Posted by: Fr Chris | September 13, 2019

The Holy Cross and Us

Saturday, September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. This verse from Thursday night’s Vespers struck me while preparing for this feast:

Today the Cross is exalted; * today the faithless ones perished; * today the faith is revealed through faithful kings. * Because of the tree, Adam has fallen, * and now by the Tree of the Cross the demons are filled with terror. * O all- powerful Lord, glory to You!

Demons are filled with terror and so flee from the cross. The enemies of Christ on earth fear the cross and all that it stands for. In Muslim countries, Christians are routinely  mocked as worshippers of the cross. When Islamic fundamentalism starts up, one of the first things they do is tear crosses off of churches and from people’s houses.

Members of Isil dismantle crosses from a church

Cross torn off Iraqi Catholic church by ISIS “warriors”

In communist China, the current campaign against all religious beliefs began with the removal of crosses from Catholic and Protestant churches, and continues with demands that Christians replace their crosses inside their houses with photos of the Chinese president.  Crosses were torn off of closed churches by state authorities in communist Eastern Europe and the USSR.

The American Humanist Association sought to either remove or disfigure the Peace Cross with its 49 names of  men who died in the First World War in Maryland. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Supreme Court decision that saved the Peace Cross “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion,” he added. All of this is over the cross which we lift up literally tonight, the cross we routinely kiss in church or at home, the cross we hang on our walls or wear around  our necks. Two pieces of wood create all this anger among Muslims and communists and secularists alike. Why?

Cross burns as Chinese officials remove it from church - ucanews.com

Removal of cross in Tang He county, Henan province, China 

It is, I think, as Justice Alito wrote, very much a case of eliminating all traces of the Christian religion from the public eye, because the cross is a reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on it, and because it states that there are still men and women and children who honor that cross as part of their Christian lives. It is the sign of hope, of the victory over death by the sacrifice and resurrection of the God-Man crucified on it, a victory that communists mock and secularists preach against as a vain hope.

Why do we continue to honor the Cross with a holy day, with a special Vespers, with a ceremony of lifting up? The Old Testament readings today evoke the symbolism of the cross among the Israelites: the tree of Eden; Jacob crossing his hands to bless his son Joseph; Moses with his arms held out like a cross to help the Israelites defeat the warriors of Amalek; the bronze serpent on a cross which Moses held up for the afflicted people to see and be healed by God’s mercy.

No evangelism without prayer | volgdeboereninzuidafrika

Saint John Chrysostom writes eloquently – of course – on this: A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ. Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; this second one calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see. And that earlier death condemned those who were born after it; this second death gives life again to those who were born before it.

We wear the cross casually or have it on our walls and walk by it. This feast is a reminder of the power of Christ’s Cross, a reminder of why both communists and secularists hate it, of why Islamic fundamentalists seek to destroy both it and those who honor it. It must be for us who believe in Christ and His Church an image that we cherish, that we honor, that we are proud of. Yes it was a blood-soaked tree outside of Jerusalem on Good Friday, but that blood washes away our sins and is the blood we receive at Holy Communion.  May we continue to people of the cross, people who ponder the cross and its many attributes, and above all people who love both the Cross and our Savior who was crucified on it.

Abbey Roads: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

 


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