Concerning the Cross and Faith

Martyr Irene of Egypt

Martyr Irene of Egypt

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Saint John of Damascus

The word 'Cross' is foolishness to those that perish, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. For he that is spiritual judgeth all things, but the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit. For it is foolishness to those who do not receive in faith and who do not consider God's goodness and omnipotence, but search out Divine things with human and natural reasonings. For all the things that are of God are above nature and reason and conception. For should any one consider how and for what purpose God brought all things out of nothing into being, and aim at arriving at that by natural reasonings, he fails to comprehend it. For knowledge of this kind belongs to spirits and demons. But if anyone, under the guidance of faith, should consider the Divine goodness and omnipotence and truth and wisdom and justice, he will find all things smooth and even, and the way straight. But without faith it is impossible to be saved. For it is by faith that all things, both human and spiritual, are sustained. For without faith neither does the farmer cut his furrow, not does the merchant commit his life to the raging waves of the sea on a small piece of wood, not are marriages contracted nor any other step in life taken. By faith we consider that all things are brought out of nothing into being by God's power. And we direct all things, both Divine and human, by faith. Further, faith is assent free from all meddlesome inquisitiveness.

Every action, therefore, and performance of miracles by Christ are most great and Divine and marvelous: but the most marvelous of all is His Precious Cross. For no other thing has subdued death, expiated the sin of the first parent, despoiled Hades, bestowed the resurrection, granted the power to us of contemning the present and even death itself, prepared the return to our former blessedness, opened the gates of Paradise, given our nature a seat at the right hand of God, and made us the children and heirs of God, save the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For by the Cross all things have been made right. So many of us, the Apostle says, as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Further, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Lo! The death of Christ, that is, the Cross, clothed us with the enhypostatic wisdom and power of God. And the power of God is the Logos/Word of the Cross, either because God's might, that is, the victory over death, has been revealed to us by it, or because just as the four extremities of the Cross are held fast and bound together by the bolt in the middle, so also by God's power the height and the depth, the length and the breadth, that is, every creature visible and invisible, is maintained.

This was given to us as a sign on our forehead, just as the circumcision was given to Israel: for by it we believers are separated and distinguished from unbelievers. This is the shield and weapon against, and trophy over, the devil. This is the seal that the destroyer may not touch you, as saith the Scripture. This is the resurrection of those lying in death, the support of the standing, the staff of the weak, the rod of the flock, the safe conduct of the earnest, the perfection of those that press forwards, the salvation of soul and body, the aversion of all things evil, the patron of all things good, the taking away of sin, the plant of resurrection, the tree of Eternal Life.

So, then, this same truly precious and august Tree, on which Christ hath offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sakes, is to be worshiped as sanctified by contact with His Holy Body and Blood; likewise the nails, the spear, the clothes, His sacred tabernacles which are the manger, the cave, Golgotha, which bringeth salvation, the Tomb which giveth life, Sion, the chief stronghold of the churches and the like, are to be worshiped. In the words of David, the father of God, Let us enter into His tabernacles, let us do reverence to the place where His feet stood. And that is the Cross that is made clear by what follows, "Arise, O Lord, into Thy Rest." For the resurrection comes after the Cross. For if of those things which we love, house and couch and garment, are to be longed after, how much the rather should we long after that which belonged to God, our Savior, by means of which we are in truth saved.

Moreover we worship even the image of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, although made of another tree, not honoring the tree (God forbid) but the image as a symbol of Christ. For He said to His disciples, admonishing them, "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven," meaning the Cross. And so also the Angel of the resurrection said to the woman, "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth which was crucified." And the Apostle said, "We preach Christ crucified." For there are many Christs and many Jesuses, but One crucified. He does not say speared but crucified. It behooves us, then, to worship the sign of Christ. For wherever the sign may be, there also will He be. But it does not behoove us to worship the material of which the image of the Cross is composed even though it be gold or precious stones, after it is destroyed, if it should happen, Everything, therefore, that is dedicated to God we worship, conferring the adoration on Him.

The Tree of Life which was planted by God in Paradise pre-figured this Precious Cross. For since death was by a tree, it was fitting that life and resurrection should be bestowed by a tree. Jacob, when He worshiped the top of Joseph's staff, was the first to image the Cross, and when he blessed his sons with crossed hands, he made most clearly the sign of the cross. Likewise also did Moses' rod, when he smote the sea in the figure of the cross and saved Israel, while it overwhelmed Pharaoh in the depths; likewise also the hands stretched out crosswise and routing Amalek; and the bitter water made sweet by a tree, and the rock rent and pouring forth streams of water, and the rod that meant for Aaron the dignity of the high priesthood: and the serpent lifted in triumph on a tree as though it were dead, the tree bringing salvation to those who in faith saw their enemy dead, just as Christ was nailed to the tree in the flesh of sin which yet knew no sin. The mighty Moses cried, "You will see your life hanging on a tree before your eyes," and Isaiah likewise, "I have spread out my hands al the day unto a faithless and rebellious people". But may we who worship this obtain a part in Christ the crucified. Amen. (Source: Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York)


Old Testament Prototypes of the Cross of the Lord

The whole earthly life of Our Lord Jesus Christ was prefigured with greater or lesser degrees of clarity in many persons, events, and institutions of the Old Testament--which was a preparatory stage of the Christian revelation. The suffering on the Cross and the death of the Savior, which were the most expressive manifestation of His boundless love for men and His highest labor for our salvation, are prefigured especially often and in many ways in Old Testament shadows and allusions. This amazing image of our salvation through the Savior's sufferings on the Cross and their material instrument itself--the tree of the Cross--were sometimes openly indicated beforehand to certain of the Old Testament elect, and, as it were, shone forth from the depths of the ages in many prototypical events and individuals.

The Holy Fathers of the Church relate the first prototypical indication of the Cross of Christ to the time when the first man was still in Paradise, which was adorned with various trees. Of the trees of Paradise whose fruit was appointed to the first couple for food, the "tree of life" was exceptional in its characteristics (Gen. 2:9), and it was a prototype of the Tree of the Cross of Christ. "The honorable Cross, says Saint John of Damascus, "was foreshadowed by the tree of life planted by God in the midst of Paradise; for as the fall and death came about through a tree, so it was fitting that through a tree life and resurrection should be given."

Saint Ephraim the Syrian explains this mystery in this way, "Isaac, being prepared for sacrifice, ascended the mountain like a meek lamb, carrying the wood of the sacrifice on himself: thus our Savior also went up to the place of the skull burdened by His Cross. I see the knife and understand the spear: I see the altar and represent Golgotha to myself; I see the wood and foreknow the Cross" (Sermon on Abraham). Isaac obediently surrenders himself for sacrifice by his father Abraham, who from love for God is sacrificing his only son by Sarah, his beloved son: thus Jesus Christ was completely submissive to the will of His Father during His Passion and obedient unto death on the Cross (Phil. 3:8; Romans 8:32). "We sing of Him in the hymns of the divine services, "Thou goest as a true Isaac, taking the Cross on Thy shoulders that Thou mightest offer a sacrifice to the Father for my sins as an acceptable fragrance" (Canon and Akathist of the Divine Passion of Christ, Canon of the Cross, Canticle 6, Troparion 2).

Jacob's blessing bestowed on the children, prophetically foreshadowed Christ's blessing, coming down from the Cross to sinful humanity. Prefiguring Thy Cross, O Christ, the Patriarch Jacob in granting his blessing t his grandsons placed his hands in that form on their heads" (Verse for August 1st).

During the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, God, while establishing the prototypical feast of the Passover, among other things, through Moses commanded the families of the children of Israel to anoint the two posts and the lintel of the doors in their houses, where they would eat the Passover with the blood of the paschal lamb and added, "And you will have the blood, and I will pass by you, and there will not be plague of destruction among you when I smite the land of Egypt...the blood of the unblemished Paschal lamb with its meaning of salvation for the Hebrews foreshadowed the Blood of the Divine Redeemer--the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God, sacrificed from the foundation of the world. (Hebrews 11:28).

According to the sense of the Church services, the external appearance of the Cross of Christ was represented beforehand by the miraculous staff of Moses, which led the Israelis through the Red Sea without their getting wet.

Soon after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the Hebrews came to Marah and, when they found the waters there too bitter to use, they complained against Moses; then the Lord commanded him to cast the tree he was shown into the water, and the water became sweet (Exodus 15:22-25). This action of a tree, which instantaneously sweetened the huge mass of water required for the multitude of people and for their even more multitudinous flocks, is completely inexplicable by the laws of nature, and only the Mystery of the Cross of Christ fully reveals to us why Moses was commanded to use a tree rather than some other means to destroy the bitterness of the water. In part the sweetening of the waters of Marah prefigured the power of the Cross of Christ in converting pagans to a pious life.

There are more.



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom


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

+Father George