Sept. 14 marked for Eastern Orthodox Christians the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast originated in Jerusalem to mark the day that St. Helen discovered Christ's original cross.
To add to the feast, during the year 614 A.D., the Persian army invaded the Holy Land and stole that very cross. In 629, the Roman Emperor Heraclius recovered and returned the cross to Jerusalem so this, too, was to be commemorated on this day.
Without question there are those who ask "What could possibly be gained from the adoration of such an instrument designed solely for the purposes of torture and death?"
The reply is that practically all of Christendom seeks its answers there whether the cross supplying the answers is an empty one or one that shows Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ with arms outstretched. The cross, for generations, has provided a multitude of things for its followers.
For the faithful, the cross provides a refuge in which we may abide.
In times of trouble and doubt, when all around us seems to be crumbling, the symbol of the cross reminds us that in this world filled with gray, that there is an absolute.
Finally, the cross transforms us as we carry it with the help of our savior and through that daily walk we receive life, abundant life.
"You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God." I Peter: 18-21.
Strength and confidence
Christians look upon these two pieces of wood and gather strength and confidence for their lives knowing that Christ provided through his sacrifice the restoration of our relationship to the Heavenly Father.
This gesture of love, pure love, that Christ made on our behalf makes one realize that the Son of God was willing to sacrifice himself for each and every person regardless of who he is or what he has done.
Knowing that the Creator of the Universe finds you that important truly sends a powerful message, giving each and every person who hears that message the strength "to endure without yielding" or to abide.
"He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it." Matthew 10:38-39.
The cross has provided that absolute and inspired Christians. It can be seen both within through worship and privately. On a communal or liturgical level, it can be witnessed through the Veneration of the Cross by the faithful on Holy Friday by kissing the feet of the image of Our Savior crucified.
As we place a crucifix (the cross with an image of Christ's body upon it) in our homes or wear this image on our persons, it is a constant reminder and witness of Christ's ultimate triumph, his victory over sin and death through his suffering and dying on the cross. In this we find our absolute.
"Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5-8.
Through our baptism we have shared in every level of that very experience. We are promised that not only do we share in the death of Christ on the cross but we also share in this glory of our new lives. (Romans 6:2-4) This new life is not simply another chance but it is a life filled with purpose and it is truly abundant.
Certainly this is not meant to be exhaustive, yet it gives insight as to what can be gained from gazing upon the sight of the Cross. Whether it is empty or with Christ's form on it, we gather strength to abide and stand firm for its message is our Absolute. We pray daily that the abundant life we've been granted will shine through our lives and so that we may be a living witness to the cross so that Christ's sacrifice upon it may not be in vain.
XSubdeacon David Alan Moretti works at St. Mark Antiochian Orthodox Church.