The Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross

We Orthodox celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross of Christ on September 14 each year.   The epistle reading for the Feast is from 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

As the Roman Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer describes the crucifixion of Christ, it fulfills all the Old Testament rituals as well as promises and prophecies.  What the Jews had been given through their Temple worship was a chance to understand the sacrificial nature of the God of love.  The Christian understanding of the entire Old Testament is that it prefigures the events of the New Testament and prepares the the people of God for the reality which God revealed in Christ.  Through the Cross, Christ enters into the true temple in Heaven bringing humanity into the very presence of God once again.

“To devout Jews, like the author and the intended audience of this Epistle, Christianity must appear definitive because it realizes what had only been prefigured in the old covenant. We go from the figure to reality, because we go at the same time from the earthly to heavenly and from the exterior to the interior. The old covenant, by its expiatory rites, could confer only a purity of convention, which would have no substance at all if its rites had not themselves prefigured the Christian reality. The new covenant, on the contrary, according to the promise of Jeremias (31:31-34), is the law transferred from external practices to the intimate depth of the heart. But this is possible only because the ritual sacrifices have been transcended and replaced by that sacrifice with no analogue, wholly new and definitive, the sacrifice which is the death of Christ as the perfect accomplishment of God’s will. Thereby the way is opened up for us to the divine Presence, to the immediate Presence of God welcoming us with Christ into his rest, his eternal sabbath.” (The Spirituality of The New Testament & The Fathers, p 148)

“Through the Cross joy has come into all the world”   So we Orthodox sing celebrating Christ’s victory over death.  So we honor the Cross the instrument which brought salvation to the world and to each and everyone of us.

“For the Orthodox Church, the salvation that God offered through Jesus Christ is, first and foremost, victory over death. The Easter proclamation summarizes this core soteriological teaching: ‘Christ is risen from the dead! And death by his death is trampled. And to those in the tombs he is granting life.’ Since the incarnate Son of God effected humanity’s reconciliation and redemption, salvation from death certainly encompasses spiritual death, the condition of alienation from God. However, Christ also trampled upon physical death. ‘The death of our Lord,’ Florovsky writes, ‘was the victory over death and mortality, not just the remission of sins, not merely a justification of man, nor again a satisfaction of an abstract justice.’ Over and over, the Orthodox Church proclaims Christ’s conquering of death and granting of life. Over and over, the Orthodox Church proclaims Christ’s conquering of death and granting life. Over and over, the martyrs, ascetics, and other saints of the Church are described as enjoying a foretaste of God’s kingdom. Over and over, the promise of resurrection is held up as the core of the gospel.”  (Perry T. Hamalis, Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pp 203-204)