The Mystery of our Salvation is contained within the Cross of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. And it is correct to say the “mystery of our salvation,” for what is contained there is more than a cosmic transaction (Christ pays for our sins): it is also the whole of our way of life. It is truly the mystery of our salvation.
The extent of this mystery is hinted at in Christ’s admonition: “Whosoever would be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” This clearly goes much further than a single transaction or even our faith in the efficacy of that transaction.
The mystery is again invoked in St. Paul’s statement: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
The clearest statement of this mystery is perhaps found in St. Paul’s description of the “mind of Christ” in the second chapter of Philippians:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here the Apostle speaks of the Cross in its universal form – the mystery is being unfolded. To take up our cross and follow Christ is to have within ourselves the “mind which is yours in Christ Jesus.” That “mind” (phronema) is a complete orientation of our life – a life that understands that only in the path of self-emptying are we to find the path of exaltation. Our salvation – our deliverance from the emptiness of death – is found, mysteriously, in our willingness to be empty for Christ’s sake. The way of the Cross is the way of life, and, a way of life.
This is the path that martyrs have traveled. It is the path that everyone who would know love must travel. For love is found in “laying down its life for its friends.”
What we see in the Cross of Christ is surely everything we say of it as the moment of our salvation. There Christ died for us. There His blood was shed for us. There His life was poured out for the life of the world. There we were reconciled to God.
But the Cross also stands outside of time and for all time (the Lamb was slain”before the foundation of the earth”). The Cross was always the way of life. Love, self-emptying love, was always the love of God for all mankind – though until He made it manifest in the Cross of Christ we did not know it.
But now we know it. And now it should become our mind.
September 14 is the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross
An additional thought:
The Orthodox Tradition, as it developed in ancient Syria, had a great devotion to the Cross of Christ. It was believed by the Orthodox in Syria that the Shekinah glory of God, which had once dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant and filled the Temple in Jerusalem, came to reside in the Cross following Christ’s death and resurrection. There was thus a very deep and profound devotion for the Cross (any Cross) within Syrian Orthodox practice. It serves, I think, as a reminder that the Cross we wear from our Baptism, the sign of the Cross that we make when we pray, and the Cross wherever it is depicted and displayed, should be approached with great reverence and care. It is not (as the popular culture would make it) jewelry for the decoration of our bodies nor mere art. It is the sign of our salvation and the mystery of its power was ever held in great reverence by early Christians (and everywhere to this day by Orthodox Christians).
Before Thy Cross
We bow down and worship, O Master,
And Thy holy resurrection, we glorify!
Hymn before the Cross