This week marks the midpoint of Great Lent and on this middle Sunday of the Fast, we look forward to the Holy Cross. Later on, during Holy Week, the Cross reappears as an element in the remembrance of our Lord’s Crucifixion, however, here it stands alone as the emblem of our Lord’s victory and our invincible weapon against the attacks of the demons.
St Athanasius tells us: “By the sign of the cross all magic is stayed, all sorcery confounded, all the idols are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure ceases, as the eye of faith looks up to heaven from the earth.” And St Cyril of Jerusalem adds: “(The Cross) is a powerful safeguard, a grace from God, a badge of the faithful, and a terror to devils.”
The Cross is also the anchor point of our lives in the world – everything revolves around the cross and it anchors us to Christ. St Ephraim the Syrian expresses this in his poetic writings saying: “The Cross is – the resurrection of the dead; the hope of Christians; the staff of the lame; the consolation of the poor; the dethronement of the proud; the hope of the hopeless; the helm of those who sail; the harbor of the storm-tossed; the father of orphans; the comfort of the afflicted; the protector of youth; the glory of men; the crown of the aged; the purity of virgins; the bread of the hungry and the fountain of the thirsty.”
See how, in his words, the Cross touches each aspect of our lives from our bodily needs to our spiritual struggle. It is our protection and safe refuge; it is our correction, encouragement and help; it is our joy and rejoicing. It is no wonder that he goes on to say, “Let us not leave the Cross even for one hour, even for one moment, and let us not do anything without it.” Let us wear it daily and hourly!
Is it any wonder then, that we adorn every aspect of our lives with the sign of the Cross? We put crosses on nearly everything in the Church; we even put crosses on the Church itself, on its walls and towering above its highest point. Not only the Church but even in our homes, we find the cross prominently as the emblem of our faith. We all received a cross at baptism which we wear next to our skin every moment of our lives. We make the sign of the cross over ourselves and all things that we love as a blessing and as a protection. And each time we do this, it brings us back to Christ, it connects us to Him.
But the cross is not magic, it is not some mystical symbol that has power in its own right. The cross is only a tool by which we invoke our Lord Jesus Christ who voluntarily ascended the Cross for us and Who used the Cross as the instrument of His sacrifice for our salvation. Without this connection, the cross is nothing – or even worse, it is simply a means of torture and death born out of our sinfulness. Remember that on Golgotha, that day there were three crosses – the Cross of our Lord and two others upon which were crucified two thieves. When the blessed Helen undertook to search for the Holy Cross, after digging into the hill of Golgotha, she discovered three crosses together. While she was uncertain as to how to determine which was the cross of the Lord, a funeral procession passed by. At the advice of the Patriarch, the crosses were placed upon the body of the deceased.
The first two crosses had no effect, but the moment that the third cross touched the body, the deceased was restored to life. In this way the Cross of Christ was recognized. But the other two crosses, though they appeared identical in appearance, were of no effect. See how it is the connection with Jesus Christ which makes the sign of the Cross powerful and effective.
Without Christ, the Cross is simply two sticks of wood laid across one another – but the moment that those sticks of wood are connected to Christ, the power of our Lord’s Victorious Resurrection fills them and they become the invincible weapon of our faith.
Consider now the two thieves who were crucified on those other two crosses. They suffered the punishment for their own evil deeds – for their own sins. Just because they had been nailed to a cross, this had no benefit for them for they deserved this fate and their crosses were nothing but the instrument of their deserved death. The two thieves however had different reactions to the cross of Christ. One thief by his anger and suffering was hardened in his sinfulness and joined in the cursing and mocking of Jesus Christ by the crowd. Since he could not escape his own pain and suffering, he sought to push it onto his fellow Sufferer making Him to suffer even more. Certainly we all have this urge, when we are suffering in some way, to project our suffering onto others and make them suffer just as much as we are. We do this sometimes overtly simply by being mean and cruel to others, causing them undue pain. Sometimes we do this covertly, by our anger and cold heartedness depriving our brother of the compassion and comfort that we could give to him. This is our old nature, our fallen nature and it is represented here by the unrepentant thief on the cross. For him, the cross gave nothing but pain and suffering. But the other thief, the “good thief”, seeing the suffering of Jesus Christ, was moved to see his own sins and to repent of them. He left behind the evil which had brought him to his own cross and reached out to Christ asking, “remember me O Lord when you come into your Kingdom” and to him our Lord granted much more than simple remembrance, but replied, “This day you shall be with me in paradise.”
This thief, who represents for us the “new man” who repents of his sin and follows Christ, remained on his own cross, but now his suffering led him not to despair and anger, but to hope and joy. This is the effect that our repentance has for us as well, when we turn away from our sin and set out to follow Christ. From that moment on, our struggles, our suffering, our sorrows are no longer pointless and without benefit, but rather they show the way and lead us to the light of Christ, to hope and the joy of anticipation of His presence with us. In Christ, everything is transformed into an eternal perspective, no longer linked to the perspective of this world, but now anchored in the Cross and brought into the light of eternity.
We must not, therefore, make of the cross an empty symbol or a magic charm – for by itself it is nothing. No, for us, the Cross must lead to Christ, to His voluntary sacrifice for us men and for our salvation. Only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it have any benefit to us; only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it have any power to free us from our sins; only when the Cross is connected to Christ does it “change our mourning into dancing” as the Psalmist sings. The Cross is the sign of our victory over sin, death and the devil, it is the symbol of our salvation, it is the invincible weapon against the demons, it is our safe harbor and refuge, it is our comfort and joy, and it is the anchor of our lives. But we must have a care always to remember that the Cross is all these things only when it is connected to Jesus Christ and only by our own faith in Him does the Cross benefit us and lead us to our salvation. Glory to the Holy and Precious Life-giving Cross of our Lord for by it we die to the world of sin so that we might be filled with the Life of Christ.
Thank you Father David