Before Thy Cross

Sunday, the third in Lent, is set aside to honor the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross. I offer these thoughts:

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.





23 responses to “Before Thy Cross”

  1. David Dickens Avatar

    I have grown fond of that moment that I realize something is too big for me to apprehend (must less comprehend). I never thought I would say something like that. Thank you for the last few years of my life Father.

  2. Audra Wooten Avatar

    “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.”

    Given the central role of this verse (John 10:10) in the theology with which I was raised, I could never find a better statement the way my worldview has changed from then until now than this little paragraph. Not that I have attained to it – I am afraid my mind is still rather narrow and opaque – but it’s where I hope I am heading. Thank you for the gift of your words, Father.

  3. Aunt Melanie Avatar

    Very nicely done: another one for me to copy and paste into my personal files.

  4. Jenny Avatar

    As I reverenced the Venerable and Life-giving Cross yesterday, it struck me that I must also daily “reverence” the (much smaller) crosses of my life; I live in a one-story universe and each cross is part of my personal salvation history–they are the rungs of my ladder. God is everywhere and in all things, and as I begin to trust the truth of this, I am so humbled by the wood of the cross of Christ. God Incarnate chose the cross to redeem His creation, and I am awe-struck by the implications…

  5. handmaid leah Avatar

    Father Bless!
    I gotta ask: what is the greenback for in the photo???? 🙂

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    I didn’t notice until you pointed it out! Either it was placed there by a pious layperson, or it appeared miraculously. If the latter, don’t tell anybody, everybody will be wanting one!

  7. James, the Brother Avatar
    James, the Brother

    Given that absolutely nothing in Orthodoxy is without meaning, type, historical significance or representation, it is a more than a fair question.

  8. mike Avatar

    ..just an observation… this entire wonderful post was articulated without the need to raise the ‘Orhtodox’ to speak ..and maybe im the only one who can appreciate that..

  9. handmaid leah Avatar

    Glory to God for all things!!!!! 😀

  10. Yannis Avatar

    no, you’re not the only one who appreciates without the need for Orthodox flag raising.

    There are indeed people that have an unhealthy attachment to the tradition, but there are also people who have an unhealthy anti-attachment to the tradition, because they themselves are having difficulties to come to terms with it on the road to adopting it (the tradition).

    Just take slow and sure steps. There is no need for you to adopt more than you can, but there is also no need to criticise those who have adopted or want to show they have adopted more than you.

    This is not for the sake of respect to hierarchy, but because you may be raising turbulence in yourself this way that is unecessary and undesirable for you and your balance as you walk your path.

    When we drive, its dangerous to pay too much attention to the landscape or the rear view mirrors. Keeping our eyes on the road is best.


  11. mike Avatar

    …”but there is also no need to criticise those who have adopted or want to show they have adopted more than you’ ….Your right yannis…and this is a particularly difficult lesson for me personally…especially if i mistakenly feel others are insisting that i must do the same in order to be saved……..Lord…help me please.

  12. Nicholas Avatar

    Father Stephen could you write something on dispensationalism (rapture, no more miracles) An Orthodox perspective, why do protestants believe this?

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ll give it some thought. Only some Protestants believe in dispensationalism and there is variety even within that. The no more miracles group are more or less “fringe.”

  14. Darlene Avatar


    Thanks for your words to Mike. They are especially applicable to my husband’s journey at hand. He both struggles with and is drawn toward the Orthodox faith at the same time. Where all this will lead – only our Lord knows. I must guard my mouth more often than not. My words often have the effect of salt on a wound. Rather than being a conduit through which Orthodoxy is favorably reflected and lived, I fall so short and even think I may hinder him from entering the Church.

    Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

  15. Yannis Avatar

    remember that salvation is a matter that rests ultimately with God alone – it is not predominantly a matter of doctrinal correctness. “God made the Sabbath for man” and not the other way around. Doctrine is meant to help man find salvation not be a tyrranical absolute criterion.

    Just stay balanced and advance slow and steady and you won’t go wrong. Avoid too much excitement and avoid even more comparisons from others and most importantly comparisons you make yourself. When they come, identify them, and let them go their way.

    Darlene, you’re welcome,
    the attraction/repulsion struggle is imo a good sign and part of the journey. When it starts to dissolve completely one knows he is in it for good, because it means there are no inner hurdles anymore.

    Its in fact the same in any discipline hence why slow pacing is imperative in order not to “bite more than we can chew” ie overextend while at the same time advancing steadily enough not to come to a standstill and lose out way. Moderation and balance are key.

    In the classic work of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”, there is a very revealing and applicable to the spiritual life aphorism. It says that “One cannot see the whole mountain when climbing it, but it is still possible to realise that one is climbing a mountain”.

    Maybe remembering this phrase everytime you feel uncertain of where it will all go will help – it works for me.


  16. Jane Avatar

    Yannis Thank you for the quote from Sun Tzu – I love it! I think it applies particularly to Lent for me this year…

  17. Yannis Avatar

    And to me Jane,
    so much so at times that i end up wishing the Almighty could spare a helicopter… ; )

  18. Marie Avatar

    … or leap into His loving arms.

    I also thank you for the quote Yannis.

  19. Yannis Avatar

    You’re welcome Marie.

  20. XC China Avatar

    Christ is in our midst!
    Glorify Him!

    At all times and especially when we are faint call out “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on us”

    For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

    Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on us

    Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.

    Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.

    Jesus spoke “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answer Him and said,”Lord if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him.

    Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on us

    I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth. In the Lord shall my soul make its boast; let the meek hear and be glad.

  21. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent


    When you see the Orthodox being raised simply say: Glory to God for all things!

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