The Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ

crucifixionThe Mystery of our Salvation is contained within the Cross of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. And it is correct to say the “mystery of our salvation,” for what is contained there is more than a cosmic transaction (Christ pays for our sins): it is also the whole of our way of life. It is truly the mystery of our salvation.

The extent of this mystery is hinted at in Christ’s admonition: “Whosoever would be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” This clearly goes much further than a single transaction or even our faith in the efficacy of that transaction.

The mystery is again invoked in St. Paul’s statement: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The clearest statement of this mystery is perhaps found in St. Paul’s description of the “mind of Christ” in the second chapter of Philippians:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here the Apostle speaks of the Cross in its universal form – the mystery is being unfolded. To take up our cross and follow Christ is to have within ourselves the “mind which is yours in Christ Jesus.” That “mind” (phronema) is a complete orientation of our life – a life that understands that only in the path of self-emptying are we to find the path of exaltation. Our salvation – our deliverance from the emptiness of death – is found, mysteriously, in our willingness to be empty for Christ’s sake. The way of the Cross is the way of life, and, a way of life.

This is the path that martyrs have traveled. It is the path that everyone who would know love must travel. For love is found in “laying down its life for its friends.”

What we see in the Cross of Christ is surely everything we say of it as the moment of our salvation. There Christ died for us. There His blood was shed for us. There His life was poured out for the life of the world. There we were reconciled to God.

But the Cross also stands outside of time and for all time (the Lamb was slain”before the foundation of the earth”). The Cross was always the way of life. Love, self-emptying love, was always the love of God for all mankind – though until He made it manifest in the Cross of Christ we did not know it.

But now we know it. And now it should become our mind.

September 14 is the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross

An additional thought:

The Orthodox Tradition, as it developed in ancient Syria, had a great devotion to the Cross of Christ. It was believed by the Orthodox in Syria that the Shekinah glory of God, which had once dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant and filled the Temple in Jerusalem, came to reside in the Cross following Christ’s death and resurrection. There was thus a very deep and profound devotion for the Cross (any Cross) within Syrian Orthodox practice. It serves, I think, as a reminder that the Cross we wear from our Baptism, the sign of the Cross that we make when we pray, and the Cross wherever it is depicted and displayed, should be approached with great reverence and care. It is not (as the popular culture would make it) jewelry for the decoration of our bodies nor mere art. It is the sign of our salvation and the mystery of its power was ever held in great reverence by early Christians (and everywhere to this day by Orthodox Christians).

Before Thy Cross
We bow down and worship, O Master,
And Thy holy resurrection, we glorify!

Hymn before the Cross

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





13 responses to “The Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ”

  1. Dusty Henry Avatar
    Dusty Henry

    Self fulfillment is the way of the devil and his world. That way leads to death. Self-emptying is the way of God. The Way of life in the communion of the Godhead.

    Communion can be done no other way. Each person in communion is a loving gift to the others. And this is our destiny.

    My problem, Fr. Stephen, is that I fall into religion often times. By religion I mean that nasty habit of trying to enlist God in the cause of self fulfillment. I want God to help me be fulfilled and get angry at Him when he does not acquiesce. The Christianity that I knew previously was all about how to get God to help me in my life long quest for self fulfillment. We tried several methods of manipulation. We tried praying right, praising right, believing right, and thinking right. But to no avail.

    I think that there is a fine line between religion and the real life. A line that can not be put into words other then that of the cross. And even then it must be experienced to be understood. Many of us never discern it. We reel at the horrible bloody thought.

    I am going to sign the hymn of the cross today. All day.

  2. Darla Avatar

    Father bless! Joyous feast to all. It is our parish’s name day today (Holy Cross Orthodox Church), and I wish I could’ve gone to the service. It means getting up at 4:30 a.m. in our household to make the 6:00 a.m. service. The rest of my family went, but I stayed with the baby and toddler who are still sound asleep. I’m kind of bummed about that. It makes me wonder, is it always better to try and make the service? Or sometimes is it “better” to stay home?

  3. Patrick Wilkes Avatar

    Thank you for these words of encouragement and edification.

    I am in awe of the message of the Cross and of Christ’s example to us who would be His followers.

    I spent fruitless years seeking my own glory – for a time even believing that God wanted me (and all Christians) to be wealthy and powerful in the land. Somehow I overlooked that the Kingdom of God is “not of this world” and that whosoever would lose his life for His sake would find eternal life. The only cross I carried was the weight of my own unfulfilled aspirations and unpurchased toys. The prayer of my heart was: “God, let this be the winning Lotto ticket!”

    Slowly, as the waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit have permeated my soul, I’ve put aside those childish things (mostly) and found the True Cross in my life. I cannot share details other than to say that the Cross which Christ gives me is exactly what I need. And He is always there to bear the burden.

    “My yoke is easy, my burden is light,” He said. I picture oxen yoked together, pulling in a team. He is the one with the greatest strength, and by the Holy Spirit He provides us with the power and willingness to labor with Him. Together – we can move mountains.

    May He who died for our sins and rose from the dead enable us to take up the Cross daily and follow Him.

  4. […] thoughts on Fr. Stephen’s blog. The Orthodox Tradition, as it developed in ancient Syria, had a great devotion to the Cross of […]

  5. Darla Avatar

    In my reading and listening about the feast this morning, am I understanding correctly that one doesn’t say “Joyous feast” on this day because of the solemnity of it’s significance? Please forgive.

  6. EPS Avatar

    Fr. Stephen

    Is there any significance to the feast being today and so early in the liturgical year? Instead of being say closer to Christmas or Pascha?

    Thanks in advance — really enjoy the blog

    -A catechumen

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sometimes it’s better to stay with children. The care of children is pleasing to God – it limits our freedom as do all “necessities” in life. Pray where you are, pray for your children. It pleases God.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    I do not know the answer to this. But I suspect ‘joyous feast’ fits every feast.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    The origin of the 14 September date was the day on which the basilica built by the Emperor Constantine at the site of the Holy Sepulchre (also the site of Golgotha being under the roof of the same Church) was consecrated. Today, September 13, is kept as the feast of the consecration of the Church, with 14 September being the date for the exaltation of the Cross.

    The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross actually marks a day when the Cross was returned by the Emp. Heraclius, who recaptured from the Persians (into whose hands it had fallen in 614 A.D.). The exposition of the Cross in 629 was on May 3. But that celebration later became September 14 because of earlier associations with the Church itself.

    Generally the feast days of the year (the fixed days) have their occurrence on account of historical events rather than a theological connection to something else. This, of course, is different for those days dependent upon Christmas (such as the Annunciation on March 25, etc.) or Pascha (such as the Lenten days, Pentecost, etc.).

    Thus a saint’s day is the day of his/her death, or the date of the discovery of their relics, etc., regardless of where it falls in the calendar.

  10. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Joyous Feast to all!

    Darla, I, too, had to stay home from the Liturgy this morning with my daughter who was home from school sick with cold and ear infection! We can, indeed, it seems to me, live the Cross wherever we are and thus offer right praise to God. It would have been far less burdensome to me to attend the service.

  11. yeamlak fitur Avatar
    yeamlak fitur

    In the old Calendar the finding of the True Cross in the fourth century when Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross on which Christ was crucified. The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17 Ethiopian calendar (September 27 Gregorian calendar).

    According to tradition, Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance to guide her. The smoke drifted towards the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses; one of them was the True and Holy Cross.

    This is also a National Holiday and bunch of sticks are burned at night to commemorate the finding of the cross.

    I do not know if other Orthodox countries have similar celebrations.

  12. Arthur Hawthorne Avatar
    Arthur Hawthorne

    Jesus Christ Immanuel is all I know in my heart and soul. I wonder why some people can’t see Him as God. The three in one. Maybe you could make this more understandable than I am.

    Thank You in the name of the only God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit

  13. john grinnell Avatar
    john grinnell

    In eternam memoria eius!

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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