Friday, May 9, 2014

The Cross, Icon of Christ's Love
 "When you see the cross, know and believe that you are seeing Christ enthroned on it; when you pray before the cross, believe that you are doing so concerning Christ our God and not with inanimate matter. For it is Christ Who receives the veneration you offer before the cross; and it is He Who hears the supplications of your mouth and fulfills the desires of your heart, which you ask with faith. Whoever does not honor the cross, or insults it, insults Christ Himself."--St. Nerses Shnorhali

We are to preach nothing except Christ Crucified, following the example of Paul: on the Cross Christ bore our iniquities.  He was lashed, stripped, beaten, plucked, mocked, and finally forced to carry His death-wood to the Place of the Skull, where men of hubris dared to kill the Almighty Author of Life.  Yet He did this willingly!  It is this which changes the Crucifixion from merely a horrific deed of men into an infinitely loving act of God.  For it was God Who deigned to make Himself one of us, like us in all ways but sin, to be our great High Priest, yet a High Priest Who sacrifices Himself for those whom He shepherds.  And He sacrificed Himself in the most painful way.

The Cross was soaked in the blood of Jesus, it was soaked in the blood of God.  For this the Cross has become holy, and each replica of it shares a part of its holiness.  Each piece of wood carved cruciform is no longer a mere piece of wood, but an image of the love of the Son.  The Cross becomes an icon that deserves our veneration, "for it is Christ Who receives the veneration you offer before the cross."  As all icons bear the veneration we give them to the one they represent, so too does the Cross bear its veneration to Christ.  Thus we kiss the Cross at the end of each Divine Liturgy, and we process with it on its holy days.  So too the Latins kiss it on Great Friday and proclaim: "Behold, the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world....We adore Your Cross, O Lord, we praise and glorify Your Holy Resurrection, for behold, because of the wood of a tree joy has come to the whole world."

Truly did the Cross bring joy to the world!  It is for this that we still venerate it even during Pascha, for it is not a mere sign of suffering, but of manifold Love.  By His death, Christ descended to Hades, and because of His death, He could arise on the third day.  Without the Cross, there could be no Resurrection; without Great Friday, there could be no Pascha.  What glory is this, that through death comes life eternal!  The death that Isaiah proclaimed, the weight that Christopher felt as he carried the Lord, led to the divinization we can attain through Christ.  "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old" (Is 63:9).  He was afflicted on the Cross, yet through this He saved us; He lifted us up to His glory, and carries us as His own until time itself is old.  Let, then, all of us ever praise and venerate the holy Cross of Christ through which joy has come to the world, for by venerating the Cross we venerate the Lord, the Lover of Mankind, Jesus Who died and rose for us, to Whom be the power and the kingdom and the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

O Cross in days of yore foretold
by mouth of prophet true,
On thee the Suff'ring One behold,
for thee will en'mies rue,
for Christ will glorify thee bright
and from thee shine His light.

O Cross in days of present praised
by mouths of babes and men,
the One Who suffered on thee raised
beyond all mortal ken
has thee blessed with His Glory meet
and made His mercy seat.

O Cross in days of future hailed
by mouth of all the world,
born aloft for all to see, sailed
forth as flag unfurled,
the King of Kings will ye precede
as He reigns e'er indeed!

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