The Festive Cross

In mid-Lent we commemorate the Cross of Christ, and many of the hymns from the Triodion for this week focus on the cross.   The hymns help us understand how the Church sees the Cross and how it wants us to understand the Cross and keep it in our spiritual thinking.

This is a festival day: at the awakening of Christ, death has fled away; The light of life has dawned; Adam has risen and dances for joy!  Therefore let us cry aloud and sing a song of victory!

The commemoration of the Cross is a joyous festival.  It does not focus on the human agony of Christ but on His victory over death.  Christ indeed suffered for us on the cross, but the emphasis in the Church is the cross as the means of destroying death and the road to Christ’s resurrection.  Christ has transfigured the cross from an instrument of cruel human torture to a sign of His triumph over death.  The cross is never separated from the resurrection.  The cross for Christians remains transformed into the means of our salvation.

At the setting up of the wood of the cross,  the foundations of death were shaken, Christ our Lord!  Hell  swallowed You eagerly, but cast you forth with trembling!  You have shown us your salvation, Holy One!  We glorify you, Son of God; have mercy on us!

The mere setting up of the cross of Christ caused death to be shaken to its very foundation.  As in so many Orthodox hymns Hell and Death are portrayed anthropomorphically as eagerly swallowing Christ whom they consume as another victim of their power.  But they in turn are destroyed by Christ over whom they have no power and whom they cannot contain.

Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Paradise; it has been mysteriously quenched by the wood of the Cross!  The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished, for You, my Savior, came and cried to those in hell: enter again into paradise! 

The Cross, transfigured by Christ who died upon it and who then rose from the dead, is portrayed as undoing all of the results of the sin of Adam and Eve.  The flaming sword which was to prevent humans from entering Paradise is removed for Christ, the incarnate God enables humanity to again enter into Paradise.  Christ comes from heaven, and descend into the place of the dead (Hades) and then ascends to heaven filling all things with Himself.  But as the God-man, He is able to bring humanity to these places without suffering the ill effects of death in Hades as well as bringing human nature once again into God’s presence in Paradise.

So the cross is not kept in its rugged, wooden form, but is glorified in precious metals to portray the richness and treasure it represents to all humanity.

St. Paul writes:

And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

So the hymns for the week of the cross in mid-Lent celebrate our salvation through the Cross of Christ.  Note in the hymn below that it was Christ’s plan and wish to restore all humans to life with God.  God wishes every single human being to be saved.

The Cross in the hymn below is metaphorically transformed into a quill/pen by which Christ is able to cancel the legal bond which stood against us because of our sin.  Any juridical bonds against humanity brought about by sin are all canceled which is what the resurrection and ascension demonstrate.

Wishing to restore all men to life, you accepted crucifixion, Christ our God!   Burning with boundless love for man, you took the quill of the Cross in Your hand, dipping it in ink of royal crimson, You signed our release with blood stained fingers.    Though temptations assault us, may we never forsake You again.  Have mercy on Your despairing people, long suffering Master!   Arise and fight our enemies in Your almighty power!