Sunday of the cross
Sermon for the children of the Sunday School
13 March 1977
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
It is the death of Christ upon the Cross that has saved us from eternal death, has given us power to overcome sin, to start already now, on earth, a new life, the life of God. How can we imagine that the murder of God by men could bring about reconciliation between God and men? I would like to explain it to you by an example taken from our Russian history which shows how love fulfilled in the sacrifice of one's life unto death can be reconciliation.
In 1192, in the twelfth century, one of our princes, the prince of Mourom was at war with a small principality that was still pagan. In a quick war he managed to block his adversary in their citadel. All that was left for him to do if he wanted to gain an easy and decisive victory was to block their little town and wait until hunger and misery would either have killed them out or reduced them to his mercy.
But the prince was a Christian, he could not imagine that he could be the cause of such suffering, of such abjection and of the death of so many people whom God had created with love and with hope; and so he offered them peace, peace without any condition, simply peace for God's sake. But they were pagans, they did not believe in the God of the Christians. They could not believe that there was no stratagem, a trick attached to this proposal. And having conferred between themselves they decided to accept the offer of the prince on condition that he would send into their little fort one of his sons as a hostage, so that if there was treason on his part, before his own eyes, on the walls of the fort, his son could be murdered and the deceit avenged.
You can imagine what the father felt about it: he did not trust the honour and the word of these men, and yet he felt that his duty was to do anything that was in his power to bring about peace and reconciliation in the name of Christ, unconditionally, for the sake of love. The Life of Saint Michael of Mourom tells us how his father paced up and down his tent at night, he could not sleep, he was in agony. One of the boys, who was thirteen or fourteen slept a solid and sound sleep, but the smaller one who was nine watched his father, then called him and asked him question after question until he had wormed the truth out of him, and when that was done, he sat up and said to his father, ‘But father, do you not see that we can do now what God and Jesus Christ did: if you send me to that city, even if they kill me, you will have acted as God, and I will have done what Jesus Christ did, and you taught me that we must learn to do everything which Jesus our Saviour has done.’
And so the father accepted the decision of the boy, and the next morning, when the sun rose, one could see, walking out of the dark wood where the blocking army was sitting, and walking towards the fort held by the pagans, this boy of nine, alone, trustful, ready to give himself as Christ had given Himself. There was a hushed silence in this early hour in the morning, the people in the wood were watching the young prince and the people on the walls of the town also. And they were all so moved by the beauty and the generosity of him; but there was one man who was not moved, hatred lived in his heart: he took his bow, a shaft flew, and the boy fell, wounded to death.
And at that moment all the men in the wood and all the people in the town, forgetting that it was dangerous to do this, forgetting that they were enemies, ran towards the boy to see whether he was killed or whether there was still hope. The boy was dying, and when the pagans and the Christians suddenly remembered that they were at war, they realised that their camps had mixed and that there were no enemies among them: they were only people who were so deeply moved, in tears, heartbroken, in horror of what hatred could do. And this boy, by his death, had brought them together. He had made their peace.
Do you realise that each of us, the smallest and the biggest, can do that? At times, when there are quarrels at home, does not the child have power to say to his father, to his mother, to an older brother, ‘Do not do it – I love you both and yet you wound me, you kill me’. There is strife at school, there are quarrels among all of us: all of us, anyone of us can do what little holy Michael of Mourom has done. This is the way in which love, when it reaches the limit – and the limit is the gift of oneself whatever may happen – can bring reconciliation and peace and love, and it is stronger than anything else in the world. And this is why half way in our journey in Lent we are shown this Cross: it is our hope, our only t r u e hope, it is our joy, it is our certainty that we are loved of God, it is our certainty also that all things are possible in the power of Christ. Amen.