Veneration Of The Holy Cross

Veneration Of The Holy Cross March 7, 2021

No photographer listed: Cross in Light / pxhere

God truly works in mysterious ways, shocking us out of our complacency. Often, what God does is counterintuitive, and yet the effectiveness of God’s work reveals that what we thought to be folly is actually wisdom. Once we realize we have been so wrong in regards our expectations, we learn to reconsider everything, especially ourselves, so that we put aside all that we thought we knew in order to be awakened to the greater truth which is revealed to us through God’s loving grace. Nothing can represent this better than the death of the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the cross. The cross, once a vessel of torture, shame and death, now brings us healing, honor and life. The cross, once used as a sign of domination and control, now a sign of freedom. The cross, once used to reveal the hatred contained in the human heart as it was used to destroy others out of that hate, now reveals the love which comes from God.

We are now called, not only to see how God has used the cross to counteract the evil which it represented, but to elevate and venerate the cross because of what God has done with it. We lift it up high and honor it in order to honor the passion of Christ. Christ reconfigured all things in his passion, making good out of evil, and he has done this through the means of the cross. He has transformed an instrument of evil into an instrument of good. And now that it is transformed, we are to take on the sign of the cross upon ourselves, not in accordance to the way it once was used to promote evil in the world, but in the way in which it can now be used to eradicate evil and bring about the full revelation of what is good and true, not only in the world around us, but in ourselves:

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:34-38 RSV).

We take up the cross by overcoming ourselves, by overcoming selfish attachments which lead us astray. The self which we try to set up and establish is ephemeral, but what comes out of its death, once it is put to the cross, is eternal. We embrace the cross, not by seeking temporal death, not by accepting the evil which was done in the world through the cross, but by taking on the transformed cross, the cross of Christ, and through it, rid ourselves of all undue attachments which would separate us from Christ. The transformed cross can come to us – not in a material form, but in its glorified form, so that we should put upon it the false self which we have created and let it die so that we then are free to become partakers of the divine nature. For this reason, we honor the cross, we lift it up and glorify God by honoring what God has done through it. “We bow to your cross, O Lord, and we glorify your holy resurrection!”

Indeed, it is in weakness, in self-emptying, that God has revealed the full extent of divine love. We are shown that God’s love is so great, so filled with compassion, God willingly took on our nature so as to share with us all the pain and sorrow of human existence. We can and should draw near God through the cross so that through the cross we can find ourselves at the throne of grace:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 5:14-16 RSV).

Insofar as God became one of us, we can be lifted up and be made like God. “For it is clear that He who became man without sin will divinize human nature without change into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree that He lowered Himself for man’s sake.”[1] The cross is the fulcrum; it is the point where Jesus, the God-man, completely empties himself, passing through death so as to go through all of existence, as he descends from the cross to hell itself. He shares of himself with all things, providing all things a chance to participate in and embrace his love. In his journey through existence, he reorders all things, so that they can be and will be taken up with him in his resurrection and subsequent ascension into glory, as Origen indicated in his preaching:

Explicitly, then, he says in this passage that Jesus would not see corruption and that he soul would not be abandoned in Hades, since he had descended in accord with the plan of salvation; because every region needed the visitation of Christ Jesus, including the place beneath the earth, he descended to Hades. For the one who ascended and the one who descended are the same, so that he might fill all things.[2]

The self-emptying of the Logos, done out of love, reveals the love of God for all things. Christ, the God-man, is made personally present to all things. Jesus used the cross as the vessel for his self-kenosis. It is included in the things which he encountered and reorganized in his glorious resurrection. Its transformation into a sign of victory and peace shows us how all things can be and will be transformed by him. Nothing is outside of his providence. Everything will be taken in by him and made into  something better; Jesus finds a place for all things in the kingdom of God.

We lift up the cross, we bow before is, as we see it in its transformed state, in the glory which it has received by God. We now revere it as we see its place in the kingdom of God. If we want to be with it in the kingdom, we must embrace it, we must let the glorified cross come to us and transform us so that the deifying grace which Jesus has imparted to it can come upon us and lead us away from all evil. It is the means by which we are to put off all our sins, so that, once we have unloaded them upon the cross, we will find our true life in Christ as we become heirs of the kingdom of God.


 

[1] St. Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Response to Thalassios. Trans. Fr. Maximos Constas (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018), 155 [Scholia on Question 22].

[2] Origen, Homilies on the Psalms: Codex Monacensis Graecus 314. Trans. Joseph W. Trigg (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2020), 40 [Homily 1 on Psalm 15]. The passage Origen is referring to is Ps. 15:8-11.

 

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