached. Nobody hurried. Nobody shoved. The children seemed to realize the solemnity of the moment, and even they were hushed and stood quietly next to their mothers.
As the seminarians sang in the corner of the church, the faithful, having spent a moment with their Creator, and getting anointed by Archbishop Daniel, felt energized and strengthened to return to the world, and carry His message to those beyond the walls of the church.