The Crucifixion of Death

In one of the Lenten hymns from the 4th week of Great Lent, there is an interesting exchange in which the nailing of Christ to the cross and piercing His side with the spear is actually bringing about the death of Death.  In the hymn, Hell/Death is personified and is at first puzzled by what it is experiencing  during Christ’s crucifixion.  The confusion turns to panic as Death realizes its own effort to kill the Christ has resulted in its own destruction.

Pilate set up three crosses in the place of the Skull, two for the
thieves, and one for the Giver of Life. Seeing Him, Hell cried to
those below: My ministers and powers! Who is this that has fixed a
nail in my heart?

Crucified heel bone pierced by a nail. (1st Century)

A wooden spear has pierced me suddenly, and I am
torn apart! I suffer inwardly; anguish has seized my belly and my
senses. My spirit trembles and I am forced to cast out Adam and his
posterity! A tree brought them to my realm, but now the Tree of the
Cross cries out to them: Enter again into Paradise!

The hymn is perhaps an Orthodox version of the “substitutionary” theory of atonement.  In the Orthodox hymn, however, the emphasis is not on the innocent Christ dying on the cross in the place of sinful humanity.  Rather, Christ’s torment, suffering and death is actually crucifying Death.  Christ’s own death turns out to be the annihilation of death.

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Clinging to the World or to the Wood?

Our Lord Jesus Christ chose His disciples not from the wise, not from the noble, not from the rich or the famous, but from among fishermen and tentmakers and poor and illiterate men. This was to make clear to all that neither poverty, nor lack of learning, nor lowly origins, nor anything else of that sort is an impediment to acquiring virtue and understanding the divine sayings and mysteries of the Spirit. But even the poorest and lowliest and least educated person, if he gives proof of eagerness and an appropriate inclination towards what is good, can not only come to know the divine teaching but also become a teacher himself through God’s grace.

And the things that hinder us from understanding and grasping the meaning of spiritual teachings are our own indifference and the fact that we cling with all our might to the fleeting concerns of this life. As a result, we do not allow space or time for listening and studying and recalling to mind what we have heard, nor do we care about the things which are to come and things eternal.

(St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, “Homily 47,” p. 366)

The Cross as a Weapon of Peace

“The Cross is the Weapon of Peace, we sing. Yet, despite the militaristic overtones, the Cross is not simply a more mighty or powerful weapon in some kind of divine arms race! No, it is the weapon of peace, it is a weapon which doesn’t resort to greater fire-power to blow apart our enemies in a cycle of violence, but rather brings that cycle of violence to an end, ushering in the peace of God for those who are prepared to live by it.

When someone strikes or offends us, Christ does not direct us to hit back or retaliate, but to turn the other cheek, to bear one another’s weaknesses, not so that we can be beaten some more for the sake of it, but to take upon ourselves the anger that is in the other person, to neutralize it, to put an end to it, as Christ himself did, the blameless lamb led to the slaughter, or rather going willingly, taking upon himself the sin of the world.

This is not simply a matter of being passive, but rather being passive actively, creatively, and being creative in the most divine way possible–for it allows God to work in and through us, rather than just doing whatever it is we ourselves can come up with.

But God can only work through us if we ourselves take up the Cross and live by it, for if we do so–dead to the world–we will already, now, be in the peace of God, untroubled by anything the world throws at us, and the peace that we will know will spread through us to all those around us.

(John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, pp. 38-39)

Defying Our Self-Loving Nature

And the Lord called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?   (Mark 8:34ff)

Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky comments:

“Suffering is repulsive to a natural person. Almost all his life consists in applying solicitude to solicitude in order to avoid suffering. But then the Apostle tells him that he rejoices in sorrows, that he glories in them. The Gospel blesses those who are banished, dishonored, or beaten, calling everyone to follow a narrow path which few travel. It demands that one renounce oneself, that one despise one’s life. The Gospel foretells woe to the wealthy, the satiated, those who laugh and are spoken well of by all men. In order to follow such teaching, we must defy our self-loving nature. What will rouse is up to this?” (The Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith, pp 90-91)

As Metropolitan Anthony says we must “defy our self-loving nature” not deify it!

 

Christ Lives in Me

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians, writes:

“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  

(Galatians 2:19-20)

The Elder Porphyrios writes:

“In the Church which possesses the saving sacraments there is no despair. We may be deeply sinful. But we make confessions, the priest reads the prayer, we are forgiven and we progress towards immortality, without any anxiety and without any fear. When we love Christ, we live the life of Christ. If, by the grace of God, we succeed in doing this, we find ourselves in a different state, we live in another, enviable state. For us there is no fear; neither of death, nor of the devil nor of hell. All these things exist for people who are far from Christ, for non-Christians. For us Christians who do His will, as the Gospel says, these things do not exist. That is, they exist, but when one kills the old self along with the passions and desires, one gives no importance to the devil or to evil. It doesn’t concern us. What concerns us is love, service to Christ and to our fellow man. If we reach the point of feeling joy, love, worship of God without any fear, we reach the point of saying, It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. No one can prevent us from entering into this mystery.” (Wounded by Love, The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 90)

The Cross of the Temple

We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:58)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.    (John 2:19-22)

Metropolitan Hilarion writes that St. Isaac the Syrian says:

“The cross is a symbol of ‘the Man who completely became a temple’ of God; the cross is made in the name of ‘that Man in whom the Divinity dwells’; the humanity of Christ is the ‘garment of his Divinity’.” (Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, p 54)

Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brethren and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God; and I made preparations for building.  (1 Chronicles 28:2)

“Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!” (Psalm 132:7)

Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! (Psalm 99:5)

King David had it in his heart to build a temple as a footstool for God.  It turns out that the temple of God is not made with hands for it is Christ Himself who is the temple of  God and the footstool is the cross of the Lord.

Exulting in the Cross

THE CROSS WHICH CARRIED THE MOST HIGH AS A CLUSTER OF GRAPES FULL OF LIFE

IS SEEN TODAY EXALTED HIGH ABOVE THE EARTH.

THROUGH THE CROSS WE ARE ALL DRAWN TO GOD

AND DEATH HAS BEEN FOREVER SWALLOWED UP.

UNDEFILED WOOD, THROUGH YOU WE ENJOY THE IMMORTAL FRUIT OF EDEN AS WE GLORIFY CHRIST.

The hymns above and below are both taken from matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.   The poetic imagery of the festal hymns reminds us that truth and beauty are related and united in the Kingdom of Heaven – and in the Church on earth.  In the  world of the Fall, God uses His creation to restore us humans to our natural state, and to heal the wounds of sin.

Let all the trees of the wood rejoice,

for their nature is sanctified by Christ.

He planted them in the beginning,

and on a tree was outstretched.

At its exaltation on this day, we worship Him and magnify you.

 

 

The Cross: Sign of Victory over Evil

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 “You should venerate not only the icon of Christ, but also the similitude of His cross. For the cross is Christ’s great sign and trophy of victory over the devil and all his hostile hosts; for this reason they tremble and flee when they see the figuration of the cross. This figure, even prior to the crucifixion, was greatly glorified by the prophets and wrought great wonders; and when He who was hung upon it, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, this His great and terrible sign will precede Him, full of power and glory (cf. Matt. 24:30).

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So glorify the cross now, so that you may boldly look upon it then and be glorified with it. And you should venerate icons of the saints, for the saints have been crucified with the Lord; and you should make the sign of the cross upon your person before doing so, bringing to mind their communion in the sufferings of Christ.”

(St Gregory Palamas, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 46350-46360)

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May Christ our God who died on the cross

for the salvation of the world

bless you and have mercy on you.

The Tree of Knowledge and The Tree of the Cross

“Christ defeated the devil using the very same means by which the Evil One had triumphed; he fought him  with his own weapons. How is this possible? A virgin [Eve], the wood and death were all sign of the victory of the devil; the wood was the tree in paradise, while death was the sentence imposed on Adam. But the virgin, the wood and death, which were the signs of our defeat, were also those of our victory. Mary took the place of Eve; the tree of the Cross took the place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death of Jesus Christ took the place of that of Adam.

Thus was the devil defeated by the very instruments of his victory. At the foot of the tree in paradise, the devil had overthrown Adam; on the Cross, Christ had trampled down the devil. The wood of old forced humanity into the abyss; that of the Cross led mankind out from it. Through the first wood, man was thrown, bound and naked, into darkness; by the second, the one that had defeated mankind was conquered, stripped of his weapons and offered as a spectacle for the whole universe. The death of Adam came also to his descendants; the death of Christ gave life even to those that were born before him.”  (St. John Chrysostom in The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, p 170)

Jesus Must Surprise Us

Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there  

(“Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode)

“Many preachers try to make Christianity in general and the Beatitudes in particular ‘acceptable’ – that key word of modern ethics. Behavior must be ‘acceptable’ or ‘appropriate’ rather than ‘good’ or ‘right’ or (heaven help us!) ‘virtuous’ or (most unthinkable of all) ‘holy’. For if we are acceptable, the world will accept us. And isn’t that the Church’s business, to win the world, to get her message accepted? No, it is not. Jesus commanded us not to succeed, but to obey; not to sell the gospel, but to proclaim it.

Jesus was not found ‘acceptable’; he was nailed to a cross.

And he told his disciples to expect the same kind of reaction, for human nature will not change and the proclamation of the gospel should not change. It is not our job to convert the world or to fill churches; that is God’s job. Ours is to sow the seed, without sugar coating it; God’s is to make it take root and grow. The apparent kindness of the preachers who water down Jesus’ hard saying is really arrogance. They are like mail carriers who arrogate to themselves the role of editors of the mail that is entrusted to them to deliver intact. Some preachers act as if Jesus had said, ‘Blessed are you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets’ (Lk 6:26). If we never offend anyone, we are not giving them Jesus. Jesus must offend us, for he tells us not what we want to hear but what we need to hear, and sin has inserted a great gap between our needs and our wants.

Jesus must surprise us, for he comes from Heaven; how could Heaven not surprise earth?”

(Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, p 89)