The Holy Cross of Christ

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In writing about our union with Christ I offered the following as the response some time ago to a question. It seemed to me, worth a posting of its own, though it be short. I have, however, added a few thoughts to it. This Sunday marks the Sunday of the Cross in the Orthodox journey of Lent.

There are many ways of which to speak of Christ’s work on the Cross, all of them, of course, seeing it as central. In some ways, it is the whole of the Old Testament in a single moment. Which image of sacrifice is not fulfilled in that Great Sacrifice, and yet there are many images? Christ is also the Paschal Lamb, which itself is not part of the normal sacrificial system and yet it is in the Cross as well.

Nor does the sacrificial system make much sense except by some aspect of union with that which is offered. But on the Cross, Christ completes His union with us, if I may be so bold, by assuming even our death that by death He might trample down death.

The mistake too easily made is to think of the Cross as only one thing. The Cross is everything. All things are summed up and completed by Christ on the Cross, just so, everything is summed up and healed in His resurrection from the Dead. On the Cross He is the serpent lifted in the wilderness. On the Cross He is the Lamb of the Passover. On the Cross He is the Offering of Atonement. On the Cross He is Moses’ staff stretched over the waters of the Red Sea. On the Cross He is the arms of Moses stretched out at the destruction of Amalek. On the Cross He is the ram in the thicket that God gave in place of Isaac. On the Cross He is Blood poured out on the Mercy Seat. On the Cross He is the love of God made manifest in its utter self-emptying. On the Cross He is the Bridegroom now come for His bride to bring her back from the dead. On the Cross He is man in His alienation from God and God in His union with man.

All of these are part of the fullness of what it means to be forgiven, and I have only barely touched the edge of it. God has reconciled us to Himself through the Cross of Christ. This is not to say one thing – it is to say everything.

We’ll have read my writings wrong if it is seen that I have offered “the” explanation of the Cross. The Cross is the explanation of everything else, while no one other thing can explain the Cross.

15 Responses to “The Holy Cross of Christ”

  1. elizabeth Says:

    Yes. Thank God. The Church teaches us sweetly and rightly! Another part of this glory is that the tomb of Christ is the bridal chamber; here the Resurrection takes place.

    Your post makes me long for Holy Week! 🙂

    If only I could remember more often these things! The very purpose and journey we are going towards in Lent. This is why we are in battle…

  2. Fatherstephen Says:

    This is why we have the Sunday of the Cross at the exact midpoint of Great Lent – to remind us of where we are going and to strengthen us on the journey

  3. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    “All things are summed up and completed by Christ on the Cross, just so, everything is summed up and healed in His resurrection from the Dead.” Yes! Oh, yes!

    Father, you might be interested in this, which touches on the all sufficiency of the Cross:

    http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2008/03/tracing-scarlet-cord.html

  4. Peter Says:

    Father,
    This post on the Cross and Christ’s victorious death finds me preoccupied with Psalm 118, David’s lengthy plea to God that He ‘teach me thy laws,” “make me to understand thy statutes,” and so forth. This Psalm is central to both Holy Saturday and the Orthodox funeral service, and I’m wondering if you have any reflections on how this illuminates for us its meaning.

  5. stushie Says:

    Excellent teaching.
    How would you correlate Christ’s Cross with the story of Jepthah’s daughter?

  6. James Says:

    Father Bless,

    I am attaching a quote from St Isaac of Ninevah, although I found nothing wrong.However some others found it to be erroneous. Could you share some of your thoughts on this.

    ” The entire purpose of our Lord’s death was not to redeem us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the word might become aware of the love which God has for creation. Had all this astounding affair takenplace solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sin, it would have
    been sufficient to redeem us by other means.”

  7. James Says:

    Father Bless,

    I am attaching a quote from St Isaac of Ninevah, although I found nothing wrong, some others found it to be erroneous. Could you share some of your thoughts on this.

    ” The entire purpose of our Lord’s death was not to redeem us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the word might become aware of the love which God has for creation. Had all this astounding affair takenplace solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sin, it would have
    been sufficient to redeem us by other means.”

  8. Elias Says:

    Regarding the quotation of St. Isaac of Nineveh by James, the quotation has a mistake which obscures its meaning (“word” should read “world”), so the whole quotation is: “The entire purpose of our Lord’s death was not to redeem us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might become aware of the love which God has for creation. Had all this astounding affair taken place solely for the purpose of the forgiveness of sin, it would have been sufficient to redeem us by some other means.” The source is http://syrcom.cua.edu/hugoye/Vol10No2/HV10N2PRKitchen2.html, a review of a new book by Sebastien Brock which is a translation of various sayings of St. Isaac of Nineveh. I think it would be important to know the context within which St. Isaac is saying this, in order to understand the emphasis he is making. It appears from the quotation that St. Isaac does not think the sole purpose of the cross was atonement through Christ’s flesh and blood, but much else besides (including its demonstrating the love of God for us), just as Fr. Stephen has expressed above in his reflections on the all-encompassing “sign” of the cross.

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    James,

    Formally this is called the “Exemplarist Theory” of the Atonement which didn’t reappear again until much later. I would say that it says too little.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    stushie,

    You like to ask easy questions, don’t you? It’s a difficult story even for the Old Testament – but as the Old Testament must be read through the New, sheds a different light. Particularly the story focuses on her mourning of her Virginity (that she would die a Virgin). It seems to me that God more than redeems such barrenness in the fruitful womb of the Mother of God, who yields herself in obedience to God “be it unto me according to Thy word.” All of which is bound up with the life giving Cross of Christ.

    To take the story of Jepthah’s daughter in its literal reading, it is, of course, a morally shocking tale and should never be used to illustrate that human sacrifice is acceptable. The re-reading of these stories through the lens of Christ is utterly necessary for their redemption as Scripture.

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Elias,

    Thanks for the head’s up on the quote and the source. I’ll be interested in seeing the new book. There’s been too little done with St. Isaac, and I’m pleased when I see more.

    I think one of the most striking things in his thought, is that he is not Hellenistic, but Semitic and it shows in various places of his thought. I also rejoice that by some strange turn in events, he is a saint on the Orthodox Calendar despite other associations. He would have been a lost treasure, otherwise.

  12. WebElf Report: AD 04.01.2008 « The WebElf Report Says:

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  13. Andrew Says:

    Father Stephen

    I doubt the quote from St. Isaac is Exemplarist. I think that what he means is an active showing of love, which, because it is active, it transforms, and therefore it’s ontological, rather than exemplarist.

    So, far from saying too little, it says too much.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Andrew,

    Your take on the quote sounds much better than mine. Thank you!

  15. Odile Says:

    May I offer a comment on the Exemplarist quote: ““The entire purpose of our Lord’s death was not to redeem us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might become aware of the love which God has for creation. Had all this astounding affair taken place solely for the purpose of the forgiveness of sin, it would have been sufficient to redeem us by some other means.”

    The two purposes, “to redeem us from sins”, and “that the world might become aware of the love which God has for creation” are one and the same. We are redeemed when gazing at the Cross, we understand God’s great love (No greater love)and respond with love.

    Yes, “it would have been sufficient to redeem us by some other means,” in other words, by an act of forgiveness coming from God alone. But God loves us more than to act without us (as an analogy, imagine a “forgiving” parent who pays his child’s speeding tickets in secret – the child may die in an accident!): in everything, God gives us free will, even in our redemption. Only freely given love is true love. God wants our true love – and He wants it for us because He knows it is the only thing that will makes us happy. At the foot of the cross, seeing there the ultimate manifestation of God’s love, of His forgiveness, we have the choice to accept the fact of God’s love or ignore it.

    So, “some other means” might have been possible, but only the death of Jesus on the cross redeems perfectly, letting us be participants in our own salvation when we allow the Cross to change our hearts. When we are touched by this ultimate gift, we can make the decision to surrender our will to God’s. Only love can inspire us to such a decision. Thus, redemption and being aware of God’s love are one and the same, with the only difference our freely chosen acceptance of that love.

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