|Christ on the cross
The cross has acquired an exceedingly special place in the Christian
faith and worship. Since Christ suffered on it, the cross for the
Orthodox is a symbol of the supreme sacrifice and of the Resurrection
not only of the Lord but also of one's own in the life to come.
The Greek term for cross is used by Homer, Thucidides and Herodotos.
But the Seventy Translators of the Old Testament, although they
seem to know the verb, do not quote the noun. The cross as the emblem
signifying salvation by way of Christ's sacrifice on it comes to
eminence with the books of the New Testament. The Church from the
very beginning decreed special days for honouring the Cross of Christ.
St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, journeyed to Jerusalem
about 326AD and found the place where Christ was buried and built
on it the famous Church of the Resurrection. Consecrated in the
year 335, it still remains the most respected place of worship for
the Orthodox where the famous Service of the Resurrection takes
place at midnight of the Saturday of Holy Week. According to the
greatest historians of the time, such as Socrates and Theodoret,
Ambrose and Nicephoros Kallistos, together with the tomb, the Cross
of Christ was also found. To commemorate this day, the Church decreed
the third Sunday of Great Lent as the feast day of the finding of
the Cross, calling it Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross.
Another day when the Cross is ecclesiastically venerated is September
14, the Exaltation of the Cross. This feast is connected with the
historical event of emperor Heracleias' recovering the Cross from
the Persians into whose hands it had fallen in 614. The Cross was
raised in the Church of the Resurrection to be venerated by the
people. Since then, on September 14 a special Liturgy has been taking
place and the Cross is being raised and exalted by the Orthodox.
The day has been specified as a fasting day of the severity of the
days of the Holy Week. And since, according to the narrative, St.
Helen discovered the Cross buried in a spot on which the herb basil
had grown, sprigs of blessed basil are distributed to the faithful
by the priest when they bow and kiss the Cross.
Apart from the formal occasions on which the Orthodox venerate
the Cross as the Christian symbol signifying life rather than death,
the sign of the Cross and small crosses as articles of personal
piety and symbolism have played a deep reaching role in the daily
experience of the Orthodox. Before kissing an icon, the Orthodox
Christian crosses himself as a sign of sealing himself with the
symbol most indicative of his relation with Christ and most protective
against evil and other adversities of personal and communal experience.
It is believed that Constantine the Great won by the sign of the
Cross, not only his most decisive personal battle, but also brought
about the most historical changes in the life of man since the conquests
of Alexander the Great. The Christian martyrs were marching to their
death holding Crosses to their heart as objects not only of complete
identification with their Master, but as sources of strength as
well, that rendered the pain of death an event of supreme personal
fulfillment. For today's Orthodox, the Cross stands as a personal
protector in the midst of a life that tends, most of the time, to
be confusing, fragmented as it is by so many enemies.
from The Orthodox Messenger, Sept-Oct 1996
published bi-monthly by the SA Central Youth
PO Box 269, GLENELG SA 5045 AUSTRALIA
Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia