My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
Homily on the Precious and Life-Giving Cross from
the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church
“Our Lord was trampled on by Death,” writes Saint Ephraim the Syrian (306-383 A.D.), “And in His turn trod out a way over Death… Our Lord bare His Cross and went forth according to the will of Death: but he cried upon the Cross [Matthew 27:50-52] and brought forth the dead from within Sheol against the will of Death. For in that very thing by which Death had slain Him, that is, the body, in that as armor He bore off the victory over Death. But the Divinity concealed itself in the manhood and fought against Death. Death slew and was slain. Death slew the natural life; and the supernatural Life slew him. And because Death was not able to devour Him without the body, nor Sheol to swallow Him up without the flesh, He came unto the Virgin, that from therence He might obtain that which should bear Him to Sheol…With the body that was from the Virgin He entered Sheol…
“This is the Son of the carpenter, who skillfully made His Cross a bridge over Sheol that swallows up all, and brought over mankind into the dwelling of Life. And because it was through the tree that mankind had fallen into Sheol, so upon the Tree they passed over into the dwelling of Life. Through the tree then wherein bitterness was tasted, through it also sweetness was tasted, that we might learn of Him that amongst the creatures nothing resists Him. Glory be to Thee. Who didst lay Thy Cross AS A BRIDGE OVER DEATH, THAT SOULS MIGHT PASS OVER UPON IT FROM THE DWELLING OF THE DEAD TO THE DWELLING OF LIFE!”
For the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Saint Kosmas the Melodist, Bishop of Maiuma (7th Century) chants, “O thrice-blessed Tree, on which Christ the King and Lord was stretched! Through thee the beguiler fell, who tempted mankind with a tree. He was caught in the trap set by God, Who was crucified upon thee in the flesh.”
At the Feast of the Cross, we chant, “The four ends of the earth are sanctified today by the exaltation of Thy Cross with its four arms.” Saint Gregory of Nyssa speaks of the symbolic implications of the physical attributes of the Cross, saying, “This is the very thing we learn from the figure of the Cross: that He Who was stretched upon it binds together all things unto Himself, and by Himself brings to one harmonious agreement the diverse natures of actual existences.” Saint Paul prays that Christ might dwell in our hearts through the Faith, which has been rooted and founded in love, in order that we might be able to apprehend with all the saints what tis the breadth and length and depth and height” [Ephesians 3:17-18]. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says the Apostle “is describing by the figure of the Cross the power that controls and holds together the universe, when he expresses a desire that they may be exalted to know the exceeding glory of this power, calling it height, and depth, and breadth, and length… It manifests a great mystery: that both things in heaven, and things under the earth, and all the furthest bounds of the things that are, are ruled and sustained by Him Who gave an example of this unspeakable and mighty power in the figure of the Cross.
The Tree of Life
Saint Irenaeus (130-236 A.D.), Bishop of Lyons writes: “The sin that was wrought through the tree was undone by the obedience of the Tree, obedience to God whereby the Son of Man wa nailed to the Tree, destroying the knowledge of evil, and bringing n and conferring the knowledge of good…So by the obedience, whereby He obeyed unto death, hanging on the tree. He UNDID THE OLD DISOBEDIENCE WROUGHT IN THE TREE. And because He is universally in the whole world, and encompasses both its length and depth–for by God’s Logos/Word everything is disposed and administered–the Son of God was also Crucified in these, imprinted in the form of a cross on the universe; for He had necessarily, in becoming visible, to bring to light the universality of His Cross, in order to show openly through His visible form that activity of His: that it is He Who makes bright the height, that is, what is in heaven, and holds the deep, which is in the bowels of the earth, and stretches forth and extends the length from east to west, navigating alos the northern parts and the breadth of the south, and calling in all the dispersed from all sides to the knowledge of the Father.”
The Cross, the Tree of Life, was planted in the Place of the Skull [Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17], and upon it the Eternal King WORKED SALVATION IN THE MIDST OF THE EARTH [Psalm 73:13]. IT SANCTIFIES THE ENDS OF THE WORLD, AND BOTH ANGELS AND MEN REJOICE. Saint Theodore the Studite [759-826 A.D.] chantsm “The Church has been revealed as a Second Paradise, having within it, like the First Paradise of old, a Tree of Life, Thy Cross, O Lord. By touching it, we share iIN IMMORTALITY.” Saint Joseph the Hymnographer [810-886 A.D.] writes: “Christ stretched out His hands upon the Cross, and so destroyed the sin of our forefather who stretched out his hands in greed. By the Tree He healed the curse of the tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23].
Salvation and Reconciliation Through the Cross
Saint Athanasius the Great attests, “He was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death; and, by His death, has salvation come to all; and all creation has been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, FOR THE SALVATION OF ALL, even though the Jews believe it not.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a tree” [Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23]. I reality,” says Saint John Chrysostom, “the people were subject to another curse, which says, ‘Cursed is everyone who continueth not in all the words of this law to do them” (Deut. 27:26) …For Christ took upon Himself not the curse of transgression, but the other curse, in order to remove that of others.” ‘For He did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22). And as by dying He RESCUED FROM DEATH THOSE WHO WERE DYING, SO BY TAKING UPON HIMSELF THE CURSE, HE DELIVERED THEM FROM IT.”
In Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, he writes: “For it pleased the Father to have all the fullness dwell in Him; and through Him to reconcile all things to Him, having made peace THROUGH THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS, THROUGH HIM, WHETHER THE THINGS ON THE EARTH OR THE THINGS IN THE HEAVENS” (Col. 1:20). Saint John Chrysostom aks, “What is then, ‘the heavens’? …Angels were enemies to mankind, through seeing the Lord insulted… Yet God Himself reconciled you with them.”
Saint Kosmas of Alexandria [378-444 A.D.) counsels us, “LET US NOT BE ASHAMED OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST, BUT THOUGH ANOTHER HIDE IT, DO THOU OPENLY SEAL IT UPON THY FOREHEAD, THAT THE DEVIL MAY BEHOLD THE ROYAL SIGN AND FLEE, TREMBLING, FAR AWAY. MAKE THIS SIGN AT EATING AND DRINKING, AT SITTIN, AT LYING DOWN, AT RISING UP, AT SPEAKING, AT WALKING, IN A WORD, AT EVERY ACT.”
Saint John Chrysostom expounds on signing ourselves with the Cross, saying, “One ought NOT merely by the fingers to engrave it, but BEFORE THIS TO HAVE MUCH FAITH IN THE HEART. And if in this way thou markest it upon thy face, none of the unclean spirits will be able to stand near thee, seeing the blade whereby the devil received his wound, seeing the sword which gave him his mortal stroke. For if we, on seeing the places in which the criminals are beheaded, shudder, think what the devil must endure, seeing the weapon whereby Christ put an end to all his power, and cut off the head of the dragon.
“This therefore, do thou engrave upon thy mind, and embrace the salvation of our souls. For this Cross saved and converted the world, drove away error, brought back truth, made earth heaven, fashioned men into Angels. Because of this, the devils are no longer terrible, but contemptible; neither is death death, but a sleep, because of this, all that wars against us is cast to the ground and trodden underfoot…”