Monday, March 16, 2015

The seal of the true cross

Ton stavrón sou proskinoúmen, Dhéspota, ‘we venerate your cross, O Master,’ is the first line of one of the two hymns of the third Lord's Day of the Forty Days’ fast before Pascha. The rest of the hymn, kai tín aghían sou anástasin dhoxazómen, ‘and we glorify your holy resurrection,’ reminds us of the inseparability of suffering and resurrection.

Notice, I didn't say ‘death and resurrection,’ because Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), has tasted death for all mankind (Hebrews 2:9), He suffered and was buried, on the third day He rose from the dead (Symbol of Nicæa) and so His work is finished, for us. We may have to suffer, but He has taken our place by His death. Now, for those of us who keep His Word, we will not see death (John 8:51).

The cross. I used to wear a cross once. All Orthodox are supposed to wear the cross they received at baptism. That original cross of mine is packed away among my memorabilia, I hope. I did wear a cross for at least 20 years of my adult Christian life—the cross of San Damiano, an ancient icon painted by Serbian Orthodox monks that found its way into a small church in central Italy, dating from the days when Italy was still an Orthodox land. The cross of San Damiano was the icon from which Christ spoke to Francesco of Assisi, ‘Repair My Church which, as you can see, is lying in ruins.’

I stopped wearing my cross because it was worn out, and because at some point, my cross changed from something metallic and detachable, to being a part of me, something others can't see, something I can never take off. When I knew that for sure, that I was bearing my cross, then I didn't have to wear it. 

The cross is something you can't really talk about, when it's the reality of your life. All the jabber and blab about the cross, however eloquent, is still just words. To enter into the reality of the cross is a gift of God. When He grants it to you to suffer, and to suffer in ways you never knew existed, then there is no longer an image outside yourself that really stands for anything much. The whole panoply of Orthodox iconography, in fact, dies away into mere imagery, when the cross is your life. 

(I know I wanted to communicate something in this post, but it isn't really possible, I know that now.)

But crossbearers know each other. Their sanctuary is the time and place where in this world they meet for even a moment, their communion is feeding each other with the broken fragments of their lives that Christ has taken to Himself and returned to them, ‘This is My Body broken for you.’ 

No matter how large the visible cross, whether it's empty, plain wood, or has an icon of Jesus on it, whether the ceremony is slow and awe-inspiring, or the quick, efficient march that we sometimes experience, it would be the same.

It can never compare to the reality of being pressed like raw dough with the seal of the true cross, so as to be baked in the oven of tribulations, to come out as pure communion bread. 

That's our life in Christ, broken but not divided, eaten but not consumed. Christ is in our midst. He is, and ever shall be.

Καλο Πασχα! Kaló Páscha! See you at Pascha!

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