Twenty centuries ago, the cross was a disgraceful instrument of punishment and horrible death. The Romans sentenced the worst criminals to death by crucifixion.
Today the cross dominates the whole life of the faithful Christians and the whole life of our Church, as an instrument of sacrifice, salvation, joy, sanctification and grace. As St. John Chrysostom writes ‘this cursed and hideous symbol of the worst punishment, now has become desirable and lovable’. You see it everywhere. ‘On the Holy Altar, at the ordination of priests, during the Divine Liturgy; in homes, in the markets, in the wilderness and in the streets; in the seas, in the boats and on the islands; on the beds and on the clothes; at weddings, at banquets, on gold and silver vessels; on jewellery and on murals. This wonderful gift, this inexpressible grace has become so much desirable to all’.
Indeed, wherever one can turn one’s sight, both inside and outside the church, will see the sign of the cross as a visible schematic symbol, but also as a sacred gesture. The sign of the cross dominates the life of the Church.
But why? Because, since the time that God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, was crucified on the cross for the salvation of mankind, the instrument of punishment became the instrument of salvation. ‘It is no longer the punishment for the condemned, but it has become the trophy of our salvation’, a hymn says. The object of shame became the glory of the Church. The symbol of curse became ‘the redemption from the ancient curse’.
‘The timber of pain and death became the sign of joy’ and ‘the treasury of life’. And all this because on the wood of the cross, together with His all-immaculate Body, He also nailed our sin. As St. Paul the Apostle says, He forgave us ‘all our trespasses blotting out the handwriting of ordinances ….nailing it to His cross’ (Col. 2,14).
Christ’s cross reconciled us with the Heavenly Father from Whom the devil has separated us by deceiving our forefathers. Christ’s cross has opened for us the Kingdom of Heaven, since until His crucifixion hades was devouring insatiably even the righteous. Because of this, the cross possesses such a power, and such a grace, the power and the grace of Christ, which, when He was crucified, He transferred in a mystical and incomprehensible way to His cross as wisely the hymnology tells us. ‘Your cross, O Christ, although materially is seen as wood, it is covered with divine reign; and the world perceives it with the senses, but spiritually it miraculously worked out our salvation…’. So, the cross became the symbol of Christ Himself.
As we chanted and prayed in Church today:
Cross, the guardian of the whole world;
Cross, the beauty of the Church;
Cross, the strength of the kings;
Cross, the support of the faithful;
Cross, the glory of angels
and the defeat of the demons!