HOMILY ON THE LIFE-GIVING CROSS FROM THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE CHURCH

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

HOMILY ON THE LIFE-GIVING CROSS FROM
THE HOLY FATHERS OF THE ORTHODOX
CHURCH

"Our Lord was trampled on by Death," writes Saint Ephraim the Syrian (A.D. 306-383). 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 tast, 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 flesh, He came unto the Virgin, that from thence He MIGHT OBTAIN THAT WHICH SHOULD BEAR HIM TO SHEOL…With the body that was from the Virgin, He entered Sheol. He entered Sheol AND PLUNDERED ITS STOREHOUSES AND EMPTIED ITS TREASURES. He came then to Eve the Mother OF ALL LIVING…He Who is THE MEDICINE OF LIFE FLEW DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND WAS MINGLED IN THE BODY, THE MORTAL FRUIT. And when Death came to feed after his custom, the Life in His turn swallowed up Death. THIS IS THE FOOD THAT HUNGERED TO EAT ITS EATER…

"This is the Son of the carpenter, Who skilfully 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 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."

The Cross as a Symbol

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (A.D. 335-395) comments, "For truly, to those who are able to see, the mystery of the Cross is especially contemplated in the law. Therefore, the Gospel says somewhere that not one iota or one tittle shall pass away from the law [Matthew 5:18], signifying in these words THE VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL LINES BY WHICH THE FORM OF THE CROSS IS DRAWN."

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 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 is the breadth and length and height [cf. 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, 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 WAS NAILED TO THE Tree, DESTROYING THE KNOWLEDGE OF EVIL, AND BRINGING IN AN 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 Himself the Logos/Word of God Almighty, Who in His invisible form pervades us universally in the whole world, and encompasses both the length and breadth and height 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 also 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.] chants, "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 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 HAND IN GREED. By the Tree, He HEALED THE CURSE OF THE tree [Deuteronomy 21:23].

Salvation and Reconciliation Through the Cross

Saint Athanasios 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 curse for: for it hath been written: "Cursed is everyone who hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23). "In 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’ [Deuteronomy 27:26]. To this curse, I say, people were subject, for no one had continued in, or was a keeper of, the whole Law; but Christ EXCHANGED THIS CURSE FOR THE OTHER, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangeth on a tree.’ "…It was like an innocent man’s undertaking to die for another sentenced to death, and so rescuing him from punishment. 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’ [cf, Isaiah 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22]. And as by dyiing He RESCUED FROM DEATH THOSE WHO WERE DYING, SO BY TAKING UPON HIMSELF THE CURSE, HE DELIVERED THEM FROM IT.’ Saint Theodore chants: "O Lord, Thy Life-creating Cross has turned the instrument of the curse [Deuteronomy 21:23] INTO A SEAL OF BLESSING.

The Sign of the Cross

Saint Athanasios says, "Behold then what men considered the foolishness of God because of the Cross, has become of all things MOST HONORED. For our resurrection IS STORED UP IN IT, AND NO LONGER THAT OF ISRAEL ALONE; BUT HENCEFORTH ALL THE NATIONS, AS THE PROPHET HAS FORETOLD, LEAVE THEIR IDOLS AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE True God, the Father of the Christ. And the illusion of demons is come to nought, and He only Who is really God IS WORSHIPPED IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST."

The Cross is the Subject of Glorifying

Saint Paul says, "The word, that of the Cross, to those who are perishing is foolishness, but to us WHO ARE BEING SAVED, IT IS THE POWER OF GOD"[cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18]. And "May it not be for me to boast, EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST" [Galatians 6:14]. "Truly," remarks Saint John Chrysostom, "THIS SYMBOL IS THOUGHT DESPICTABLE; BUT IT IS SO IN THE WORLD’S RECKONING, AND AMONG MEN; IN HEAVEN AND AMONG THE FAITHFUL IT IS THE HIGHEST GLORY." "The Cross is NOT a subject of shame," says Saint John Chrysostom, "I speak of the Cross of Christ. For there is no greater Sign OF LOVE OF GOD FOR MANKIND THAN THE Cross–NOT HEAVEN, NOR SEA, NOR EARTH, NOR THE CREATION OF ALL THINGS OUT OF NOTHING, NOR ALL ELSE BESIDE." "The Cross IS OUR GLORY, AND THE SUM OF ALL BLESSINGS, AND OUR CONFIDENCE, AND ALL OUR CROWN. I would that, also with Paul, I were able to say, ‘But may it not be for me to boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world hath been crucified to me, and I to the world" [Galatians 6:14]. [Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)

_____________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostomos

+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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