The Cross of Christ

The 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 priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





13 responses to “The Cross of Christ”

  1. […] The Mystery of our Salvation is contained within the Cross of our God and Savior Jesus […]

  2. NW Nikolai Avatar
    NW Nikolai

    We attend a small Antiochian mission in central Washington, but we just attended the vigil and hierarchical liturgy at our “home” temple named for the Holy Cross, 45 minutes away. Our bishop spent 4 days with us and even visited our mission. It has been a glorious feast.

  3. […] interesting title of Contemporary miracles (1953), particularly after reading Fr. Stephen’s blognote on an ancient Syriac belief that the Shekinah glory came to reside in the Cross, following […]

  4. Anita C. Avatar
    Anita C.

    Fr. Stephen, I thank you for your blog. I always look forward to reading it. I have a question that I need an answer to. It is always on my mind. How does one truly LIVE for Jesus. I pray all the time. I give thanks to God for EVERYTHING in my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I help everyone that needs it, not just family but strangers also. I give so much money that I have none left to thithe or even to pay my bills, yet I feel that I am not doing enough. I so want to do more but I don’t know how. How does one truly LIVE everyday for Christ short of joining a monastery (which I have considered doing)? Your article on the Holy and Life Giving Cross is wonderful. Although I was raised baptist, I have always marvelled when I would see people make the sign of the cross. Even as a child I knew that that sign was very powerful. Forgive me if this is not the correct place to ask such a question, but perhaps others seek the same answer. Thank you Fr. Stephen and God Bless you.

  5. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    Very interesting the Syrian belief you reference that the Shekina glory left the temple and entered the cross. I wonder if it is still with the cross (in pieces now, I take it), or if it is somewhere else.

    There are two fascinating accounts of the invisible/angelic powers departing the temple in AD 66. (I take this from David Chilton’s commentary on Revelation.)

    1. Josephus tell us: “At the feast called Pentecost, when the priests
    had entered the inner courts of the Temple by night to perform
    their usual ministrations, they declared that they were aware,
    first, of a violent commotion and din, then of a voice as of a
    host crying, ‘We are departing hence!’“ (Josephus, “The Jewish War,” vi.v.3)

    2. Tacitus provides another account: “In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods
    were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure” (Histories, v.13).

  6. Karen Avatar

    Anita, your question for Fr. Stephen reminded me of this post I read yesterday here:

    I found it helpful; you might as well. As an Orthodox Christian, these are the kind of matters I take to my priest, and quite often this is the sort of thing that comes up during Confession. Stewardship requirements for Christians with family responsibilities living in the world, in terms of external expression of Christian commitment, are not the same as for monastics, though the heart motivation is to be the same. ISTM heart motivation and an attitude of humility and dependence on God is the real key to what it means to live for God, but outward expression will be different depending upon one’s circumstances. Tithing and bringing offerings to the Church, paying bills, and providing for family are commands of Scripture every bit as much as much as are praying without ceasing and giving to the poor. In everything, we need God’s wisdom and grace to properly fulfill Christ’s commands.

  7. Georgia Avatar

    Fr. Freeman, Have you continued to work on The Catechesis Progect?

  8. Georgia Avatar

    Oops, I meant Project.

  9. Seraphim Avatar


    Thank you for the David Chilton excerpts.

    My estimation of Josephus as a Jewish historian (and indeed Tacitus as his Gentile counterpart) has remained largely intact. The accounts are accurate inasmuch as human constructs can be used to reconstruct the unspeakable glories of the Uncreated Light.

    I would respectfully add though, that we cannot speak of the Shekinah as separate from (or even a part of) an indivisible God nor as an isolated event in timespace. The Shekinah eccompasses all time and space and indeed all eternity.

    Thank you once again for a truly fascinating account.

    Glory to God, the most high!

  10. Anita C. Avatar
    Anita C.

    Karen, Thank you for your response. It was very helpful to me. God Bless you.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    I understand the efforts you’ve described. Perhaps more important is the sacramental life of the Church. God has given us this sacramental life as a means of Grace. We don’t have to go it alone.

  12. Gus Avatar

    Good post.

    Drifting away from this Symbol indicates a drift from Christ Himself. How we treat the cross indicates what we think of Christ’s love. If we use it as decoration, then Christ is merely a social and decorative part of our life. If we use it as therapy for our body, soul, and spirit, looking to it as the Israelites looked to the snake on the pole in the desert (for salvation) then we are on the right path.

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