Christ’s Death on the Cross

The Savior came to destroy death by His own death. ‘The ultimate reason for Christ’s death must be seen in the mortality of man.’  Redemption is the ‘liberation of man from the ‘”bondage of corruption”.’ However, this means that ‘the Cross is more than merely suffering Good.’  ‘The death on the cross was effective, not [simply] as the death of an Innocent one, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord. ‘We needed an Incarnate God; God put to death, that we might live’ – to use a bold phrase of St. Gregory of Nazianzus.” Here we see Florovsky’s a-symmetrical Chalcedonianism at work: as he writes, ‘It may be properly said that God dies on the Cross, but in his own humanity.’

The death of Christ is of necessity for salvation precisely because through it, eternal life enters the realm of death. Thus, Holy Saturday itself is ‘the very day of our salvation.’ As the icons suggest, Christ enters hades as Victor despoiling death.”(Matthew Baker, On the Tree of the Cross, 114-115).

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The Exaltation of the Cross (2017)

The [Feast of the] Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross … (September 14).   The association of the words ‘feast’ and ‘Cross’ is a paradox: the Cross, to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Greeks a folly, yet ‘to those who are called, the power and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:23-24).  We commemorate the Passion and the Crucifixion not as ugly episodes inspired by a sordid politicking, but as the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of God who became man to save us.  therefore the liturgy of the Cross is not a lamentation over a dead hero, the wailing of devotees working themselves up to a paroxysm of frenzy, but the memorial of an event of cosmic significance, reaching beyond the limits of history.

The Cross stands while the world rolls . . . proclaims the motto of the Carthusian hermits.  We see in the cross a reason for hope, and the Resurrection makes this hope to become the unshakable assurance of our Christian faith.”  (Georges Barrois, SCRIPTURE READINGS IN ORTHODOX WORSHIP, p 142)

Offer Yourself to God: Take Up Your Cross

“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).

Christ is The Power of the Cross

St. Isaac of Ninevah says the image or sign of the cross because it represents Christ already is imbued with divine power.  It doesn’t matter what materials are used to construct the cross, whether it is three or two dimensional.

“Here too, in the case of the Cross, the moment this form of the Cross is depicted on a wall or on a board, or it is fashioned out of some kind of gold or silver and the like, or carved out of wood, immediately it puts on, and is filled with, the divine power which was residing there at the time, and (so) it becomes a place of God’s Shekhina, even more so than in the Ark.

Just as the ministry of the New Covenant is more honorable before God than the things which took place in the Old Covenant, just as there is a difference between Moses and Christ, just as the ministry which Jesus received is more excellent than the one which was given through Moses, and just as the honor of a human person is greater and more excellent in His creation than (that of) dumb objects – so is this form of (the Cross), which now exists, much more honorable because of the honor of the Man whom the Divinity took from us for His abode; and because this divine good pleasure which is in this Man who completely became its temple is different from the metaphorical good pleasure which of old was in those dumb objects in which was the shadow of these things to come in Christ.” 

(The Second Part, Chapters 4-41 (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium), p. 56)

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.

Deny Your Self

On the Sunday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, we read the Gospel Lesson from Mark 8:34-9:1.

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? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Some historians of the Orthodox liturgical tradition say that in the older tradition of the Church, this Gospel lesson was read as the beginning of the Church’s new year (see for example THE DIVINE LITURGY OF THE GREAT CHURCH by Fr. Paul Harrilchak).  This was because in the early centuries of Christianity in the Roman Empire, September 23, Augustus Caesar’s birthday was treated as the first day of the new year.  He was heralded in the pagan Roman Empires as heralding in a new world.   Over the centuries, the Gospel lesson remained on the Sunday after the Elevation of the Cross, but it got separated from association with the church’s new year day as that day migrated away from September 23 to September 1.  This was somewhat a move to Christianize new year’s day.  Interestingly, August Caesar’s birthday also eventually became eclipsed in the Christian Roman Empire, being replaced on September 23 with the conception of St. John the Forerunner, who for Christians was the true herald of the coming new age of God.  Augustus represented nothing but the old age which was passing/had passed away.

Matthew Gallatin writes a personal reflection on what it means to deny the self to follow Christ:

“It wasn’t until I began studying the Orthodox faith, however, that I realized how subtly and completely self-love permeates my life. Sometimes it cleverly disguises itself in forms that are not quite so stark and ugly as self-love. When I am self-concerned, when I practice self-justification, when I act on self-desire, when I follow paths that are self-created and self-directed – in fact, any time the word ‘self’ can be used in the description of what I am doing – I am dancing to a dangerous drummer called self-love. Even things that are lauded in our society – like self-motivation, self-assertiveness, and self-development – can present deceptive stumbling blocks to one who in truth longs to ‘deny himself (Matt. 16:24) and allow himself to be caught up within the Life of his God and King.” (Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells, pp 95-96)

The Cross in St. Paul’s Theology

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”    (Romans 1:16)

“But why does Paul stress the fact that he is not ‘ashamed’ to bring that gospel to the Roman patricians? The reason is that the apostolic ‘word’ of preaching is closely linked to the cross: ‘For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word, namely (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 Cor. 1:17-18) For Paul, the cross is a reason for boasting: ‘But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Gal. 6:14) The clue to making sense out of this factual equation between ‘gospel’ and ‘cross’ lies in the aspect of shameful death linked to the cross in the Roman empire.

Crucifixion was intended for public humiliation and was the punishment administered to slaves, foreigners, and those involved in a revolt against the legal authority. It was the opposite of the soldier’s glorious death for the sake of a noble cause: martyrdom for one’s own country or nation or empire. Crucifixion was a death unto total oblivion of someone whose life was unworthy of remembrance: an unworthy end of an unworthy life, shame ending in shame. So Paul here is making sure that his Roman patrician hearers not be mistaken that, should they fully endorse his preaching, they will be considered as having committed the sin of lèse majestè against the emperor and might end up in the arena of the Coliseum.” (Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Chrysostom Bible: Romans, pp 46-47)

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The Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross of our Lord (2015)

Today in the Orthodox Church we are celebrating the Feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross of our Savior.   One of the hymns from the post-feast proclaims:

Today Your precious Cross, O Savior Christ,
shone forth radiantly like the sun,


set up and elevated on the all-glorious Place of the Skull:
on Your all-holy mountain,
openly revealing that by it, O all-powerful One,
You have raised our nature to the heavens,
for You are the Lover of mankind.

There is a play on ideas, of course.  Christ is raised up on the cross to glory, but simultaneously it is His crucifixion.  He who triumphs over death is first subject to death for our salvation.   The Cross becomes the Christ’s throne and footstool – the very place where the Lord of Glory “rests” His feet while enthroned.

“Extol the Lord our God and worship at His footstool for He is holy.”  (Ps 98:5)

“The ‘footstool’ serves as a key term in the liturgical services held on September 14, functioning as a bridge between the two sides of the Lord’s profile: king and sufferer.  The footstool refers to both throne (or ark of covenant) and the cross.  The paradoxical juxtaposition of exaltation (throne or ark) and extreme humility (cross) is the very theme of the feast of the ‘Exaltation of the Precious Cross.’  Through scriptural lessons read at the Vespers and Liturgy, and through hymns and antiphons, we are introduced to the mood of Good Friday and to the post-resurrection times — the liturgical life of the Church as advancement toward the eschaton.”  (Eugen Pentiuc, THE OLD TESTAMENT IN EASTERN ORTHODOX TRADITION, p 222)

Save us, O Savior!