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Basilica Hymns

The First Sunday of the Cross (Formerly Second Sunday of Eliya)

Basilica Hymn

Out of the depths I cried to you, O Lord, and you heard my voice
I meditated at night, and I meditated in my heart; I meditated and my spirit was shaken
For the day of the Lord is great and very fearful
I have been considering your judgment seat, O Christ, and all my limbs have been shaking in fear. Who will be my help before your judgment seat who is from my race – from humanity? All my friends and dear ones will stand and look upon me from far away. O Just Judge, according to the greatness of your mercy, have pity on me, O Compassionate One, and not, O Lord, according to the many debts I have incurred.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
We are not ashamed, O Lord, of your cross, because of the great power hidden within it. If pagans and Jews mock your preaching, they cannot ever eradicate the truth. Lo, both of them together cry out for your righteousness: the Jews are scattered, and the teaching of the pagans is abolished. Behold, they witness together that great, O Lord, is your power!


Injustice

Of all the flaws of human nature, the most tragic has been the tendency to believe a lie. It was this flaw that made us subject to the first temptation in the garden. Not that that first temptation began as an outright lie – it began as a doubt, with the serpent asking Eve, “did God really tell you not to eat of any of the trees of the garden?” This conversation began with a simple question, but ended with a lie – “You certainly will not die!” (Genesis 3:4). And because Eve believed that lie and Adam stood by silently and watched it all happen, sin entered the world, along with suffering and injustice, and all the evils we see around us today. The destruction of the human race began with one little lie, and it took nothing less that Truth incarnate dying on the cross to undo the damage wrought by that little lie.

But that first lie was not, unfortunately, the last. Every lie, large or small, continues the destruction and the suffering caused by that first lie. Damage can be done by even a “white lie” – both to the one telling the lie and to the one believing it. The fact is that, excepting extraordinary circumstances, the truth should be told when and where it is owed, and nothing else. It is only fair to do so, and it is unfair, it is unjust, criminal, to deceive.

The darkest injustice can be presented to an individual soul when, for example, one is told that hell does not exist. Such a “small” lie! Such a lie that can be told with such a pleasant intention – to save someone from worry or sorrow, or fear! But the damage that can be done, the spiritual crime committed by telling or believing this lie, is deep indeed. It can take many forms: “you are a good person, I’m sure you’re going to heaven;” “God wouldn’t punish someone in that way, he is a God of love;” etc. Such phrases are rattled off with the greatest confidence, as if we are the ones to judge souls, or as if it is our job to tell God what mercy means. It is no friend who tells us such things, and neither are we being friends to others when we do so.

Fear of the Lord

If it is possible for a merely human friendship to be ruined by miscommunication or misunderstanding, all the more is this the case with our relationship with God – not that he miscommunicates or misunderstands, but that we do. If our love of God is to grow, it must begin rightly, with the right understanding and the right mode of communication. For example, if we understand God as simply vengeful and angry all the time, with no sense of compassion or mercy, our natural reaction would be to run away, to avoid such a frightening persona, and therefore there would be no communication between us and God, and no friendship. But if, on the other hand, our understanding of God is beneath him, if we envision him as “just a buddy” and ignore the fact that he is also the Creator of the universe, our picture is entirely wrong and we are communicating, in this buddy-buddy way, not with God but with an idol that we have made for ourselves.

This being the case, it must be true to say that having a picture of God that makes him out to be nothing more than a “nice guy” actually pushes us farther away from him, even if the intention is otherwise. Even if, in other words, we paint a pleasant picture of God so that we or others may feel more comfortable and come closer to it, we are in fact only coming closer to a picture, and not to the true God.

But this is not simply the case of an objective fact on the one hand and idolatry on the other. The objective fact of God’s justice and punishment of sinners is not only a reality that we must come to terms with if we are to be realistic; human psychology is such that knowing and realizing this fact allows us to come closer to him. If God is merely merciful, we may ignore him until he is needed. But if he is also perfectly just, then he cannot be ignored, then for our own sake we must strive to make him more and more a part of our lives.

Christ came precisely for this, in fact: for the Just God to show his mercy as well, not so that his justice is put aside, but to make known how he wishes to live among us and within us. Another way to say this is this: in recollecting God’s judgment, we cling so much more closely to Christ, who is our compassionate and loving Mediator with the Father. If there were no judgment, this motivation to cling to Christ would no longer exist.

The True Friend

This is how a balanced meditation on God’s judgment can and must bring us only closer to a true, deep friendship with the Messiah. As any true friend, Christ speaks us the truth even if it is hard to hear, he challenges us always to strive more and more to perfection rather than diluting us with empty compliments to build up our “self-esteem,” and he shows us our weakness so that we turn more and more to him for strength, rather than assuring us of our own goodness and putting aside God’s expectations for our lives. The Master is expecting a large return from his vineyard when he comes back. Only a false friend would give us false comfort by telling us of the Master’s compassion; the true Friend, Christ, reminds us constantly to work and to repent. It is this true Friend who will be standing alongside us on the day of judgment; the others will only stand afar off and stare:

I have been considering your judgment seat, O Christ, and all my limbs have been shaking in fear. Who will be my help before your judgment seat who is from my race – from humanity? All my friends and dear ones will stand and look upon me from far away. O Just Judge, according to the greatness of your mercy, have pity on me, O Compassionate One, and not, O Lord, according to the many debts I have incurred.