THE CROSS ONCE A SOURCE OF DEATH
IS NOW THE ONLY
SOURCE OF ETERNAL LIFE
The Holy Cross is Honored During
the Entire Third Week of the Great Fast
In ancient times the cross was looked upon as an instrument of tortuous death. Among those who used the cross were the Persians, Greeks and Romans. The Romans used it as punishment for slaves and non-citizens guilty of treason. Crucifixion was dreaded being a slow and tortuous form of execution.
The Jews, misled by the Scribes and Pharisees, who cried out for the crucifixion of our Lord, were familiar with the violence and torture of the cross. In their hatred, they never hesitated in their demands of Pontius Pilate that he crucify the sinless Lord, for when he asked them what he should do with Christ, they cried out: “Away with Him! Away with Him! Crucify Him!” Blinded by envy and hatred, the leaders successfully transformed the mob into God-slayers, with their boisterous accusations that Christ was a criminal deserving the cross. These unfortunates even cursed themselves with these words to Pilate, who appeared to show some reluctance: “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
The crucifixion of Christ turned the world upside down, completely changing everything! What appeared as a tragic death became the greatest victory the world has ever or will ever witness. For nations go to war with nations and shed the blood of their enemies, but Christ makes war with our enemy the Devil, shedding His own precious blood vanquishing his authority and power. The Cross, formerly an instrument of death, became the source of eternal life. This total transformation by Christ’s victorious triumph causes the faithful to enthusiastically exalt and glorify the Cross, and so we cry: Rejoice precious Cross, for through Him who died upon you, we are granted eternal life and His great mercy.
The manipulative power behind the crucifixion was the Devil, who aroused envy and hatred among Jewish leaders and the mob. His authority, acquired by deceiving the first created pair, Christ destroyed by the power of His submissive death on the Cross. The Devil and his minions among the Jews, were unaware of what was about to occur as a result of their iniquity. They ignored the sun as it darkened in the middle of the day. The cross, formerly used as an instrument of death and feared by all, has been transformed into an instrument of life, not ordinary life – but everlasting life! Formerly a symbol of dishonor and death, the Cross is now exalted and glorified. It is the glory of Jesus Christ through which He triumphed and granted us the victory. The Cross is venerated, kissed and embraced by the faithful throughout the world. Through the Cross joy has come into the world! For through the Cross He has trampled down death by death, and granted us the great mercy!
The Cross is an invincible weapon, a powerful protection, delightful, filled with everlasting life, always victorious, and is our access to divine power! The importance of the Cross and the precious honor it deserves is continuously preserved in the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ. The crucifixion is perpetuated in the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist, which Christ instituted, on the night when He was betrayed, when He said: “Take eat, this is my body . . . ” and “drink this is my blood . . . Do this in remembrance of me.”
After the malicious deed of nailing Christ to the Cross was accomplished, the Jews did not merely walk away, but they continually spat out words of mockery, insulting the Lord even when He was weakening and approaching death. Like the Jews, the western world has never understood the honor due to the Cross upon which Christ was crucified and through which He destroyed death, nor do they comprehend that the honor or dishonor given the Cross returns directly to Christ. The Cross is His main reason for coming into the world, and He expressed His desire for to be raised on the Cross, through which He would free mankind from captivity caused by sin, by which the Devil rules over us. By honoring and venerating His Cross we honor and venerate Christ who sanctified and glorified it, and saved the human race from eternal death.
Sin in its many forms is the greatest tragedy of the human race. God created man and breathed into him His immortal spirit. Adam and Eve would not have died if they had not sinned. Through sin death entered the world, and through sin the Devil imprisons and rules the souls of sinners. A few of the many sins that cause misery, are all crimes, revolutions, dishonesty, crooked political and judicial systems, corruption, murders, suicides, and foreign wars. We see that evils multiply from generation to generation. Sins have become so common, that people do not consider that there could possibly be another way. But Christ and His Church shown us another way, which is His submission to the Cross. Through His crucifixion, Christ continuously teaches those who believe in Him, that the Cross is the path that leads from earth to heaven, therefore His followers must also be crucified.
First let us examine what took place when Jesus Christ, said from the Cross: “It is finished!” What is finished? The work that He set out to accomplish, for He has been put to death unjustly by criminals, hypocrites, and impious men. None of them knew that this was Christ’s earnest desire, for He came into the world anticipating the Cross, through which His compassion and love would be able to pour forth on the human race.
Jesus was sentenced to death and of His own will submitted to the Cross. For He reminded us that He could summon “legions of angels,” and concerning their power, only one of them is much more powerful than numerous legions of mighty armies! Jesus who cast out demons, cured the paralyzed and the deaf and dumb, who gave eyes to the blind and raised the dead back to life, always looked ahead with desire to the Cross, which he would voluntarily ascend. For by His acceptance of crucifixion, He set a trap, which was sprung as soon as He breathed His last breath. What He set out to do from the beginning, He accomplished – destroy the power and authority of death, through which the Devil ruled over mankind, accomplished by His unjust crucifixion.
He did destroy and trample down death by His glorious Resurrection on the third day.This wondrous victory concerns the law. The law of God states that sinners who break the law, are subject to punishment, but the law forbids putting an innocent man to death. Satan and his accomplices broke this law and nailed the sinless Christ to the Cross, then assailed Him with insults, mockery, spitting, and robed Him in a purple robe of mockery, crowning Him with thorns, and finally pierced His side with a spear. When He cried out: “I thirst”, they offered him vinegar and gall which He refused, then bowing His head He surrendered His spirit. The law requires that His crucifiers to restore what they took away unjustly but being are unable, they remain vanquished.
Christ, the Godman and Logos, accomplished His strategy, to not resist evil but submit to it and thus destroy it by His unjust crucifixion. Christ says to all who seek eternal life: “He that does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mat. 10:38). St. Paul, enthusiastically accepted this crucifixion: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). From this we can understand Christ’s command that His followers be crucified and follow Him. Not only the act of crucifixion that is commanded for everyone, but the crucifixion and resultant death of all sins and passions within our souls, such as lying, stealing, envy, revenge, bitterness, fornication, sodomy, adultery, murder, and every form of evil must be crucified and deadened within our souls.
We can develop good habits in place of bad habits. Following clouds of Christians before us we can also avoid all evil and do only good. By purging ourselves from every sin, we are then able to walk in the newness of life. By prayer, fasting and giving alms, we can become peaceful, gentle, merciful and compassionate, gradually becoming more like Christ, which is the object of Orthodox Christian life. If we do not struggle to become like Christ in this present life, if we failed to “take up our cross” and follow him, how can we expect Him to greet us as our Lord and Master? St. Paul says: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature if the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
To take up our cross, does not only mean leaving the world and becoming a monastic, but it also means living in this world but not to love the world, and call to remembrance the three servants in the fiery furnace, unharmed and Daniel in the lion’s den lived with friendly lions. What they did is completely possible with Christ’s help, to live in dangers and among sinners without falling into sin. We cannot be forced against our wills, to lie and cheat, to bear false witness or swear and blaspheme, if we resist and pray, and sign ourselves with the Cross. We can resist evil and do only good if we so desire becoming purified and sanctified. We can be crucified with Christ and our sins to zero, at the same time rid ourselves of vices as we increase our virtues, such as replacing pride with humility, anger with meekness, and dishonesty with honesty. These things can be accomplished with divine help which is always available, if we preserve the true faith.
The Orthodox Church honors the Cross with hymns:
“Rejoice O Cross, thrice blessed and divine Wood, a light to those in darkness. Shining on the four corners of the earth, you prepare us for the dawn of Christ’s Resurrection. Grant to all the faithful that they may come to the festival of Pascha.”
“Your Cross O Lord all-merciful, is honored by the whole world, for you have made an instrument of death into a source of life. Sanctify those who venerate it, O God of our Fathers, who alone are blessed and greatly glorified.”