At Vigil on Saturday night, at the bringing out of the Cross, Bishop Irenei addressed the faithful with a sermon, in which he said, in part:
"We stand in the presence of the Cross of our Savior Christ, which we commemorate on the third Sunday of the Great Fast. It is said by some that this Sunday is inserted into the Triodion so as to remind us, as we arrive at the center of the Fast, of the Sign of Victory, through which and within which we conquer the passions and conquer the sin in us and in all the world. That is, the Fast starts to come to this midsection, where what was exciting and new at the beginning has become labor and work, and a struggle to maintain, where there is a temptation to become lax, to give up, to lose our focus. The Church on this very day, at this very moment, places in our midst the Cross of Christ. She places in our midst not only a sign of extraordinary victory over evil and death, but simultaneously the symbol of how far God’s love is willing to go for our redemption. When we start to feel tired because we miss a little milk or a little cheese, rather than coddle us with words, the Church puts in front of us Christ, mounted in glory upon His Cross. ‘If I am willing to go this far for you, can you not go a little farther for Me?’, He says to us. ‘If I am willing to show this kind of sacrifice for your hearts, cannot you exert yourself just a little more, so that we can meet each other at the empty Tomb?’
"If we desire to know what it means to love another person, we see it in the Cross. And this is why, for all of the horror that the Cross brought as an instrument of torture, death and execution, yet we adorn it with beautiful flowers, we decorate it as if it were our most cherished jewel. This is because we understand that, when we see the death on the Cross, we are also seeing the face of divine love. We have forgotten what it means to be loving, Christian people. We get so caught up in our agendas, in our work, in our shows of piety, that we forget what it means, genuinely, to love someone else. And today God shows us that, because He knows that our hearts also suffer fatigue during the Fast, not just our bodies. And the quest for the virtues starts to run a little cold in us, so He shows us this ultimate sign of what love must be…
"Look at the Cross as you come up to it and kiss it. Look at Christ, offering up His life for the world and for you. Look and see what your heart is called to become, and see the instrument that will change your heart into something holy. Take strength from this Cross, take strength from Christ, that we can complete the Fast in steadfast faith and conviction, that we may learn truly to repent, truly to love, and that we may together inherit the Kingdom of the One Who was willing to die for our sakes."
At Divine Liturgy the following morning, His Grace was co-served by cathedral clergy: dean Archpriest Serge Lukianov, Archpriests Boris Slootsky and Seraphim Chemodakov, and Protodeacons Leonid Roschko and Paul Drozdowski, as well as Archpriest Rafael Melendez (Albanian Orthodox Church) and Priest Dimitri Jakimowicz (cleric of the Western American Diocese). Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov (cathedral pastor emeritus and dean of New Jersey), prayed and communed in the altar.
The faithful communed from three chalices. Upon completion of the service, the daily procession was held around the parish property, followed by a lenten luncheon in Nevsky’s Café below the cathedral.
That evening, parishioners and faithful from local parishes returned to the cathedral for the Sacrament of Holy Unction. Bishop Irenei led the Sacrament, co-served by the above-mentioned clergy, as well as Archpriest Leonid Goferman (rector of Holy Virgin Protection Church in New Brunswick, NJ). Prior to the beginning of the service, His Grace offered a word regarding the spiritual significance of Holy Unction for Orthodox Christians.
The service took place under the aegis of the myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God "Softener of Evil Hearts," visiting the Eastern American Diocese from Moscow during Great Lent.
Having been given the Sacrament of Holy Unction, the faithful were encouraged to offer their thanks to God for the healing of their souls and bodies and the absolution of their sins, and to receive Christ’s Holy Mysteries at the next Divine Liturgy.
Bishop Irenei of Sacramento leads Divine Service, Sacrament of Holy Unction in St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - 03/28/17
Photos: P. Lukianov
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese ROCOR