Source: The Orthodox Evangelist
By the V. Rev. Fr. Timothy Cremeens, PhD
Dean – Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, PA
To the Christian believers gathered in the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He likewise writes to the Church at Galatia, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
The Cross is the indispensable center of the Orthodox Christian Faith, without which there is no salvation. The New Testament writings, especially those of the holy Apostle Paul, emphasize the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for us upon that wood. Many times it has been said that the Orthodox East emphasizes the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to the neglect of the Cross, which of course is a misguided exaggeration. Without the Cross, and the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, there would have been no need for the Resurrection, so they are inextricably linked together.
I entered the Orthodox Faith from Evangelicalism some 3o years ago. I was awed by the beauty of Orthodox Church buildings and especially the beautiful crosses I saw behind the altar tables and mosaics on the walls. The priest’s colorful vestments were emblazoned with crosses and the bishop’s mitre was topped with a jeweled cross; and at the end of the Liturgy, one was offered the hand-blessing cross to kiss. At each mention of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the faithful would make the sign of the cross upon themselves; and at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on September 14, and the on the third Sunday of Great Lent, a cross beautifully decorated with flowers was placed in the middle of the Church for veneration of the faithful. However, as beautiful as all this was to my senses, I realized that while the symbol of the Cross is ever before us, and we Orthodox embrace this beautiful symbol, we sometimes gloss over the MESSAGE of the Cross.
St. Paul tells us, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Here we can see that the message of the Cross elicits two different responses. The first response is that the story and proclamation of the Cross is foolish. Why would the Cross engender this kind of response? The message of the Cross centers on self-sacrifice, human weakness and what appears at first to be defeat. Jesus Christ, who for some three and a half years traveled throughout Palestine doing miracles, healing the blind, the cripple and maimed, even raising the dead to life. A simple carpenter walks on the water, feeds the five thousand with a few loaves and fish and seems to be the Master of the created order. He who casts out demons with a word and overcomes Satan and is sought by the crowds in order to be made King, in the end is betrayed, forsaken by His followers, stripped naked, beaten bloody and hung upon a cross and dies in public shame. On face value, … this Cross and what took place upon it is anything but a study in a successful mission; rather it is foolishness. By all initial outward appearances, Jesus was a miserable failure. But we must see the Cross as God sees the Cross. We must allow the power of the Cross to invade our hearts and experience its dynamic and transformative purpose.
We live in a day and time where arrogance and pride is encouraged. Our young people are expected to brag and boast about their “good works” on their college and work applications. Movie and television personalities, athletes, music stars and politicians in their pride, receive the adulation of their fans, never giving glory to God who gave them the talents and abilities which have made them famous. But, the Cross of Jesus Christ is the most profound icon of humility. St. Paul writes to the Church at Philippi: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). Jesus was, and is, God from the beginning of all ages. Before He was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He was present in the heavenlies as God the Son. In order to accomplish the Father’s plan of salvation for humanity and of all creation, He freely chose to humble and abase Himself and become a man, taking on our flesh and all the weaknesses associated therewith. The ultimate manifestation of His humility and obedience to the Father’s will was suffering at the hands of His own creation, mankind, and death upon His creation, the tree or the cross. The very hill of Golgotha, on which He was crucified, had been created by the word of His mouth at the beginning of creation. The very wood of the tree of the cross had been fashioned by His divine word at which it was created. He humbled Himself so spectacularly, that He allowed His life-giving life to be poured out on the cross.
When it is all said and done in order for the message of the Cross to have any power in our personal lives, we must embrace the Cross and everything that it means. We must, if we truly desire to be in reality His disciples, grip the Cross and be gripped by it. Jesus Himself said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26). Wearing a cross around our necks, or kissing the cross, or even making the sign of the cross upon ourselves will not take the place of embracing and bearing the Cross in our daily lives. We must, in imitation our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, be willing to humble ourselves before God Himself, confessing our sins and weaknesses, and by refusing to allow ourselves to become proud about our worldly accomplishments. Rather, we must acknowledge that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). We must trust in the power of Jesus’ Cross instead of our bank accounts. We must embrace the wood of the Cross instead of looking to our social standing and ethnic origin to give us our identity. We must place ourselves beneath the Cross of Jesus and allow the water and the blood which flowed from His side to wash over us and cleanse us from pride, arrogance, vainglory, greed, materialism and lust. It is only then that we will be able to understand the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is only then we will receive salvation which is in the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be all glory, honor, worship and praise! Amen.