for a strange bond came upon it: the wood of the Cross.
The sting of Death and the victory of Hell were nailed to it.
But you appeared, my Savior, crying to those in hell:
“Be brought back again to Paradise.”
for a strange bond came upon it: the wood of the Cross.
The sting of Death and the victory of Hell were nailed to it.
But you appeared, my Savior, crying to those in hell:
“Be brought back again to Paradise.”
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! (Kontakion for the Lenten Sunday of the Cross)
We come to the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent, the very middle of the Fast, a day dedicated to the Cross of Christ. We have heard Jesus’ words, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). And the common interpretation of these words in Orthodoxy make us think about the self-denial of the fast or perhaps about the passion and suffering of Christ Himself on Holy Friday. We are often told that the very purpose of focusing on the Cross in mid-Lent is to encourage us to carry on with our fasting and self-denial: we may be tired of the fast or tired by the fast, but we must shoulder the cross and soldier on.
Yet, there is another connection with the Cross that we can readily note in the Epistle reading: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). It is the Cross of Christ which enables us to approach the throne of grace boldly – with the same boldness with which we dare to call God our heavenly Father when we say the Lord’s Prayer during the Divine Liturgy. Christ’s arms stretched out on the cross are not in our Church hymns portrayed as lifeless but rather are full of strength and are welcoming us into His embrace.
The Cross for us is our sign of victory – it is through the Cross that Christ brought humanity to the throne of the Father. Through the Cross joy comes into all the world and we are restored to communion with our God. We hear this in the hymns for this day. For example from the Matins Canon:
COME, FAITHFUL, LET US FALL DOWN IN WORSHIP BEFORE THE LIFE‑CREATING TREE. CHRIST, THE KING OF GLORY, STRETCHED OUT HIS HANDS ON IT AND EXALTED US TO PARADISE, FROM WHERE HE HAD BEEN DRIVEN BY THE DEVIL’S INSTIGATION. COME, FAITHFUL, LET US FALL DOWN IN WORSHIP BEFORE THE TREE. BY IT, WE ARE EMPOWERED TO CRUSH THE HEADS OF INVISIBLE ENEMIES. COME, ALL GENERATIONS OF NATIONS. LET US HONOR THE CROSS OF THE LORD WITH SONGS. REJOICE, PERFECT REDEMPTION OF FALLEN ADAM. NOW ALL CHRISTIANS VENERATE YOU IN FEAR AND LOVE, SINGING, HAVE MERCY ON US, GRACIOUS LORD AND LOVER OF MANKIND!
Doing a word count of the hymns that are found in the Matins Canon for this Lenten Sunday of the Cross we see: the word fasting occurs only once, abstinence only 3 times, the word sin or passions occurs 10 times, and references to the crucifixion or Christ being nailed to the cross occurs 15 times. On the other hand words related to resurrection, Pascha, life, the destruction of hell and demons occur 54 times. Add to those, words about rejoicing, salvation, light, paradise, and Kingdom we find 143 references in the Canon. More than 80% of the Canon is about Christ’s victory, Christ’s triumph, the destruction of death and the resurrection of the dead. This is the focus of this Sunday. The Canon for the Sunday of the Cross has in it all the Irmos hymns from the Paschal Canon and thus today we are already proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. Here are two hymns which are good examples of the focus of the hymns for the day:
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!
Behold, Christ is risen! said the angel to the Myrrh‑bearing women! Do not lament, but go and say to the apostles: Rejoice, for today is the world’s salvation! The tyranny of the enemy has been destroyed through the death of Christ!
We find this emphasis on the glory and victory of the cross in the writings of the early church fathers as well. As some church historians have noted, the Cross as a symbol of God’s salvation and love and triumph was the focus of the early church. Only later in history does the Cross become more a sign of Christ’s passion and suffering. And only when this more ascetic theme takes over does the focus of the cross turn away from our participation in Christ’s salvation and turn more toward ascetical themes of personal self-denial, fasting and abstinence. St. Paul himself writes about how we participate in and benefit by the Cross of Christ:
For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14-22)
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him… (Colossians 1:19-22) [For other Pauline references to the Cross and Christ’s death as the instrument of our salvation see Romans 5:6-6:11, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, Galatians 2:19-20, Colossians 2:12-15]
A few more examples of the hymns from the Canon for the Lenten Sunday of the Cross:
You have risen from the tomb, never‑setting Light, shining upon the world with the bright dawn of incorruption! In Your compassion You have driven out the dark sorrow of death from the farthest corners of the earth!
You crushed death, O Christ, and rose as a mighty King, recalling us from the depths of hell! You brought us to the land of immortality, granting us the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Faithful, let us cry aloud with joy as we greet the Cross of the Lord. Let us sing triumphantly to God, for it is a fountain of holiness to all in the world!
During Great Lent, we don’t just focus on Christ’s suffering or our own self-denial. The Cross of Christ reminds us that we are to be united to God our Father and to rejoice in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Cross reminds us that Christ has obtained salvation for all. The Cross is for us has opened the door to Paradise.
A last thought: Frequently in the early church writings there is mention of the two ways – the way of the world which leads to death and the way of the Cross which leads to eternal life. You can follow the way of the world ( for example just keep watching the news and the news feeds and you will see exactly how the world defines glory, power, what is right – might, political power, military, the kingdom of this world). Or you can turn the news and news feeds off and pay attention to the themes of Great Lent, the way of Christ (self denial, humility, tears, broken-heartedness, the cross, a kingdom not of this world). You can rejoice in the Lord or lament the condition of the world. That choice is yours. There are three weeks left in Great Lent, three weeks for you to allow your heart and mind to give up on the way of the world in order to follow Christ. If you give up on the way of the world – stop paying attention to the news or new feeds and instead come to the Church services to hear about Christ and the way to the Kingdom. You will find the way to abundant life and the joy of the Lord God.
Faithful, let us cry aloud with joy
as we greet the Cross of the Lord.
Let us sing triumphantly to God,
for it is a fountain of holiness to all in the world!
(Hymn for the Lenten Sunday of the Cross)
In his book, THE THEOLOGY OF JEWISH CHRISTIANITY, Jean Danielou points out that in the literary works from the first two Centuries of Christianity which focus on “the Cross as a theological symbol” the Cross is portrayed “as the power of Christ in his resurrection, as a sign of the cosmic scope of the redemption, and as an object of eschatological expectation” (Danielou, p 265). This focus will change over time and as monasticism gains dominance as being “normative” Christianity the Cross becomes more focused on the passion of Christ and on asceticism as a response to Christ’s passion. The more ancient focus in the literature “… is, however, obviously not the Cross as an image of Christ suffering, but the glorious Cross which will precede him at the Parousia. The modification of its significance in the former sense was brought about by later Christian asceticism, which saw in it not a prophecy of the Parousia, but a memorial of the Passion” (Danielou, p 269).
Monastic asceticism turned the focus away from the Parousia to the Passion of Christ. But then the humanism which followed in European Christianity turned the focus ever more on the human suffering of Christ. In Orthodoxy this tended to manifest itself by focusing on Mary’s own lamentations about the suffering of her son, while the West developed not only Mary’s suffering but also the human agony of Christ Himself as he is tortured and dies on the cross. I find it interesting that in the Canon for the Lenten Sunday of the Cross (the midpoint of Great Lent), we see that focus on the glorious and life-giving Cross far more than on the passion of Christ or on asceticism or fasting. The Cross thus is not so much a symbol of Christ’s death as it is a sign of His triumph over death. The Lenten Sunday of the Cross appears to be more in line with the earlier Christian emphasis.
In the Canon for the Sunday of the Cross we see what Danielou describes in his book as the focus of early Christianity:
“The Cross has thus been promoted to represent the whole plan of redemption. It reaches out to the whole of Creation; it symbolizes the action of the Word as well in the farthest heaven as in the abysses of hell, and represents the spread of this action over the breadth of space and the length of time.” (Danielou, pp 291-291)
The Cross represents Christ’s cosmic victory over all evil whether in the air, on earth or in hell. It is the sign of God’s triumph in which heaven and earth are full of God’s glory.
We also see the Cross as a sign of victory when the hymns of the Canon make reference to the Old Testament: Moses prefigures the Cross with outstretched arms in defeating Amalek, Moses prefigures the Cross in dividing the sea with his rod and then causing the sea to close on the Egyptians, Daniel stretches out his hands cross-like in the lion’s den, the wood is thrown into the bitter waters to make them sweet and drinkable, Jonah arose on the 3rd day from the whale. The Old Testament thus anticipates the Cross of the Lord, making it possible for us now to see God’s victorious triumph over death through Christ’s death on the cross.
THIS IS THE DAY OF RESURRECTION:
LET US BE ILLUMINED, O PEOPLE!
PASCHA, THE PASCHA OF THE LORD!
FOR FROM DEATH TO LIFE, AND FROM EARTH TO HEAVEN
HAS CHRIST OUR GOD LED US,
AS WE SING THE SONG OF VICTORY!
We are already proclaiming the resurrection. The Cross is a festal sign, it celebrates the victory of Christ over sin, death, demons and Satan. The theme of the Sunday is not “Lent is long and hard and we have a lot more fasting yet to go.” Rather the theme is resurrection and we already know the destination because it is the basis for our daily life in Christ! The following are all hymns from the Canon for the Lenten Sunday of the Cross to give us some of the themes emphasized for this mid-Lent Sunday:
Today there is joy in earth and heaven,
for the sign of the Cross is made manifest to all the world!
The thrice‑blessed Cross is set before us;
a fountain of ever‑flowing grace to all who show it honor!
You arose on the third day from the tomb,
as one waking from sleep, O Lord.
By Your divine power, You struck down the keepers of hell,
raising up all our ancestors from the beginning of time,
for You alone are blessed and greatly glorified:
the God of our Fathers!
On this day, the Cross of Christ, the Wood anointed with life,
fills all things with the fragrance of divine grace.
As we smell its God‑given scent,
let us venerate it with faith forever!
Your tomb, O Christ, has brought life to me,
for You, the Lord of Life,
came and cried to those dwelling in the grave:
Be free, all who are in bonds,
for I am come, the Ransom of the world!
The Lenten Sunday of the Cross is not focused on the passion of Christ and His suffering on the Cross. Rather, it focuses on the Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Pascha which we will celebrate in another month. And by anticipation it looks forward to eschaton, when Christ will fill all things with Himself and death will be no more. The Cross is the sign of Christ’s victory, and from the beginning of Christianity it was celebrated as such.
“…for the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)
“In Matthew divine recompense is given in response to the work demanded of those who would follow Jesus; it is a wage, not a reward. For instance, in 16:24-28 Jesus explains the necessity of cross-bearing in terms of the eschatological repayment:
Then [after rebuking Peter] he said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow behind me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life on my account will find it…
Like the Markan parallel (8:34-9:1), this pericope explains that following Jesus entails giving one’s life to gain it back – that is, to follow Jesus who will be killed and then raised from the dead (see 16:21). Matthew, however, explicitly frames this “losing in order to regain” in terms of eschatological repayment; those who lose their life following Jesus will regain it because the Son of Man is about to repay to each according to his deeds. The crucial point here is that Jesus is not calling the disciples to perform some supererogatory deed that will earn them a “reward.” Rather, all who follow Jesus are expected to take up their cross, lose their lives, and be repaid in the resurrection…The recompense described here is not a mere token of God’s gratitude for those who go the extra mile. It is, rather, the recompense for obligatory behavior….But these workers receive a generous wage, not a reward. ” (Nathan Eubank, Wages of Cross-Bearing and Debt of Sin, 68-69)
“. . . as a crown, so let us bear about the cross of Christ. Yea, for by it all things are wrought, that are wrought among us. Whether one is to be new-born, the cross is there; or to be nourished with that mystical food, or to be ordained, or to do anything else, everywhere our symbol of victory is present. Therefore both on house, and walls, and windows, and upon our forehead, and upon our mind, we inscribe it with much care.
For of the salvation wrought for us, and of our common freedom, and of the goodness of our Lord, this is the sign. For as a sheep was He led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). When therefore you sign yourself, think of the purpose of the cross, and quench anger, and all the other passions. When you sign yourself, fill your forehead with all courage, make your soul free.
…This therefore do thou engrave upon your mind, and embrace the salvation of our souls. For this cross saved and converted the world, drove away error, brought back truth, made earth Heaven, fashioned men into angels. Because of this, the devils are no longer terrible, but contemptible; neither is death, death, but a sleep; because of this, all that wars against us is cast to the ground, and trodden under foot.
Taking up the cross to follow Christ is essential to our discipleship. We cannot be Christians unless we do what Christ commanded: Take up our cross and follow Him.
This week as you fast, pray and prepare yourself to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, focus on the cross bearing we are called to do.
It is not easy to follow Christ – every day in the most mundane and simple ways we see how hard it is to do the right thing. We struggle with patience, sloth, forgetfulness, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, being thankful, not getting our way, with disappointment, with having to share the world with others. And all of that can occur just in the morning before we go to church!
We must die with Christ in order to live with Him. As St. Paul writes:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8)
But we do have to die with Him if we want to live with Him. This dying to self is hard because we so want to get our way always.
To be a Christian is to live for the kingdom of God, which means denying ourselves in this world. We are not Christians in order to become more prosperous in this world, for as Christians we claim citizenship in God’s Kingdom. We may experience blessings in this world, but we aren’t to live for them, but must live with a willingness to give up the things of this world for life in the world to come. We receive blessings from God so that we might share those blessings with others.
There is an account in the lives of the Orthodox missionaries to Alaska of an event that happened in 1796. There was a certain Aleut Indian chief who was notorious for his bad behavior – drunkenness, fighting, stealing, rape and adultery. His villagers sought out an Orthodox missionary to try to convert their chief to Christianity as they wanted to improve his behavior. The missionary priest came to the village and saw the evil going on and did his best to present the Gospel to all the people in the village. Surprisingly the chief demanded to be baptized at once, threatening harm to the priest if he refused. The priest reluctantly baptized him. The chief however did not undergo any conversion and continued his evil ways. The villagers were furious at the priest for having failed them. They told the missionary priest: “You lied to us. You told us that if we or the chief converted to Christianity that we would be better people. Our chief was baptized and is as bad as ever.” In a rage they took the priest and killed him on the spot. This is the story of St. Juvenaly, whose icon we have in our church.
My point in telling you this story is that those Aleuts only thought of Christianity as making their life on earth better. They wanted to improve their material lot in life. They did not accept the Gospel as a call to set aright their own lives with God, nor did they intend to follow Christ in suffering for truth and righteousness. They in fact rejected the Gospel and in bitter disappointment became murderers. They were not able to see beyond life in this world.
We follow Christ not for material gain in this world but in order to give our life to Him.
What does it profit someone to gain the whole world but to lose their life? (Mark 8:36)
In the Service for Receiving Converts into the Faith, one of the petitions we say in the litany for the new convert is this:
That grace may be given to him/her through anointing with the all-holy Chrism, so that boldly, without fear and unashamed, he/she may confess before all people the Name of Christ our God, and that he/she may be always ready for Christ’s sake to lovingly suffer and to die, let us pray to the Lord.
Yes, as Christians we commit ourselves to always be ready to lovingly suffer and die for Christ!
To follow Christ is to take a new look at the questions: “What does it mean to be successful?” and How do I measure success?
In the Gospel lesson today, we could paraphrase Jesus as saying: “If any wants to be my disciple and enter into eternal life, then say no to your self, say no to your desires, say no to your self interest, say no to your self preservation.”
We live in a country full of over weight people, people with porn addictions, binge drinkers, and drug addiction partly because we refuse ever to say no to our selves. We confusedly think abundance means over indulgence is blessed. Great Lent says precisely because there is such abundance we need to learn self control and how to say no to all that abundance which surrounds us so that we don’t literally become buried in over indulgence.
You want to be a Christian? Then take up your cross and deny yourself and follow Christ. Great Lent is given to you and me as a gift – an opportunity for us to seriously and literally fulfill the teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord.
“The icon encourages us to reflect on this climax to our Lord’s earthly life; his work has been accomplished, and he commends himself to the Father. The following verses come to mind: ‘I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work that thou gavest me to do’ (John 17:4); ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30); ‘Father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). And these verses from the letter to the Hebrews seem equally appropriate: ‘Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:1-2); ‘So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him. For here we have no abiding city, but we seek the city which is to come’ (Hebrews 13:12-14).
The following extract from St. Theodore the Studite’s On the Adoration of the Cross shows how the victorious nature of Christ’s death on the Cross was interpreted by a great teacher of Orthodox theology (759-826):
How precious is the gift of the cross! See, how beautiful it is to behold!…It is a tree which brings forth life, not death. It is the source of light, not darkness. It offers you a home in Eden. It does not cast you out. It is the tree which Christ mounted as a king his chariot, and so destroyed the devil, the lord of death, and rescued the human race from slavery to the tyrant. It is the tree on which the Lord, like a great warrior with his hands and feet and his divine side pierced in battle, healed the wounds of our sins, healed our nature that had been wounded by the evil serpent. Of old we were poisoned by a tree; now we have found immortality through a tree.
…By the cross death was killed and Adam restored to life. In the cross every apostle has gloried; by it every martyr has been crowned and every saint made holy. We have put on the cross of Christ, and laid aside the old man. Through the cross we have joined Christ’s flock, and are granted a place in the sheepfold of heaven.”
(John Baggley, Festival Icons for the Christian Year, pp. 108-109)
“The kingdom of God cannot be imposed; if it is to be brought about we must be born again, and that supposes complete freedom of spirit. Christianity is the religion of the Cross, and it sees a meaning in suffering. Christ asks us to take up our own cross and carry it, to shoulder the load of a sinful world. In Christian consciousness the notion of attaining happiness, justice, and the kingdom of God on earth without cross or suffering is a huge lie: it is the temptation that Christ rejected in the wilderness when he was shown the kingdoms of the world and invited to fall down and worship. Christianity does not promise its own necessary realization and victory here below; Christ even questioned whether he will find any faith on earth when he comes again at the end of time, and foretold that love itself will have grown cold.
Tolstoy believed that Christ’s commands could be easily fulfilled simply by recognizing their truth. But that was a mistake of his over-rationalizing consciousness; the mysteries of freedom and of grace were beyond him, his optimism contradicted the tragic depths of life. “The good which I will I do not,” says the apostle Paul, “but the evil which I will not, that I do. Now if I do that which I will not it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” This testimony of one of the greatest of all Christians unveils the innermost part of the human heart, and it teaches us that the “failure of Christianity” is a human failure and not a divine defeat.”
(Nicholas Berdiaev, Tradition Alive, pp. 96-97)
Christ … for my sake fell asleep on the cross (Lenten hymn)
The imagery of some Orthodoxy hymns about the crucifixion of Christ, seem all too pleasant … Jesus falls asleep on the Christ. No mention of the agony and torture he would have suffered. Many icons reflect that same calm demeanor. It was Christian humanism of the Middle Ages which really took an interest in the suffering and agony of Christ and began to describe and portray the agony and torture which crucifixion is. Read the biblical texts and we see that the bodily suffering of Christ is hardly mentioned. It was the focus on Christ’s humanity which was seen as realism, that started Christians moving away from a focus on Jesus as the incarnate God. Instead of seeing God, all that was seen was another human dying a painful death.
The image of Christ falling asleep on the cross is deeply rooted in the theology that God is passionless. God is not moved by emotions and their visceral affects on us – God doesn’t have a body so does not experience emotions like we do. God does not love us as a reaction to us for God is love. God dying on the cross does not change His reaction to humans: He continues to love them. And so Jesus says while dying on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He came into the world because of divine love and dies on the cross for the same reason (John 3:16-17). Christ doesn’t forgive in reaction to what his tormentors are doing for He came into the world as love in order to forgive humans.
God is love, and doesn’t wait to see what we will do before reacting to us. God always acts towards us in love. God becomes incarnate because God is love. God dies on the cross because God is love. The crucifixion does not change God’s relationship to the world. Sin does not change God’s reaction to humans. God forever acts in love toward humans no matter how humans behave. As another Lenten hymn says:
In Your compassion You humbled Yourself, and were lifted on the cross raising up with Yourself the one who had fallen of old through eating from the tree. Therefore, You are glorified, Lord, alone greatest in love, and we sing Your praises forever!
God loves humanity and accepts that love means God will suffer for us humans. God suffers for us, with us and in us. God does this for our salvation. God is not changed by our sin, by our reaction to God, by our rejection of God, by our crucifying God’s Son. God is love. Thus the Passionless God suffers the passion as one of the great mysteries of God’s love. And because it is God on the cross, the suffering is infinitely deep, yet God is still love and God continues to act toward us in love. This is why the icon is so correct in portraying the sleeping Christ on the cross – divinity suffers in us and for us and with us in all eternity and yet this does not change God’s love for it is God’s love for us.
“He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:8-10)
God even takes on a human body and experiences all the pain, sorrow and torment of being human because this is God’s love for us. It is a love infinitely and eternally deep – yet it is the love that God offers to us and invites us to share with Him so that our life, and our suffering, becomes our life in God. God dying on the cross is still love, and still loving us.
Christ lives and dies for Adam, Eve and each of us. The hymns of Lent often move from images of God dealing with Adam to God dealing with each of us.
I have fallen into the heavy sleep of sin through heedlessness, but, my Christ, Who for my sake fell asleep on the cross, awaken me, that the night of death not come on me.
Christ’s death on the cross is the sign of the blessed Sabbath Day on which the Lord rests for His work for us and for our salvation is complete. Christ sleeps on the cross in order to awaken us from the sleep of death and to awaken us from our having fallen asleep in the world when we should be awake, alert and vigilant. In Christ we awake from our sleep whether in this world or the world to come.
In Christ dying on the cross we see God’s love for us undisturbed by the sin of the world, encouraging us to unite ourselves to Him so that whether we live or die we belong to the Lord.
“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)
See also my post Arising From Sleep.
“From this point of view, it would be appropriate to also quote an amazing third-century text by of the author of the most early Philokalia, Origen:
‘You are, all of you, a priestly people. Consequently, you have access to the sanctuary; each one of you has in himself his holocaust and he himself kindles the altar of sacrifice, so that it burns continually. If I renounce all my possessions, if I carry my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God.
If I deliver my body in order to burn with charity, if I acquire the glory of martyrdom, I offer myself as a holocaust on the altar of God. If I love my brothers to the point of giving up my soul for them, if I fight to the death for justice and truth, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I mortify my members of all carnal concupiscence, if the world is crucified to me and I to the world, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God and I become the priest of my own sacrifice.’
(Boris Bobrinksoy, The Compassion of the Father, p. 111).