The divine services for the Sunday of the Cross, March 10-11, were particularly eventful and joyous at St. Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral in Howell, NJ. The services were led by His Grace, Bishop Nikolai (Soraich), and held under the aegis of the myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God “Softener of Evil Hearts.”
On Saturday morning, the myrrh-streaming icon, performing its annual visit to the Eastern American Diocese from Russia, arrived in Howell, and was brought to St. Alexander Nevsky Parish School. The students, dressed in school uniform, were lined up to greet the Mother of God, and a short moleben was served. All of the students, parents, and teachers lined up to venerate the holy image, and each was anointed with myrrh from it.
That evening, the icon was brought to the diocesan cathedral in procession, and upon its very entrance into the church, the fragrance of myrrh filled the air. The clergy and faithful then greeted Bishop Nikolai (Soraich), who led the All-Night Vigil with the bringing out of the Cross.
The following morning, His Grace celebrated Divine Liturgy, co-served by cathedral clergy: dean Archpriest Serge Lukianov, Archpriests Rafael Melendez, Boris Slootsky, and Seraphim Chemodakov, Priest Petro Hnatkivskyy, and Protodeacons Leonid Roschko and Paul Drozdowski, as well as diocesan cleric Priest Dimitri Jakimowicz. Praying in church and hearing the confessions of the faithful was the cathedral’s pastor emeritus, Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov.
Most of the people in church received Christ’s Holy Mysteries, which were distributed from three chalices. Upon completion of Liturgy, Bishop Nikolai addressed the faithful with a sermon, in which he said, in part:
"’Before Thy Cross we bow down, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.’ What does that mean to us? These very few words reflect our life, from beginning to end: we struggle in our lives, bearing our own cross, ever looking toward the joy to come, the joy that stems from our struggle, the joy of eternal life with God. ’Before Thy Cross we bow down…’ We prostrate ourselves before that Cross, because it was thereon that our God gave His Only-Begotten Son, so that we could be saved. We may not think about it often, but before the Resurrection, there was no salvation. After it, the gates of hades were opened, and we were able to return to paradise. This is a glorious truth."
Fr. Serge then greeted His Grace, thanking him for his edifying words and welcoming him back to the diocesan cathedral. He also thanked the guardian of the myrrh-streaming icon, Sergei Fomin, for once more visiting the cathedral community and bringing joy to the parish. Both Bishop Nikolai and the Icon "Softener of Evil Hearts" will remain at the diocesan cathedral through the conclusion of the Lenten Clergy Retreat on Wednesday, March 14.
A lenten luncheon was then served in the parish hall, where the hierarch, clergy, and faithful were able to interact with one another, and a poem was read in honor of the joyous feast day.
After several hours, all returned to the cathedral for the Sacrament of Holy Unction, which was served by Bishop Nikolai and the above-mentioned clergy, joined by Archpriest Leonid Goferman (rector of Holy Virgin Protection Church in New Brunswick, NJ). Several hundred people received remission of their sins through the holy anointing, encouraged by the Sacrament and veneration of the Life-Giving Cross and the myrrh-streaming Icon to renew their dedication to the Fast, preparing their souls for Holy Pascha.