Veneration of the Cross
One of the differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is the Orthodox’s wonderful veneration of the cross. Our brethren the Protestants do not sign themselves with the sign of the cross before or after prayer, and say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They do not sign food with the sign of the cross before eating, nor do they use the cross to bless people or clothes.
Our brethren the Protestants are content that they believe in the cross in their hearts without using it. Until recently, they were not raising crosses on their churches. Many of them do not wear crosses and none of them hold crosses in their hands. Also, they do not celebrate the feasts of the cross nor do they make any processions holding crosses whilst singing hymns and praises. They neither kiss the cross nor take a blessing from it.
Now we will try to explain why Orthodoxy gives such importance to the cross and we shall see that making the sign of the cross is beneficial, useful and in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Bible.
(1) The emphasis of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross
Since the commencement of the Lord’s ministry, during His teaching and prior to His crucifixion, He laid great emphasis on the cross. He says: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38) and “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt.16: 24); (Mark.8: 34). In His conversation with the rich young man, He said to him: ‘Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor… and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’ (Mark.10: 21). He also says: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk.14: 27).
(2) The cross was the core of the ministry of the angels and the Apostles
An important point is that the angel who proclaimed the Lord’s resurrection said to the women:“…you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said” (Matt.28: 5,6). Thus the angel called the Lord “who was crucified”, although He had already resurrected. Thus the title ‘crucified’continued to be attributed to the Lord.
Our fathers the Apostles emphasized the Lord’s crucifixion in their preaching. In preaching to the Jews, St. Peter said:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts2: 36). St. Paul says: “..we preach Christ crucified”(1Cor.1: 23),although the Lord’s crucifixion was considered “a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness”.
The Apostle considered the cross the essence of Christianity and says: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”(1Cor.2: 2). He means that the cross is the only subject he wants to know.
(3) The cross was the object of the Apostles’ glory
St. Paul the Apostle says: “But God forbid that Ishould glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”(Gal.6: 14). If we ask him the secret behind these words, he will continue and say: “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal.6: 14).
(4) When we make the sign of the cross, we remember many of its divine and spiritual meanings
We remember God’s love for us, who for the sake of our salvation accepted to die for us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”(Is.53: 6). When we make the sign of the cross, we remember “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John.1: 29), and that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world”(IJohn.2: 2).
(5) When we make the sign of the cross, we profess that we belong to the Crucified
Those who take the cross only by its spiritual meaning inside the heart without showing any manifest sign do not reveal this belonging openly which we proclaim in making the sign of the cross, in wearing and kissing the cross in front of all, in engraving it on our wrists and in upraising it on our places of worship. By doing all these we are merely proclaiming our belief openly. We are not ashamed of Christ’s cross in front of people but we glory in it, are called by it, celebrate its feasts and cling tort so that, even without us talking, our appearance professes our belief.
(6) Man is not only spirit and mind but he also has corporeal senses which should sense the cross through the above-mentioned means
Not all people are of the same spiritual level and do not need the senses for their spiritual contemplation. The senses are nourished by all the above-mentioned means and are not confined within themselves but they transfer the effects they receive to the mind and the spirit. The mind by itself might not remember the cross or might not remember it much. But when it perceives the cross before it, through the senses, it remembers all the divine and spiritual feelings connected with the cross and the Crucified. Thus we worship God spiritually, intellectually and physically. All these strengthen each other.
(7) We do not make the sign of the cross in silence, but we say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen”
Therefore every time we make the sign of the cross, we profess our belief in the Holy Trinity who is the One Godforever. Amen. Thus we are given the chance of constantly remembering the Holy Trinity.
(8) In making the sign of the cross, we profess our belief in the Incarnation and the Redemption
We make the sign of the cross from up downwards and from left to right. We remember that God descended from heaven to earth and transferred people from the left to the right; from darkness to light; from death to life. How numerous are the contemplation we think of with our minds and feel with ourhearts when we make the sign of the cross!
(9) Making the sign of the cross is a religious teaching to our children and to others
He who makes the sign of the cross when he prays, when he enters the church, when he eats, when he goes to bed and all the time, is the one who remembers the cross. This remembrance is beneficial spiritually and is Biblically requested. It also teaches people, especially little children, that Christ was crucified.
(10) In making the sign of the cross, we proclaim the Lord’s death for us, according to His commandment
This is the commandment of the Lord: to proclaim His death (which is for our redemption) till He comes (1Cor.11: 26). Every time we make the sign of the cross we remember His death and will remember Him till He comes.
We also remember the Lord in the Eucharist but this Sacrament is not celebrated constantly whereas we can make the sign of the cross at any time, and thus remember the Lord’s death for us.
(11) In making the sign of the cross, we remember that the penalty of sin is death
That was why Christ died. We were “dead in trespasses” (Eph.2: 5), but Christ died for us on the Cross and gave us life. On the Cross He paid the price and said to the Father: “Father, forgive them”.
(12) In making the sign of the cross we remember God’s love for us
We remember that the Cross is a sacrifice of love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”(John.3: 16). We remember that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son”(Rom.5: 8,10). In the cross we remember God’s love toward us, because “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”(John.15: 13).
(13) We make the sign of the cross because it gives us power
St. Paul the Apostle felt the power of the cross and said:
“But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal.6: 14) and “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor.1: 18). We notice that he did not say that the crucifixion is the power of God but that the mere word ‘cross’ is the power of God.
Therefore, when we make the sign of the cross and when we mention the cross, we are filled with power because we remember that, through the cross, the Lord trod upon death, granted life to all people, defeated and overcame Satan. Therefore:
(14) We make the sign of the cross because Satan fears it
All Satan’s efforts ever since Adam’s creation and until the end of ages, came to naught on the Cross. God paid the price by His blood. He effaced with His blood the sins of all people who believe and obey Him. Therefore whenever Satan sees the cross, he trembles, remembering his great defeat and the loss of his strivings, is disgraced and retreats.
Thus the children of God use the sign of the cross because it is the sign of victory and the power of God. They are filled with power within, and the enemy trembles without.
The lifting up of the serpent in the past, which was a cure for people and salvation from death, resembles the lifting up of the Lord of glory on the Cross. It also resembles the sign of the cross in its efficacies (John.3: 14).
(15) In making the sign of the cross, we receive a blessing
The whole world was cursed and under the penalty of death. But on the Cross the Lord carried all our curses to give us the blessing of reconciliation with God (Rom.5: 10), the blessing of the new pure life; the blessing of membership in His body. All the graces of the New Testament are derived from the cross. That is why the clergymen use the cross in giving the blessing, signifying that the blessing does not come from them but from the Cross of the Lord who entrusted it to them to use in giving the blessing. In addition, they use the cross because they derive their priesthood from the Priesthood of the Crucified. All the blessings of the New Testament sprang from the Lord’s Cross and from its efficacious.
(16) The cross is used in all the holy Sacraments in Christianity
All the Sacraments sprang from the merit of Christ’s blood on the Cross. Had it not been for the Cross, we would never have been worthy to approach God as His children in the Sacrament of Baptism, we would never have been worthy to partake of His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist (1Cor.11: 26), nor would we have been able to enjoythe graces of any of the Church Sacraments.
(17) We exalt the cross to remember our fellowship with it
We remember the words of St. Paul the Apostle: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christlives in me” (Gal.2: 20) and “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being confirmed to His death” (Phil.3: 10). Here, we ask ourselves: When can we enter into the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings and pray with Him?
We also remember the Penitent Thief who was crucified with the Lord and deserved to be with Him in Paradise. Probably he was singing in Paradise the song of St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ”.
Our aspiration is to ascend to the cross with Christ. The cross is our glory whenever it comes into contact with our senses.
(18) We venerate the cross because it is the Father’s pleasure
The Father received Christ on the Cross as a pleasing sin offering and also as a burnt offering. He was “a pleasing aroma to the Lord”(Lev.1: 9,13,17). Concerning this, the Prophet Isaiah said: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him” (Is.53: 10).
The Lord Jesus Christ satisfied the Father all His life on earth. But He entered into the fullness of this satisfaction onthe Cross when He “became obedient to the Point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil.2: 8).
Every time we see the cross, we remember the perfect obedience and the perfect submission so that we may resemble Christ in His obedience: to the point of death.
The Cross which was the pleasing object of the Father, was also the pleasing object of the Crucified Son, about whom it is written: “… who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb.12: 2). Thus the full joyof Christ was in the Cross. May we be like Him.
(19) In the cross we go forth to Christ outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb. 13: 13)
Christ’s reproach is His crucifixion and His sufferings. In making the sign of the cross, we relive the feelings of the Holy Week and remember what is said about Moses the Prophet: “…esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt”(Heb. 11: 26).
(20) We carry Christ’s cross because it reminds us of His Second Coming
The Holy Bible says about the end of the world and the coming of the Lord: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt.24: 30).
Therefore let us venerate the cross, the sign of the Son of Man, now on earth as long as we expect to see it in heaven when He comes on the clouds of heaven at His great Coming.