The Cross and the Cosmos

During this Afterfeast of the Holy Cross it seems worthwhile to continue with thoughts on the instrument of our salvation. In a short work, The Beginning of the Day, (I believe it was a special printing and is not generally available), Met. Kallistos Ware notes this about the Cross and its connection with the whole of creation:

…[The] created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’

‘The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’

‘The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’

‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ‘the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’

Do we reflect sufficiently, I wonder, upon the environmental impliations of our Lord’s Incarnation, upon the way in which Jesus is ecologically inclusive, embedded in the soil like us, containing within His humanity what has been termed ‘the whole evolving earth story’?

Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

In such a fashion St. Paul can say that the “world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” Frequently our own thoughts about the things of God are too restricted, too limited. The Cross is diminished to an execution role in a very narrow atonement theory, the Incarnation reduced to a stage entrance. These great mysteries of God, manifest among us, are the gate and ladder, the entrance into the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of God’s entrance into our world. This is true not only of the Cross of Golgotha, but ultimately in every Cross that participates in its reality. A believer’s making of the sign of the cross, with faith, participates in this reality (and so the demons flee).

Christ has promised that we would have life “more abundant.” By this is not meant that we will be rich or have more material things (for these are not the true life). But the Kingdom is an endless abundance that enters our heart and world, shattering the narrowness of opaque minds and opening to us the fullness of life in Christ.

The Reality presented to us in the Cross (as with all things of God) is never comprehended in rational theory. It pushes us beyond the limits of our own poorly defined rationality and towards the greater rationality of the Truth of things. As noted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, “only wonder grasps anything.” To approach the Cross with wonder is to begin the journey that it makes possible. The life that we refer to as salvation belongs to this world of wonder – despite the banalities of much Christian conversation on the topic.

It is not surprising that silence is among the most important tools in our spiritual life. O, sweet wonder!

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.



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16 responses to “The Cross and the Cosmos”

  1. Darlene Avatar
    Darlene

    Wonderful post, Father Stephen.

    “The life that we refer to as salvation belongs to this world of wonder – despite the banalities of much Christian conversation on the topic.”

    This is so true. I have heard and read many debates on the meaning of the cross of Christ and how it relates to our salvation. Such debates are laced with caustic and damning remarks from Christians who disagree with each other as to the meaning of salvation. How can such ugly converse even be involved when speaking about the precious and life-giving cross and the salvation our Lord Jesus provided for us? How can brackish and pure water come out of the same heart and mouth?

    Lord, forgive me for the times I involved myself in such unfruitful and divisive conversation. May your cross and the salvation that you procured for sinners always be a delight to my soul. Help me to understand and appreciate the full effects of your passion and how its saving power has left nothing untouched.

  2. Jeremiah Avatar

    Thank Father for sharing this with us.
    I was sharing with my wife, who told me she sees Orthodoxy as an attempt to be justified “by the works of the Law”, that the disciplines we do are for the healing of soul and are not meant to be merits. This reflection is something that I should have mentioned, which is that our salvation is a daily participation in the mystery of the Cross.
    I also have two questions related to my catechetical studies in a couple of books (one of which I am doing with my parish priest).First: I have been reading The Mystery Of Faith by Met Hilarion Alfeyev and Mary The Untrodden Portal Of God by George S Gabriel. In Met Hillarion’s book I am on the section about the Sacraments. He speaks about them being visible, as it relates to the rite, yet beyond all senses in the spiritual reality that accompanies it. Would you say that this mystery of the Cross is one of the reasons we believe as we do regarding the holy mysteries, along with the Incarnation?
    Second: In George S Gabriel’s book he speaks of the eternal nature of the Cross being such that the events of the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses and the like) were the Cross at work. Since we believe that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world, why is it that we do not believe the rites of the Old Testament were not also sacramental? My guess would be that even though Christ’s crucifixion is eternal, there is still a time/space aspect to it. As such the point in time when Christ broke into history by His Incarnation and redeemed creation by His death and resurrection was the “fullness of time”, which had not yet been realized during the Old Testament era. Is this close to the mark?
    I know that the writings of the Apostles point out that the rituals of the Law could not save or wash away sins. I guess this is because they were merely foreshadows of the fulfillment which was Christ.
    I probably answered my own question, but I would appreciate your insight on these questions.
    Thank You.

  3. Yannis Avatar
    Yannis

    The perceptive apparatus of the Self in its entirety views the oneness of things, their flow and interwoving and intertwining. Reason on the other hand with its tendency to compartmentalise and make its own, views things as separate from each other.

    The scientific method is the epitomy of this; it studies “the cell” or anything else in isolation, as if it could ever exist in its own right. It is no accident, why science tries to pinpoint the essence of things into the material.

    Don’t get me wrong, science and its methods have their uses, but it also has its limitations and these are far greater than most people, especially people who do science realise. This is not because they are dumb, but because they rarely to never reflect on the basic assumptions on which they work – many have been suckered into believing that this is the point of view and not a point of view.

    However, even in science there is a strong sense of wonder, and the best science – that is science that dares to drop accepted assumtpions and keep an open mind about what’s really there instead of imposing the accepted model on the data – is done with this in mind. This is how creative leaps are often made – either this way or by chance.

    From a human life perspective, reason is nigh useless as a compass – this is why men tend to find it far more difficult to navigate through life and relationships than women; women use their intuition and instinct far more. The keystones of reason’s uselessness are the drudgery of everyday life and death and its inevitability; the very basic themes and focal points of the spiritual journey.

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    Jeremiah,
    The Fathers of the Church spoke of the Eschaton (the End of all things) as the Truth, the NT as icon, and the OT as “shadow.” They certain do bear and point to the image that is made clear in the NT, but a sacrament does not point, it is what it is. Thus the Eucharist does not point to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, but is that very feast, a true participation in the body and blood of Christ.

  5. Jeremiah Avatar

    Thank you father.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο, Fabio Leite. Fabio Leite said: The Cross and the Cosmos: During this Afterfeast of the Holy Cross it seems worthwhile to continue with thoughts o… http://bit.ly/cxV2IY […]

  7. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    In doing anthropological research I’ve found that the cross is the most fundamental and universal symbol in creation. It is found in the form of the perpendicular lines drawn between the cardinal poles. It is the basis for the Tau (a sphere with an X inside). It is when the precession of the equinoxes reaches an erect cross that Earth’s Great Year ends and begins ( Alpha and Omega) anew. When the vernal point (VP) resides at the 3/4 point (270°) in its cycle, the vernal axis is exactly perpendicular to the galactic axis (GEN), creating a perfect cross in the ecliptic. The last time this occurred was July 1998. That was marked by a huge spike in land and sea temps, but since that time, average global temps have been going down as we begin a new climate cycle.

    The most ancient symbolic artefact (about 90,000 years old) is a red stone carved with crosses (xxxxx) around the perimeter. The cross is even found in Hinduism and in Buddhism in the form of the swastika (Sanskrit svastika, meaning “all is well”).

  8. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Father,

    Are you moderating comments? The comment I posted didn’t appear.

  9. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    I guess there was a glitch when I posted the comment. I’ll try again.

    In anthropological research I’ve found that the cross is the most fundamental and universal sign in creation. It is found in the perpendicular axis of the cardinal poles. It is found in the origin of the Tau, a sphere with an x inside. It is found in the precession of the vernal equinoxes. The changing relationship between the moving vernal axis and the fixed galactic axis creates the cycle of earth’s precessional cross. When the vernal point (VP) resides at the 3/4 point (270°) in its cycle, the vernal axis is exactly perpendicular to the galactic axis (GEN), creating a perfect cross in the ecliptic. In other words, Earth Grat Year begins and ends with an erect cross. The last time this occurred was July1998 and at that time there was a huge spike in global temps, but since then air and sea temps have been dropping, as we enter Earth’s New Year and a new climate sycle.

    The cross is even found in Hinduism and Buddhism in the form of the swastika (Sanskrit svastika, “all is well”).

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    Alice,
    Sorry for the glitch. Several comments wound up in the “spam” filter – which I have now cleared and restored them to their proper place. I don’t know why it makes mistakes – but I’m grateful for the 99% that it does filter.

  11. NW Nikolai Avatar
    NW Nikolai

    Father, as my life is taken up with the mundane toils of life and being a recent arrival to the Faith after some forty years of Protestantism, I truly appreciate you bringing to light the hidden gems that I would miss otherwise. These last few posts have highlighted phrasing that are truly wondrous, but that I would miss w/o a guide. I am humbled, thankful and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Cross. I tend to consume information rather than meditate, your postings nudge me towards meditation…Thank-you

  12. Rick Fernandes Avatar
    Rick Fernandes

    Thank you, Father, for what you do here. I almost never comment (not that easy with this phone) but always thankful receiving your wisdom. I just want you to know you may have many such readers and not able to tell by the number of comments.
    Thank you again.

  13. Lucille Avatar
    Lucille

    Again, thank you!

  14. Fr. Vasile Tudora Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I find very interesting the comments of Metr. Kallistos. The concept of “spiritual ecology” is a very interesting one and can be applied both ways. First it can be applied to the effect Christ’s Incarnation, Passions and Resurrection had on the entire world and second to the impact that we have on thus changed world. The first is the greatest cleaning action the world has ever seen, restoring it back to its initial state lost through the pollution of sin. The second, our impact, is unfortunately a mixed bag, as our deeds are also a mix of good deeds and sins. Our sins or good deeds impact the ones around us and the society in general like a pollutant impacts the ecosystem. Not sure if we always think carefully on how do we influence the world around as Christians.
    I wrote a little blurb on our blog on this topic. You may find it interesting.

    http://dialogues.stjohndfw.info/2009/07/how-to-live-an-ecological-life-in-christ-spiritual-footprint/

  15. Andrew Avatar

    Do we reflect sufficiently, I wonder, upon the environmental impliations of our Lord’s Incarnation, upon the way in which Jesus is ecologically inclusive, embedded in the soil like us, containing within His humanity what has been termed ‘the whole evolving earth story’?

    Do we indeed — very well put Met Kallistos!

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