The Sacred Icons and the Holy Cross (Part II)

Prophet Samuel

Beloved brother and sisters in Christ Our only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O God of Our Fathers, we praise You, we hymn You, we bless You and we thank You, for You have set aside the darkness of night and have shown us again the light of day. We beseech Your Goodness to be merciful over our sins and, in Your great compassion, to accept our prayer. For we turn for refuge to you, the Merciful and Almighty God. Let the true Sun of Your Righteousness shine in our hearts. Enlighten our mind and uphold all our senses, to walk modestly, as in the day, upon the way of Your Commandments, and thus to attain to the Eternal life. For the source of life is in You, and You can make us worthy to enjoy Your unapproachable Light. For You, Lord, are indeed Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.


By: Father Anthony Alevizopoulos, PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy

Part II (cont. on the Holy Cross)

The Holy Cross of Christ becomes a standard and a measure of either man's triumph or his condemnation, depending upon the position he takes vis-à-vis it. Whoever equates Christ's Cross with that of the thieves, is equated with the unrepentant thief and is condemned. On the contrary, whoever differentiates the Cross of Christ and considers it to be a royal scepter, and invokes the mercy of Christ, is likened unto the good thief and the road leading to paradise is opened up before him. In this way the Holy Cross becomes the measure of the judgment of the world, "the scale of justice" as it is called by the hymn of the Church:

"Your Cross stood between two thieves as a scale of justice. The one is led down to hell by the weight of his blasphemy, the other is lightened from the burden of his sins unto the knowledge of things Divine. O Christ-God, Glory to Thee".

When we speak of the Holy Cross we do not mean only Christ's crucifixion, but also the wood of the Cross. For this, too, is sanctified by its contact with the Holy Body of Christ, and that is why it, too, is venerated: "The wood of Your Cross do we venerate, O Lover of man, for on it was nailed the Life of all things", states one of the Church's hymns. The sign of the Cross is also "Divine and venerable", says Saint Gregory Palamas, for it is "a venerable seal, sanctifying and perfecting all the marvelous and ineffable good things that come from God", it is an image of the crucified Christ and it draws its power and grace from His Passion. This is why the sealing with the sign of the Cross is the external sign of the Church's Mysteries (Sacraments) through which man's salvation is wrought.

The Cross of Christ expresses the ineffable love of God, but at the same time is also expresses man's infinite value in God's sight. A contemporary theologian says that Christ put sin to death without slaying the sinner; He did away with guilt and yet saved the guilty one. This is the great difference between Christ and human justice which crushes guilt by deriding and disgracing the guilty one. However, Christ did not simply conquer sin but also the consequence of sin which is death, and restored man to his pristine purity. Thus He led man to a surpassing of death, the life of immortality and incorruption. Thus we do not have here a lifting of some type of Augustinian inherited guilt, not room for any type of 'payment' or 'ransom'-save only in the patristic sense-and certainly not an Anselmian satisfaction of Divine Justice. Rather the weight rests on Christ's love, who achieved the most extreme limits of sacrifice on behalf of those whom He loves. And it is in precisely this that we see man's infinite value.

Making the sign of the Cross is an early Christian Tradition testified to by Saint Justin the Martyr (+ 150 A.D.) and by Tertullian (+ 200 A.D.). The latter writes: "We Christians in all our travels and in all our movements about, at every departure and upon every arrival, when we put on our clothes and shoes, in the bath and at the table, when we light our lamp, when we sit or sleep, in all the acts of our everyday life in general, we make the sign of the Cross."

"This custom," Tertullian concludes, "has its beginnings in the Church's Tradition, it is strengthened through habit and should be preserved in faith."

Orthodox Christians unite the three fingers of their right hand and place them first on their forehead, then on their stomach and finally bring them to their two shoulders from right to left. All of the Church's theology is depicted in the sign of the Cross. By uniting our three fingers we depict and confess our belief in the One Triune God. From the forehead we bring our fingers to the stomach, and by so doing "typify the Son" Who was pre-Eternally born of the Father and came down to earth by His birth from the Ever-Virgin Mary. When we place our united fingers on our shoulders we do so to "typify the Holy Spirit", Who is characterized as being the "arm" and the "might" of God. By uniting the remaining two fingers we depict "Christ's Incarnation and the inseparable union of the two natures, through which human nature was cured and exalted to the height of theosis.

We must not make the sign of the in a mechanical way, but conscientiously, with inner participation. We should make the sign of the Cross upon our bodies distinctly and not carelessly, but in accordance with the order of the Church: with our three fingers joined together and as if the Cross itself were touching us. It is understood that the sign of the Cross must be accompanied by analogous faith in that which it depicts and by unwavering decision to crucify and do away with our sinful selves and our passions; to put on the new man and be ever oriented towards the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.

Orthodox Christians therefore render respect and honorary veneration to the Holy Cross just as they do to the holy icons, in relation always to the Personage of Christ. This also holds true for the honor rendered to the Saints. This honor is not about adoration and worship, but an expression of respect and love towards person and things which God Himself honored by abundantly bestowing upon them His Grace. This veneration would be transformed into worship only in such case where one to render it by identifying in his conscience that which he venerated with God, nor does he differentiate the honor accorded them from their relationship to the person of our Lord.

A personal observation: It is impossible for any priest not to witness how an Orthodox Christian makes the sign of the Cross whether in a church service or otherwise. There are those who truly take the time to make the sign of the Cross with reverence, respect, conviction and faith. It is clear that they feel the grace that is derived from it and find much comfort and strength. And yet others who make the sign of the Cross without any thought, without any feeling and without any understanding, without any faith. It is done sloppily, in a hurry and without any regard to the Church's Tradition. At times their hand goes up and down in a straight line and never actually making the sign of the Cross. And of course there are those who use only two fingers. Others make the sign of the Cross as though they are playing a musical instrument of some kind i.e., a bouzouki or banjo. That, my dear friends, is a mockery of the Cross and a sin. It is not a statement of faith!

If we are to invite Christ's grace and blessings onto ourselves we need to do everything with fear of God, with faith and with love.

Please teach your children and grandchildren how to make the sign of the Cross correctly and teach them why it is important to make the sign of the Cross throughout the day. A wonderful example of making the sign of the Cross is the Orthodox football player who plays for the "Pittsburg Steelers", Mr. Troy Polamalu, who makes the sign of the Cross before and after every play. I can almost hear him saying the "Jesus Prayer" while he is making the sign of the Cross. He, as an Orthodox Christian, is not embarrassed to openly confess his Orthodox Christian faith before the millions watching the game. The question is, are you embarrassed to make the sign of the Cross publicly?

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George