Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Cross above all shows God's love for His creation

Today, September 14 (Revised Julian), the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. We began to celebrate this feast starting this past Sunday with the very familiar Gospel reading of John 3:16 and continues for the next week. In all the hymns sung at the Vesperal Liturgy last night (which I grant I am not a fan of), one theme permeated everything: God's Love for His Creation. Yes, there are other themes there such as the Cross being the weapon which deceived the great deceiver, i.e. Satan and how that Cross trampled down death and how it lifts us from the curse and the wages of our sins. But those lessons are only given weight from the foundation of God's love.

When Orthodox Christians make the sign of the Cross is not the same as why Orthodox Christians make the sign of the Cross? Yes, we do it when the Holy Trinity is invoked but it also confesses St. Cyril's very famous Theopaschite formula, that "God died on the Cross." The actions on the cross were not just completed by Christ but was an act of love within the Trinity and given to the cosmos, the Trinity's creation. The Trinity is unified as an act of love and actions that spring from the Trinity are realities of that love which binds. We make the sign of the cross because we know and confess that God loves us. We also wear crosses around our necks to proclaim that very same message.

Also, look at the iconography of the crucifixion. Notice how Christ is not hanging as if he lacks the strength as is common in Roman Catholic and Protestant art. In Eastern iconography, it appears that Christ is holding up the Cross, that it can only stand because he allows it to stand. Also notice how Christ's arms are stretched across the beam as if he is trying to embrace us or that He loves us this much.

But when the cross is reduced to a mere weapon of torture or the cross is only examined through the lens of penal satisfaction and atonement, then the focus ceases to be on God's love for man, but on man's guilt over his own sins. Yes, each man needs to be repentant of his own sins but not to the point where man fails to see any worth in himself. God certainly found worth in us or else he would not have saved us through Crucifixion and death, let alone even created us! I wonder sometimes that those who are in the various Western traditions only wear the cross around their neck for the same reason the mariner from Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" wore the dead albatross around his neck: to remind them of their crimes and guilt? Such an anthropocentric mindset has no room for the compassion and mercy of God.

There are those who say, mainly Lutherans, that the Orthodox do not follow the Way of the Cross. I'm not going to get into how utterly nonsensical that charge is, but if the Way of the Cross or the Theology of the Cross is to be forever focused on ourselves, our shortcomings, our guilt and not as what God has done for us, then that's the Way of Man.

So, let us cast off our despondency and rejoice in the Cross and rejoice in our God's mercy and compassion for His Creation. For He did not will that His Creation should perish and is not pleased in the perdition of men but that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Will all be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth? Sadly, no, but our Lord still desires it and did so with the very sacrifice of Himself on that hill in Jerusalem in 33 A.D.

O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting to Thy rulers (people) victory against the barbarians (enemies) and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thine estate.

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