In the Orthodox Church, one way we show honor to our Lord Jesus Christ, is through veneration of His Cross. On September 14, we keep the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, displaying a decorated cross for all to see and venerate. We humble ourselves before the Lord by bowing before His cross. For the Cross is a sign of God’s own presence in our midst and grace toward the world.
The Cross is a sign to us just like in the Old Testament when God gave the rainbow as a sign of God’s peace with humanity, that God will never again destroy the earth, but instead makes covenant with us. The Cross is a similar sign to us of God’s peace and protection.
The Old Testament has many other signs – the Ark of the covenant, the Temple in Jerusalem, the Torah, Aaron staff, the tablets of stone with the 10 commandments – which remind everyone of God’s presence, promise, activity, and covenant. These signs were all treated with reverence by God’s people. King David danced before the ark when it was brought back into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14) because it was a sign of God’s presence and favor. In Revelation 11:19, we get an idea of the significance of the Ark as a sign:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
For Christians, the Cross is the sign of God’s Power :
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The Cross is the sign of God’s love:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
The Cross is the sign of God’s plan for the salvation of the human race, the restoration of our relationship with God. The Cross is the sign of God’s grace and presence.
In the Church we sing the words of the Psalm:
“Extol the Lord our God and worship at his footstool for it is holy.” (Psalm 99:5)
We recognize that where Jesus’ feet were nailed on the Cross, this becomes Christ’s footstool, the place where his feet rested, and thus the cross is holy. On the Cross God’s love for His world reigns and thus the Cross is God’s throne. In the book of Revelation (5:6-14) we encounter these words describing the worship of God at His Throne:
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain … he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
We recognize that God set up His Throne on earth, on the Cross, and so we give honor to it for it brings us close to God. We sing at the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross:
Rejoice, O life-bearing Cross!
The invincible weapon of godliness;
The gate of paradise, the protection of the faithful!
The Cross is the might of the church.
Through it corruption is abolished.
Through it the power of death is crushed
And we are raised from earth to heaven!
The invincible weapon of peace!
The Cross is the enemy of demons,
The glory of the martyrs,
The haven of salvation
Which grants the world great mercy!
But we do not just honor the Cross of our salvation, for the Cross is also a way of life for us Christians. Jesus asks,
For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:36)
We spend a great deal of time, energy and money pursuing our dreams. For example, college education is expensive, yet we are willing to pay the high price for ourselves or our adult children. We are willing to sacrifice many things to get that education in the hope that it will benefit ourselves or our children in the long run. We pursue careers and cars and the home of our dreams, investing all we have to achieve these goals. But, Christ asks us, even if you gain the whole world, and in so doing lose your soul, what good are these things you have gained? For they all belong to the fleeting world, which is passing away. Jesus also taught:
“Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).
Treasures are those things – including convictions and values – which are so dear to us that we are willing to forfeit everything to get them. Do we value the Kingdom of Heaven so much that we are willing to forfeit everything on earth to attain it?
For some, the things they hold so dear that are willing to forsake and forfeit everything else are fleeting pleasures, not treasures. They pursue with all their heart, mind and strength things of this world, which are so temporary. We see it all the time in the scandal mongering news – politicians, sports champions and entertainers who shamefully throw away family and friends to pursue sex, drugs and other pleasures. They end up destroying that which is human in themselves and others.
For what is truly & uniquely human is the ability to commune with God, the ability to see God, to experience, to possess and share God’s almighty love and being.
We who hope in heaven should not exchange our home and life there for the pleasures of this world which can never satisfy, and so quickly disappear. We ought not give up our life in God for a moment’s pleasure, for those moments pass away, and we are left with nothing. Only our life in God is forever.
The world tells us to focus on our self and our self-interest. Christianity says our self-interest is found in:
Jesus said: If any want to be my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)