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A Sermon preached in Felixstowe Orthodox Church on 25 March/7 April 2002

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate a twofold feast, that of the Annunciation together with that of the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross.

The Annunciation, the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel that the Virgin Mary was to conceive the Son of God, is in fact the Feast of the Conception of Christ. It takes place, naturally, exactly nine months before the Feast of the Birth of Christ, Christmas. In this Feast, we note that the Virgin could have refused to receive the offer of God made through the Archangel, She could have refused to conceive Christ, She could have rejected the Will of God. For it takes the human acceptance of God's Will for that Will to be enacted. However, the Virgin accepted the Will of God. In doing this She became the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin, greater than all other created beings, angelic and human. By accepting in all humility to do God's Will, She became, 'more honourable than the cherubim, beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim', greater than any Saint. To her alone we address the words, 'Most Holy Mother of God save us', whereas we ask the Saints merely to 'pray to God for us'.

The Third Sunday in Great Lent is known as the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross. Now, in mid-Lent, the Church sends us the Feast of the Cross for our consolation. For it is now in mid-Lent that we may be tempted through human weakness to abandon the fast, to give up our prayers, to 'cheat' in some way. And just now the Church says: 'But here is your reward for your struggle to be faithful - the Cross'. For the Cross is the sign and symbol both of sacrifice and also of the reward for sacrifice, of Victory.

For it is a universal spiritual law that for every sacrifice, there is a reward. That reward may not always be apparent immediately, but sooner or later, there is a reward. We can see this, for instance, with children. The first years of bringing up children may be difficult, involving great sacrifices for both father and mother, and especially the latter. They may have to make great sacrifices to bring up their children and their reward may not at once seem apparent. But it will be, it always is, perhaps after twenty years, perhaps after thirty or forty years. It is a rule of life, a law of spiritual life that for every sacrifice there is a reward.

In the same way, when we refuse a necessary sacrifice that the Lord asks of us, we are deprived of a reward. This too is a spiritual law, planted in human nature and the universe.

For example, at this very moment as I speak, Jews and Muslims are slaughtering each other in the Holy Land, even in the very church which stands where Our Lord was born as man. And innocent Orthodox Christians are caught in their crossfire. And what do the Jews and the Muslims have in common? They both refuse the Cross, they have both in their different ways rejected the Cross of Christ. And having rejected the Cross of sacrifice, they deprive themselves of the reward of the Cross - which is Peace. Thus without the sacrifice of the Cross, they have no reward, no Peace, and they have been obliged for fifty years and more to make war. In fact they are cursed, having cursed themselves, to fight for as long as they refuse to share, refuse the Word of the God of Righteousness and Mercy.

Thus, dear brothers and sisters, today let us honour the Mother of God, Who took on Herself the sacrificial Cross of the Conception of the Son of God as man. And let us also honour the Cross, the instrument of our salvation, the Sacrifice that leads all mankind to the Resurrection.


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