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Two Reflections on the Veneration of the Holy and Life-giving Cross

By: Two Orthodox Christians

Reflection 1:

““Today the Cross of the Lord goeth forth, and the faithful welcome it with longing, and they receive healing of soul and body and of every malady. Let us kiss it with joy and fear: with fear, because of sin, for we are unworthy; with joy, because of the salvation granted to the world by Him Who was crucified thereon, Christ the Lord, Who hath great mercy” (Orthros, Doxastikon of the Praises).

Which Orthodox Christian dares to not venerate the Cross of Christ!? Refusal to kiss the precious Wood – due to a demonically-influenced fear of getting sick from it - is an open show of one’s absence of faith and complete acceptance of delusion. How far from Christ and truly lost is the Orthodox Christian who has no perception that the Cross of the Lord is life-giving! How great the Divine punishment they kindle for themselves because of their faithlessness and blasphemy – both in this life and in the next!

The canons expect an Orthodox Christian to kiss the it (see Quinisext, Canon 73, the Horos of Seventh Ecumenical Council). The Seventh Ecumenical Council met to anathematize those who disdained Holy Images. The Fathers of this Council argued that the veneration and kissing of the Holy Images is apparent due to our veneration of the Cross:

“Note, however, that although it is said in Act 4 of the present Council (p. 780 of the 2nd vol. of the Conciliar Records) that the precious icons are equivalent to the Gospel and to the precious Cross, in that all these things are adored with relative adoration, that is to say, yet, in spite of this, in order of adoration, the holy Gospel is the first to be adored (perhaps, as St. Chrysostom says, because the things said by the Saints are pictures of their souls: p. 852 of vol. II of the Conciliar Records; Act 6 of the 7th; and consequently because even the words of the holy Gospel are pictures of the soul and heart of the Lord — on which account they are entitled to first place); then comes the Cross; then the picture of Christ, the picture of the Theotokos, and following these the pictures of the Saints, as is made plain in the same Act, from the speech delivered by St. Maximos, and generally speaking, the order of adoration of their pictures follows the order of the originals and of their merit, or worthiness to be honored” (The Rudder).

This all goes to say the veneration of the Cross is assumed as part of the faith and practice of an Orthodox Christian. It is never in doubt for the Orthodox because a fundamental tenant of our Faith is that the Cross saves the world, it heals the body and soul of sickness, and it grants resurrection to the whole world! The hymns for the Exaltation of the Cross, being dogmatic texts and to which we give our “Amen,” proclaim this core belief of us Orthodox.

We kiss it:

“Wherefore, with our lips and with all our heart, we kiss thee, filled with faith and love, and we draw forth holiness for ourselves...” (Vespers, Lord I’ve cried, Stichera 3).

“As we sinners worship it with unworthy lips today...” (Vespers, Doxastikon after Aposticha).

Let us kiss it...” (Orthros, Doxastikon of the Praises).

Why do we honor it with our kiss, or better put, why does the Church give us an obedience to reverence it with kissing? Because it is vivifying or life-giving for both our souls and our bodies. We Orthodox Christians are not gnostic dualists, believing the intelligible or noetic realm is only where we find God and healing. We confess the Incarnation where Christ comes to heal both of man’s soul and body. The hymns confess the Christ heals us from physical sickness too and the Lives of Saints are filled with specific accounts of this reality.

“Healer of the sick... thou resurrection of all them that died... and thee do we worship, richly drawing forth divine and great mercy for our souls” (Vespers Aposticha 3).

“Today the Cross of the Lord goeth forth, and the faithful welcome it with longing, and they receive healing of soul and body and of every malady...” (Orthros, Doxasticon of the Praises).

“O Cross of Christ... physician of the sick and resurrection of the dead...” (Orthros Idiomelon).

But this is only part of the picture. This is the lowest appreciation we can give to the Cross: it heals our physical ailments. If limited to this, we miss everything. For God may not allow physical healing to come to us if the sickness serves to purify our souls. Then the sickness is our cross and we embrace such sickness with joy, that God has allowed us to suffer in body in order to cure the soul’s ailments. With everyone embracing the crosses that exist in their own life, we find mankind has found the cure for all of its social and even existential ills. Our hymns confess the Cross’ universal revolution against the tyranny which the devil, sin, and death had forced on the world:

“For it was fitting that the wood should be healed by wood; and that the sufferings of him who was condemned because of the tree should be done away through the passion of Him Who is passionless...” (Vespers, Lord I’ve cried, Doxastikon).

“Today the death that came to man through eating of the tree is abolished through the Cross.” (Orthros, Second Ode 9).

“Death’s mighty power hath been vanquished and swallowed up” (Vespers Aposticha 1).

So given the grand salvation which the Lord offers to the whole of mankind through the Cross, it is obvious we have no faith and condemn ourselves if we violate the obedience the Church gives us to venerate and kiss it. The Church calls us to kiss it with faith, hope and love because of the life it gives, both physical well-being, supra-physical life (since it brings about the resurrection), and spiritual (for our souls). To maintain that the very Holy Thing which bestows healing and life could be a conduit of illness and death is not only irrational and contradictory, but incredibly blasphemous. As a matter of fact, it could even be deemed heretical insofar that it is the same error of the Gnostic Dualists and Barlaam the Calabrian who denied the communication of divine grace in-and-through created things.

One of the basic theological tenants concerning the Cross is that it leads to the Resurrection. This is seen in the general resurrection of all those who died at the end of time. However, it is also seen in the spiritual glory given to the saints in this life who through asceticism or trials have mortified their flesh to allow for God’s grace or uncreated light to fill them. This is the providence of God. This providence works its way into mankind for the salvation of the whole race and into every single event He allows into our life. Every struggle and temptation He grants to us as an opportunity to humble ourselves in acceptance of His providential and salvific care in our lives. Do we believe in the Lord’s providential care over our lives? Do we believe that He will protect us from sickness, or (just as importantly) that if He allows us to get sick (but not through veneration of the life-giving Cross) that He is providing an opportunity to improve and heal our spiritual maladies, which are abundantly more important given their eternal nature and consequences?

If we love our Lord Jesus, if we join in the salvation He offers us, and if we want the gifts of glory which He is waiting to give us, then we take joy in the Cross and wish to give it profound honor.

So again, who would dare not venerate the Cross of our Jesus Christ? “The Tree of the Cross, which granteth unto mankind the garment of life, hath now been fixed on the earth; and all of the world is filled with a perfect joy” (Orthros, Kathisma Hymn after Ode 3). What kind of vision of the world and false god do we imagine when we believe we could get COVID-19 from kissing the Cross? This is a demonic provocation given to us in the form of a thought to make us live in fear and fall away from salvation. The evil one seeks to condemn Orthodox Christians by making them fear a virus which hardly kills anyone. The soul is greater than the body, but we confess that we are for all intents and purposes atheists if we do not kiss the Cross of Christ. How are we atheists? We believe that COVID-19 is greater than God, that God is a lie, that He does not exist. So we are atheists.

The excuses for those who insist on living in fear abound through their fallen logic such as, “The Cross or the grace from the Cross is not magic!” What simple-mindedness! The Cross radiates uncreated energy from the Lord Himself. He has made the Churches, the Mysteries, the Crosses, the Icons all material which transmits divine energy into the faithful Orthodox Christian. Are we deists then, if not atheists? Do we believe God only exists in heaven but does not interact with the earth? God is always at work in the earth in a multitude of ways by His grace, His uncreated energy. It brings life in those material vessels which are blessed to hold it as a repository for the faithful to access with their veneration and kisses. Well, some might continue, “we should not test God by challenging Him to make physical contact something that might have COVID-19.” If only these people might hear how faithless they sound! The Church commands us to kiss these vessels of grace! This is not testing God; it is obedience to the Church so that we may receive the blessing of His grace. The devil has so warped those who live in fear that they would use theological words against the obligation to obey the Spirit of God.

It is impossible for the Cross to transmit any sickness. Only the demons can plant such blasphemous thoughts in a man’s mind. The hymns proclaim: “O thou unsullied Tree! Through which, as we send up glory unto Christ, we partake of Eden’s comely and immortal fruit” (Orthros, Praises Stichera 2). St. Nikodemos relates that even Muslims have more faith than the COVID-19 fear-stricken. “...even the Turks themselves who were captured during the reign of Mauricius had a cross marked upon their forehead, as is narrated by both Theophanes and Simocates (Book V, Chapter 10); and when asked why they had it, they answered that because a deadly plague once fell upon their land, the Christians advised them to be marked with the cross, after doing which they regained their health, and that they then became accustomed to printing the cross upon themselves” (From the Rudder).

So, the choice is always before us to choose the Lord’s path of salvation, or to choose the devil’s path of fear and damnation. Are we so attached to our physical well-being that we are paralyzed to take the smallest step in faith towards our salvation? This is one of major questions the Lord asks us in this time of great temptation. May He strengthen us by the power of His Holy life-giving Cross to obey Him without wavering and to place our trust in His teachings rather than our fallen logic.”

End of Reflection 1...


Beginning of Reflection 2:

“Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church calls us forth to ardently venerate the Holy Cross. Let us “be not unbelieving but believing” (Jn. 20:27). Let us not be afraid and timid like secular people. Let us not allow our faith be wavering like Peter’s. Rather, let us take great COURAGE in the Holy Cross, for it possesses GREAT POWER and LIFE and HEALING! Let us faithfully embrace it with our lips, knowing that in return for our reverence and love we acquire the grace of God, as the Vespers Doxatikon says: “Therefore we are faithfully kissing you with hearts and lips caressing you and thus are deriving the sanctity…” Its grace derives from Him whose Body and Blood touched it, as St. John of Damascus writes, “... this same truly precious and august Tree, on which Christ has offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sakes, is to be venerated as sanctified by contact with His holy body and blood…” If we think this to be seemingly grotesque, hear also what else he has to say: “...likewise the nails, the spear, the clothes, His sacred tabernacles which are the manger, the cave, Golgotha, which brings salvation, the tomb which gives life, Sion, the chief stronghold of the churches and the like, are to be venerated” (Exposition, Bk. 4 Ch. 11). Brethren, we have nothing to fear in relation to the Holy Things; they are purer than gold and silver! They are full of uncreated LIFE and HEALING and POWER! Let us take confidence in knowing that by divine grace the Holy Things' “mode of existence is altered so that they may transfer [uncreated] life to us” “according to the measure of each one’s faith, his/her longing and godly fear and love” [1].

Let us not foolishly attempt to rationally understand the mystery of Grace in the Holy Things like scholastics. We must crucify our intellect. Remember what Heaven-rapt Paul teaches: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). St. John Damascene comments again saying, “For it is foolishness to those who do not receive in faith and who do not consider God's goodness and omnipotence, but search out divine things with human and natural reasonings. For all the things that are of God are above nature and reason and conception”, but “faith is assent free from all meddlesome inquisitiveness.”

Let no one fool himself, let no one deceive the faithful, let no one distort the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jd. 1:3) and say that veneration merely means to bow and not kiss the Holy Things of God like the papists do! God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7)! As St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite correctly notes, “veneration” etymologically means to “embrace and kiss longingly and yearningly” (Rudder, pg. 418). The spiritual ramifications for not kissing the Holy Things like the Life-giving Cross include anathema according to the 7th Ecumenical Council! Yet, to blasphemously treat the Holy Cross (and all Holy Things) as if it can become a conduit of disease is equally dangerous: God has severely chastised those who have done so in the past! [2] Let us heed His warnings! And let us take courage in the power of the LIFE-giving Cross and approach with the fear of God, with love, and faith!”

Sources:

[1] “The consecrated elements in the Holy Eucharist operate as the deified body of Jesus. Through corruptible matter, God grants life uncorrupted. And although immortality is an eschatological condition, and we shall all, sooner or later, cross to the other side and receive it in its fullness, yet ‘doses’ of incorruption are given to us in this mortal life according to the measure of each one’s faith, his/her longing and godly fear and love. We are transformed into a different mode of existence by the touch of Christ’s Body and Blood. We are sanctified and deified by being united with Him. The Chalice and Spoon of Holy Communion are also changed as they come into contact with Christ’s Body and Blood. They are transformed to a different mode of existence; they are sanctified. Their nature is not changed, but, rather, in the same way as a blade becomes fire when thrown into the fire . . . the Chalice and the Spoon are also changed and sanctified. Their mode of existence is altered so that they may transfer life to us, just as his garment heals the flow of blood in the woman when she touches it, just as the sea is calmed by the touch of Christ for the safety of the disciples, just as the daughter of Jairus and the son of the widow are brought back to life by the touch of Christ. The Body and Blood of Christ, along with the sacred vessels (the Chalice and the Spoon) utilized to deliver it to us cannot be a threat to our bodily health if we approach with the "Fear of God with Faith and with Love.” On the contrary, they will lead us to healing of soul and body and eternal life as they deliver to us the healing, salvific touch of Christ.” From: The Chalice, the Spoon, and our Fear of Death — Trisagion Films.

[2] From: A MUST READ! St. Paisios of Mt. Athos on the Blasphemous Treatment of Holy Things, God’s Wrath, and Trusting God | Orthodox Ethos.

For further reading...

[A] “FAITH OVER FEAR - THE COMMUNION SPOON,” change.org, May 31, 2020, Petition · FAITH OVER FEAR - THE COMMON SPOON · Change.org.


[B] Metropolitan Joel of Edessa, “Orthodox Church Teaching on Whether There is a Danger of Spreading Disease Through Holy Communion, Kissing the Hand of the Priest, or Our Presence in the Holy Temple of God Metropolitan of Edessa, Joel,” orthodoxethos.com, March 28, 2020, Orthodox Church Teaching on Whether There is a Danger of Spreading Disease Through Holy Communion, Kissing the Hand of the Priest, or Our Presence in the Holy Temple of God | Orthodox Ethos.
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