Saturday, September 10, 2016

On the Honourable Veneration of the True Cross.

   Inquirer: I hear many that are astonished to learn that we venerate the True Cross. Father, what do you have to say?.
   Elder Cleopa: The True Cross was the altar upon which was offered the true sacrifice on behalf of man for all ages. Jesus was the Offering and the Offerer, the Sacrifice and the High Priest Who administered the sacrifice, granting us our salvation. Holy Scripture testifies to this: "But Christ, being a High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is to say, not of this building), neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal re­demption for us. For if sprinkling the unclean with the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your con­science from dead works to serve the living God?".
   Saint Cyril of Jerusalem has this to say: "The Saviour endured all of His suffering in order to reconcile by the Blood of the Cross the heavenly with the earthly. On account of sin men became adversaries of God, with the death of sinners being the result. One of two things should have happened: Either He would have, as God, executed His will leaving all to meet death or, as the lover of mankind, suspended His decision. Yet, look at the wisdom of God! He restrained His verdict and instead showed the power of His philanthropy. Crucified in the body on the Cross, Christ took upon Himself all of sin and with His death we die to sin and live unto righteous­ness. It was not an ordinary man who died for us. It was not an unreasoning lamb, nor an angel, but the incarnate God Himself!. The iniquity of sinners was not great, that is, not as great as His righteousness and philanthropy."
   In Holy Scripture the word "cross" has a double mean­ing - one with spiritual meaning, which is used very rarely, and another with material meaning, which signifies that the cross consists of two nailed crossways or the shape of a right angle made of wood upon which they crucified the greatest criminals of that epoch.
   The spiritual meaning of the word "cross" is explained by the following words of the Saviour: ''Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" and "And he that taketh not his cross and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me."
   The other meaning is used more often in Holy Scripture. It appears clearly in the following passages: ''And He, bearing His cross, went forth into a place called the Place of a Skull (which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha)," "And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear His cross." "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." "Save thy­self and come down from the cross!"…
   Furthermore, the sign of the cross, which is made with the hand raised to the forehead, and then to lower-centre of the chest and then to the right and left sides, also bears the name of cross. The cross as a means of salvation was prefigured in the Old Testament with a brass serpent, and in the New Testament was glorified by the Saviour: ''And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

   Inquirer: How is it possible for us to honour the instrument which was the means of punishing our Saviour?.
   Elder Cleopa: Great honour is due to the Holy Cross, for upon it, as if upon an altar, in His love for man, Christ has burned up our sins. The cross has exposed our shame and disgrace, not the Lord's. In truth, the Holy Cross proclaims Christ's unfath­omable love for mankind. Hence, our thoughts about the Cross should, in part, cause us to be ashamed and ought to inspire in us repentance for our sins. It is for us to take up our cross as the Lord took up His for us and our salvation. Of course, an object that brings about the death of an important person evokes in us sadness and pain and we don't treasure it. The same, however, does not happen with the Cross of the Saviour. On the contrary, it brings forth joy­fulness and regeneration. For it was not, as some say, a place of execution but rather a place of sacrifice wherein was offered the greatest and most honorable sacrifice of the ages - the Son of Man for our salvation.

   Inquirer: If, therefore, we must honour the Cross isn't it neces­sary to honour the other instruments of salvation, such as the nails, the crown of thorns, Pilate and Judas, the arch­priests Ananias and Caiaphas, and the derisive soldiers, since they all played a part in the crucifixion of Christ?.
   Elder Cleopa: It is not for us to show honour to Pilate and the other murderers of our Lord since we must also take into ac­count the intent of those who contributed to the passion and death of the Lord. Their aim was to ridicule the Lord, to disgrace and torture Him, and finally to kill Him so that He would cease to exist. As concerns the crown of thorns and the nails, we honour them inasmuch as they entered into the Body of the Lord. Yet, we do not honour them to the degree to which we honour the Cross since they are spoken of nowhere in Holy Scripture, neither in the Old Testament are they prefigured, as is the case with the cross. These, then, are the reasons we honour the Cross of our Lord more than the other tools of the executioners.

   Inquirer: If it is truly as you say, then we should honour only the actual cross upon which Christ was crucified and not the others which have been fashioned by men. These are the work of sinful men and are not sanctified and worthy of honour and veneration.
   Elder Cleopa: Then we should also do the same with Holy Scripture. Today we have an incalculable number of publications of Holy Scripture which, in your opinion, we should not hon­our, as they have been published by sinful or even faithless printers. Only the original text would suffice in this case. This, however, is absurd for a reasoning person, as is your previously formulated opinion irrational.

   Inquirer: Yet, some say that the cross should not be paraded externally. Many hang it around their neck, others outside their houses or on top of Churches and others elsewhere. Shouldn't we venerate the cross privately within us?.
   Elder Cleopa: Whoever has it in his soul and at the same time sees it before him rejoices all the more. The cross as a tangible object supports and strengthens internally him who carries or wears it. Holy material objects always have the effect of galvanizing and invigorating our internal spiritual experi­ences. Feelings of piety are born and sustained, as well, from "external" celebrations, feasts and services experienced within the spiritual life.

Heers P. (2000), The Truth of Our Faith: Discources from the Holy Scripture on the Tenets of Christian Orthodoxy – Elder Cleopa of Romania, Uncut Mountain Press, Greece, London & Ontario.