The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS AND IS AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE HOLY AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS OF JESUS CHRIST OUR GOD AND SAVIOR
"O Invincible and Incomprehensible and Divine Power of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, forsake not us sinners."
[From the holy service of Great Compline]
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn
"O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians, over their adversaries. And by virtue of Your Cross preserve Your habitation!
Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden; it has mysteriously been quenched by the wood of the Cross! The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished; for You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hell: "Enter again into Paradise".
Christ's passion and sacrifice on the Cross is a manifestation and demonstration of God's great love for the human race. Christ Himself said: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (St. John 3:16). Thus the Incarnation and especially the Passion and the Cross show God's love and not justice as we regard it. For human justice is retaliation in kind, while God, although He is sinless and not to blame for Adam's sin and fall, became man in order to save him. Therefore God's justice is identical with His philanthropy (St. Isaac the Syrian and Saint Nicholas Cabasilas).
While Orthodox teaching speaks of the love and philanthropy of God, Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) theology, as it has developed from scholasticism, speaks of appeasing God. It says that Christ suffered, was crucified and died on the Cross to appease the Divine Justice, which was offended by Adam's disobedience and sin. What must chiefly be emphasized is that since God is impassible, He was not offended. We cannot ascribe to God the characteristics of the fallen and passionate man. Not God, but man, needs a cure. Man, not God, must be cured. Moreover, nowhere in Holy Scripture is it said that Christ reconciled God with man, but it is said that He reconciled man in Himself to God, for man had separated Himself from God and had to be brought back to communion with Him. This took place through Christ's Passion, Cross and Resurrection.
"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth... Then I looked and heard the voice of many Angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, Who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 'To Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever! The four living creatures said, 'Amen', and the elders fell down and worshipped."[Revelation 5:6-14)
As we consider this text we shall look at three basic points: First, that Christ is presented here as a Lamb which was slain, which has great glory and is praised in song by the whole Church triumphant in heaven.
The image of the Lamb comes from both the Old and New Testaments. Already the worthy Forerunner, seeing Christ coming towards him, said: "Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world" (St. John 1:29). Lamb and sheep are interconnected. The image of the Lamb is reminiscent of Isaiah's prophecy: "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Is. 53:7). Surely the image of the Lamb reminds us of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. His sacrifice on behalf of the human race, and it reminds us of the Eucharistic Lamb which is offered for the life of the world.
The image of the Lamb shows not only Christ's sacrifice but also His Resurrection from the dead. This is the meaning of the expression "a Lamb looking as if it had been slain"> It is not slain, but like one slain which stands on the throne. Therefore this phrase indicates the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, or rather the Rising Christ, who has in His body the marks of the sacrifice on the Cross. Saint Andrew emphasizes this truth. He writes: "'Like one slain' points to His life after being slain; in which are shown the symbols of His Passion, as truly slain after His rising from the dead".
According to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the Worthy Forerunner calling Christ a lamb is reminiscent of the paschal lamb of the Jews which had been established by the Law of Moses. The lamb of Moses which the Israelites had to slay on their own feast of Pascha, was a type and foreshadowing of the True Lamb which is Christ. He says characteristically: "The True Lamb described of old in riddles, the Immaculate Sacrificial Victim is led to the slaughter on behalf of all, in order to diminish the sin of the world, overthrow the Destroyer, do away with death on behalf of all the dead, remove the curse upon us".
It is not a question here of a lamb slain, but of Christ in glory, of the Risen Lord, the Lord of glory. If we give close attention, we will discover that this Lamb has great glory.
Gazing upon the Holy Cross with his mind in his heart, the Orthodox Christian goes deeper into that symbol and grows spiritually. Just as a plant needs fertile soil, moisture, and sunlight in order to grow, so a Christian needs the Cross of Christ, the Life-Giving Cross, on the same Cross which our Holy Church brings out on September 14th for holy veneration.
The Holy Apostle Paul wanted to know nothing in the world "save Jesus Christ and Him Crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). This was because to know the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified on the Cross, gives one everything he needs. The Holy Cross was made of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree, which the first man touched, despite the Lord's Commandment forbidding him to do so. On the Holy Cross, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tore up the manuscript of Adam's sin of disobedience and likewise accomplished the salvation of man. Watered with the Divine Blood, that Cross, which has come from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which had brought people death, was transformed into the Tree of Life. Each Cross bearing the image of the Crucified Savior, wordlessly says to us... "Here is what I have done for you. What have you done for Me?" On the Cross is written everything that we need to know about God and about ourselves...our fall and our restoration, our sin and Divine Mercy. The Cross instructs us in great patience and humility, love and forgiveness of all, crucifixion in our flesh and hope in eternal salvation. The outstretched, Crucified arms clearly bear witness to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ does not desire the death of a sinner, and that He is ready to forgive and embrace everyone who truly repents, regardless of how sinful they might be.
In the canon "to the honorable and Life-Giving Cross" composed by Saint Gregory of Sinai, the Orthodox Church sings out: "O Cross! Be unto me the might, the strength and the power, the deliverer and foremost defender against my assailants, the shield and protector, my victory and establishment, ever preserving and sheltering me." "O Cross…as a three-edged sword thou dost cut off the principles of darkness, being the great weapon of Christ and an invincible and all-powerful trophy of victory…" For the Cross "the symbol of the incomprehensible trinity, the Life-bearer."
The Cross of Christ is a great, invincible weapon that conquers all. However, one needs to know how to use that weapon, that power. For even an ordinary weapon, a firearm or other weapon, can be an impotent one in the hands of someone inexperienced, and can even be a danger to the one who wields it. The invincible and almighty power of the Cross becomes so, and is conditional upon faith and piety. One cannot use the power of the Cross, one cannot utilize it as a weapon in the absence of faith and conviction, for it is a weapon of the Holy Truth of Christ. One must not make the sign of the Cross over oneself or others without faith and reverence.
The enemies of the Holy Cross are the enemies of Christ and the Church. Unbelieving people who wear the cross wear it not for any other reason but to degrade it, to ridicule it, to blaspheme it and by this to ridicule and blaspheme Our Lord and His Sacrifice on the Cross. There are the so called "Christian sects" today that have nothing to do with the Cross and yet hypocritically present themselves as Christians. Others that confess the failure of Christ to save mankind and the failure of His Sacrifice on the Cross. Instead of Christ they have invented their "new messiahs" and give homage to them. "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18).
The Cross of Christ teaches us humility, patience, sobriety, discernment, purity of heart, faith, hope and Christ's sincere agape, agape that is so vastly different from ordinary human agape. Ordinary earthly love is egocentric and selfish, while Christ's love is sacrificial and compassionate. The guide of every Orthodox Christian to true agape is always the Holy Cross, from which true agape is "more powerful than death."
All of the Mysteria (Sacraments) of the Church of Christ are intimately connected to the Cross. In Holy Baptism, everything is done under the sign of the Cross. In Chrismation; the same. Repentance and Confession is a "second Baptism," a "Baptism of tears." Holy Unction (Holy Oil or Efchaileon) is an augmented Baptism of tears of repentance. Holy Matrimony is a Baptism into life together as husband and wife. Ordination (Priesthood) is unimaginable. Reflecting on the Mysterion of the Cross as Divine Eucharist (i.e., Thanksgiving), Saint John Cassian the Roman, asserts that this Mysterion will be performed eternally by Christ the High Priest in the Kingdom of Heaven, for Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross can never be forgotten even unto ages of ages.
The Cross calls all of us to spiritual struggle and promises to help, victory, triumph and the glory of the Resurrection.
"Then Jesus said to His Disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it". (St. Matthew 16:24-25)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God