“The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the suffering of the cross.”
-St. Isaac the Syrian
“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.”
We bow down before the cross of our Lord at this joyous feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross because of what Christ accomplished on this wood. The victory has been won. We have been healed from the sinful affliction of the soul. Death has been swallowed up in this victory. What was ultimately killed on the Cross was not so much Christ as it was death itself, for Life could not be killed. Death was the result of the sinful condition: “For the wages of sin is death,” St. Paul reminds us. What is so joyous about this feast is that we remember and enter into the salvation that Christ has offered unto us. This is why we have all manner of names for the Cross that we sing at this feast:
glory of the faithful, confirmation of sufferers, protection of the righteous, salvation of the saints, wounder and driver away of demons, invincible banner of godliness, gate of paradise, strength and protection of the faithful, beauty and might of the Church, invincible weapon of peace, sign of true joy, power of righteous men, majesty of priests, rod of strength, weapon of peace, physician of the sick, resurrection of the dead, hope of Christians, guide of those gone astray, haven of the storm-tossed, victory in warfare, firm foundation of the Earth, life-giving tree, support of the faithful, glory of angels, undefiled wood, marvelous wonder…
As we can see, we focus on many aspects of the Cross during this feast.
One particular dimension of the Cross is that it is the “confirmation of sufferers.” We glorify the Cross of our Lord for it is through the suffering of Christ’s voluntary passion that our own suffering in this life makes sense. We refer all of our life to God in praise and thanksgiving. This means the good as well as the bad. This is what St. Paul means when he says, “God forbid that I glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). It is through our own taking up the Cross that we become co-sufferers with Christ.
We say in the hymns, “through the Cross joy has come into all the world.” Do we believe this? This is the joy of the Cross. What the evil one means for harm transforms into the very place where death and sin are destroyed. This is why “the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Then the Cross makes no sense. Why, if God wanted to manifest His power, why would He not deliver Christ from having to endure the scourging and torturous death on the Cross? The power of God was made more manifest through the death of Christ on that Tree of Life – for through it, death has been killed. Mankind has been set free from sin and death. The hymns say, “the passions of the passionless God has destroyed the passions of the condemned,” and “today the death that came to mankind through the eating of the tree, is made of no effect through the Cross.”
It is through the transformation of suffering that the power of God is made manifest. Then one is totally free from the results of the sickness of sin: “…but for us who are being saved, it (the Cross) is the power of God.” This is what St. Isaac means when he says that the “knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the suffering of the Cross.” Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad for this life-giving wood of the Cross, upon which Christ was killed for us men and for our salvation in order to be resurrected and bring life to the fallen!
Father Christopher Foley (SVOTS ’06) is the rector and founding priest of Holy Cross Orthodox Mission, Greensboro, North Carolina. Established in 2006 from a small group of faithful in the Greensboro area, Holy Cross has grown to serve over 100 faithful of diverse backgrounds.