The Veneration of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross According to the Holy Orthodox Church

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

EXAPOSTILARION HYMN OF THE FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS--September 14th

The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the support and staff of the faithful; the Cross is the beauty of the Church of Christ; the Cross is the mighty strength of kings; the Cross is the glory of Angels; it is the wounding of demons.

Today the Cross is lifted up, and all the world is sanctified. For Thou, while throned with the Father and with the All-Holy Spirit, by stretching out Thy hands thereon, hast drawn the whole world to Thyself, that it might know Thee, O my Christ. Therefore, vouchsafe divine glory to them that trust in Thy goodness.

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THE VENERATION OF THE HOLY AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS ACCORDING TO THE HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH

Orthodox Christians believe that the Holy Cross is their only pride (Galatians 6:14). It is the instrument through which sin, the source of death, was set at naught (Romans 5:12, 8:3). The Cross is thus no longer a symbol of death and of shame (Deut. 21:23), but a source of Eternal Life. Through the Cross the curse is done away with, conciliation "in Christ" is brought about, and "the new man" is created (Ephesians 2:15-16). These truths are expressed in many of the hymns of the Orthodox Church.

"You spread out Your hands on the Cross, O Merciful One, and You, gathered together the Nations that were far from You so that they might glorify Your great goodness."

"By spreading out Your Divine hands upon the Cross, O Jesus, You brought unto Yourself the work of Your hands, and You freed all from the hands of the Evil One and subjected them [unto You], for which cause let us faithfully hymn Your Majesty, for indeed it is glorified!"

The Cross of Christ is thus characterized by the Lord Himself as glory, as the judgment of this world, as the casting out of the Devil and as exaltation (St. John 12:24-32). Our Holy Church characterizes the Cross as "a weapon against the devil", because he trembles and shudders at the sight of the Cross, not being able to bear its power.

"Lord, You have given us Your Cross as a weapon against the Devil; for he shudders and trembles, not being able to gaze upon its might.

For it resurrects the dead, and abrogated death; for which cause we venerate Your entombment and Your Resurrection."

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-a-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 and Life-Giving Cross becomes the measure of the judgment of the world, "the scale of justice" (divine 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 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, of 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 all of the Church's Mysteries through which man's salvation is wrought.

The Cross of Christ expresses the ineffable love of God, but at the same time it 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.

Making the sign of the Cross is an early Christian Tradition testified to by Saint Justin the Martyr (+ 150 A.D.) and by Tertullian the historian (+ 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 everyday life in general, we make the sign of the Cross."

"This custom," Tertullian concludes, "has its beginning 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 doing so 'typify the Son' Who was Pre-Eternally born of the Father and came down to earth by His birth from the 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 (divine and human), through which human nature was cured and exalted to the height of theosis (deification).

We must not make the sign of the Cross 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 by analogous faith in that which it depicts and by the unwavering decision to crucify and do away with our sinful selves and our passions; to put on the new man and ever be orientated towards the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.

Orthodox Christian therefore render respect and honorary veneration of the Cross just as they do to the holy icons, in relation always to the personage of Christ. This also holds true to the honor rendered to the Saints. This honor is not adoration (worship), but an expression of respect and love towards persons 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 were to render it by identifying in his conscience that which he venerated with God. No Orthodox Christian, however, ever identifies the Holy Cross, the sacred icons or the Saints with God, nor does he differentiate the honor accorded from their relationship to the Person of our Lord.

(Source: Rev. Fr. Antonios Alevisopoulos, ThD, PhD)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

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.

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

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

+Father George