Orthodox Archbishopric of Zimbabwe & Angola
(photo from here - Kenya)
“On this the third Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate the Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross” (Triodion).
The connection of the cross with the salvation of humans by Jesus Christ has become a symbol of sacrifice and a prefiguration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the cross in Christianity constitutes an emblem of salvation. One of the best known hymnologists of our Church, Saint Andrea of Crete (he lived during the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century) expressing the theological meaning and importance of the Cross which had already been instituted in the Christian tradition, stresses that the cross constitutes the hope of the Christians, it is the salvation of the desperate, the giver of health, the life of the departed…. (a hymn from the service of the Elevation of the Precious Cross).
Through the cross, the abundance of the volume of God’s love and mercy is shown to the world. This is why the sign of the Cross in the worship and hymnology of our Church precisely serves the recognition of this faith on behalf of the faithful. The beginning and ending of every act of service or ceremony (even the realization of every important work in our personal lives) is always symbolized by the sign of the Cross.
As we have already mentioned, the Cross is connected directly with the history of the salvation of the human race. From the time of Adam and right up to the birth of Jesus Christ, people performed many great injustices, (sins) becoming worthy of the most disgraceful kind of death. The most disgraceful kind of death at the beginning of the first century was death by crucifixion.
However, because God saw that if common people simply died on the Cross they would forever remain dead, and because of His love for us, He saw to it that in our place His sinless and innocent Son would be crucified, so that as His Immortal Son and Word of God, with Christ’s death, death would be conquered (“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death…”). This achievement of the human nature of Jesus Christ is fulfilled because already the existence of the Word of God received beforehand without converting, without separating, without dividing, and without confusing human nature.
Photo from here (Turkana, Kenya)
The realization of the theosis (deification by grace) of human nature in the entity of the Son and Word of God, due to the union of human nature, develops the possibility in all people who follow Jesus Christ’s commandments to become His brothers, to reach that is with God’s Grace, their personal theosis. Hence, if with the fall of Adam and Eve, again due to the unity of the human nature (a human nature in which all humans as individuals partake) all people come to the world with the original sin, which is expressed as tendency toward sin as a result of obscurity in the face of God in which man was created. Through the Sacrament in Holy Baptism a Christian renounces the old person who has fallen due to sin, and he is attired as a new person, as Jesus Christ, (all who are baptized in Christ have put on in Christ) The Cross, through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, from a symbol of degradation and dishonour, now becomes a symbol of sacrifice, glory and honor; it becomes the means of victory against death, it becomes the symbol of the Resurrection.
The life of a good Christian is a course towards the life of Jesus Christ. And in order for this course to reach the Resurrection, it is necessary for it to pass the crucifixion on Golgotha (“Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify”)
This is why in the Gospel extract of today’s feast because of love and interest Jesus Christ clearly exhorts us to do what we have to do in order to be saved from death and to become His brothers, by grace, God’s children, that is, Gods like the divine human nature of Jesus Christ. Hence, He tells us “if any one intends to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his Cross and follow Me continually. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever gives up his life for my sake and the Gospel will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:34-36) Therefore, “Your old self must die before you die physically, so that when you do die (physically) you do not die” (in eternal life).
According to the degree to which man lives and is conscious of the reality of the sacrifice of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he also finds the strength with God’s grace to follow the Gospel commandments and consequences in his life. Where this occurs, we are able to join our voices with unshakeable faith in God with the prayer of the Saint Augustinus:
“Lord Jesus Christ, the sweetest child of the heavenly Father, what evil perhaps have you performed so that you maintain the fear of the sentence of the cross? What is your crime, so that you suffer the frightful passions of death? What is your wrongdoing? Of what are you guilty? What is the reason for your death? What is the reason for your sentence? I, a sinful person, I am your wound, which causes your pains upon the Cross. I am the one responsible for your slaughtering. I am the one who gives grounds for your death; I am the criminal for whose sake you, the sinless one, was sentenced. I am the reason on account of which you were wounded and suffered and tasted the grievous pains of death by crucifixion… because truly, I a sinful person trod upon the laws of God and His commandments but you were sentenced instead of me.
I performed evil but you suffered the judgment. I sinned, but you were punished with the whip. I was proud and you tasted degradations. I was fired up by conceit and arrogance and you were treated with contempt. I became disobedient to God’s commandments and you with your obedience even unto death according to the will of the Heavenly Father, paid, the criminal offence of my disobedience. I gave myself up as an intemperate to gluttony and having a good time and you were hungry and did without in your earthly life. I was lead astray and into error through the temptation of sin, like formerly the serpent attracted Adam to the forbidden fruit and he made him a transgressor of God’s commandments, but your perfect love towards humanity was mounted upon the wood of the cross…
So Lord, my king and God, what can I give you in return for all your benefactions and your gifts which you gave to me?…. But there exists O son of God, towards this paradoxical economy of our salvation, there exists a way so that even our weakness and poverty can definitely become capable to give back to you" (A prayer from our Church fathers, from: The Book of Prayers).
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Icon from here