Tuesday, April 03, 2007
THE CROSS OF CHRIST
In the midst of two thieves, Thy Cross was found to be a balance of justice; for the one was borne down to hades by the weight of his blasphemy; the other was raised up from his sins to the knowledge of theology. O Christ our God, glory be to Thee. (Hymn on the Glory of Ninth Hour for Great Lent)
That is the opening quotation from the "Sermon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy" of St. John Maximovich from the book MAN OF GOD. The sermon discusses the nature of the cross and the divisions that it necessarily creates in humankind.
Here are two paths placed before man. Before us lies the Life-creating Cross of the Lord. The Lord said,If any man will come after Me,let him...take up his cross and follow Me. Follow where? At first through sufferings, just as Christ also suffered; then he will also enter with Christ into the Eternal Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ sits on His throne. There is no other path except to follow the Lord. The thief who hung on the right recognized Him to be God and, in his soul, followed after Him. He could not, of course, become miraculously transformed, and this was not necessary; he followed Christ in his soul, recognizing Him to be God Who had humbled Himself for the sake of saving mankind. The thief humbled himself likewise, acknowledged his transgressions, and went with Christ into Paradise.
Before us lie the paths of the two thieves. Which path shall we take? Mankind has always taken one or the other path. The Cross of the Lord was to the Jews a stumblingblock; to the Greeks--that is, to the pagans--it was foolishness: how could anyone bow down before an instrument of humiliation, an instrument of torture? They did not understand that by means of this instrument the Lord saved all of mankind from the dominion of the devil, from the dominion of sin, from eternal perdition. For the Jews also, the Cross of the Lord was an offense; they wanted to see their messiah as a king of glory, as the earthly king who would exalt the Jewish race. The Cross on which Christ was crucified was for them a stumblingblock; Christ's crucifixion was perceived as an offense, as something senseless, and yet as the holy Apostle Paul tells us, this stumblingblock unto the Jews, this foolishness unto the Greeks is for us Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:24). What for some spelled perdition, for others became a source of salvation.
The Cross of the Lord separates men into two parts. We see that some believed in Christ, while others stumbled at that stumblingstone (Rom. 9:23) and persecuted Christ's Church, the Body of Christ, whose Head is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Church of Christ is the Body of Christ; He Himself is its Head, and with His Divine Body and Blood He nourishes the faithful, He nourishes the children of His Church, making us one with Himself. And we should be one with Christ, bodily and spiritually. We unite ourselves with Christ in body through Divine Communion; spiritually we must also join with Him and eagerly follow His commandments.
We all sin, but some sin and repent, while others mock the laws which they violate. So it was in ancient times, when Arius and other heretics repudiated the dogmas of the Holy Church. And then the faithful often suffered. They suffered when there were impious rulers who sent them into banishment. Saint Anathasius the Great spent twenty of his forty-seven years as a hierarch in exile. (pp. 155-156)
More than anything else the Cross is the message of Holy Week...a challenge, a test, a symbol of division, an occasion of choice. Each of us must decide to embrace it or reject it. For each of us there will be a price. Will we seek the good will of our fellow men or the love of God? They are frequently incompatible.
The Jewish Encyclopedia entry for "Cross" makes this division abundantly clear. For the Jews, the cross was anathema.
The Jewish aversion to using any sign resembling a cross was so strong that in books on arithmetic or algebra written by Jews the plus sign was represented by an inverted "ḳameẓ"...
A specific Christian symbol: termed by Jews ("warp and woof"); also ("idol"). Concerning this the law is: "As far as it is made an object of worship by Christians, it is to be treated as an idol and prohibited for use; if, however, it is worn as an ornament without any religious object, its use is permitted to the Jews" (Isserles, Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yore De'ah, 141, 1: R. Mordecai to 'Ab. Zarah iii. in the name of R. Eleazar b. Jacob of Worms). However, being a Christian symbol, it has always been scrupulously avoided by Jews. Pious Jews would not even wear badges or decorations with the cross attached to them...
In a forum such as this, in Holy Week, one must decide where loyalty lies. Does it lie with other posters who would not agree with the tenets of the Catholic faith? Does one decide to gloss over the divisions in the interests of being friendly so that Christ is ultimately denied as some sort of embarrassment? Or does one proclaim the faith by which one lives without apology--the faith that animates the daily grind and uplifts in love--the faith that defines us? This week, of all weeks--this particular day of all days--I feel compelled to restate my belief in Christ and His Cross and let the anger of others fall where it may.