We Venerate the Holy Cross, never worship it
‘He who seeks not the Cross of Christ, Seeks not the Glory of Christ’ – St John of the Cross
The veneration of the Cross is a topic, which many Orthodox Christians are confused about. The fact is that we worship Crucified Christ not the cross-shaped wood. We venerate the Holy Cross because through Cross, we are redeemed.
We believe in the True God. We were taught by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Incarnate, Himself to believe in God. He also saved us from the power of sin and eternal death. He was crucified, He died on the cross and He rose on the third day. The cross that was once a tool of death became an Instrument of Salvation. The Cross thus became the most powerful weapon, against our spiritual adversaries, the demons. It became an invincible weapon over and a sign of Christ’s victory over death and sin. When we venerate the cross, we are in fact venerating the sacrifice of the Lord, on the Cross, through which we were saved. We are venerating the ‘Crucified One’ Who died for us on the Cross.
An Idol is the image of any figure such as likeness of human, beast on earth, fowl in air, anything that creeps on ground, or fish in waters either carved or painted. The Decalogue says “You shall not make graven image or likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth (Deut. 4: 16-18). “You shall not bow down nor serve them for I am the Lord your God” (Ex 20:4-5). Exodus 20: 4, forbids us to worship any figure, image, or picture. It guides the believer not to have for himself a graven image. God Almighty intended to protect the believer from the temptation to create images and lest we may ignore the One True Living God. Ex. 20: 4; thus, means that (idol) worship (latreia – true adoration latreian) is prohibited, not veneration (Proskunesis – proskenesin).
Cross is not an idol. Num. 21: 8-9; God asked Moses, to make two cherubs of gold and placed facing each other on the two ends of the mercy seat (Ex 37: 7-9). Solomon’s temple had two cherubs; wings spread wall to wall of the Holy of Holies, made of olive and covered with gold. Cherubs were carved on the wall paneling (1 Kings 6: 29, 32, 35, 7: 36). Moses was asked by God to make a brazen serpent and set it on a pole and if any man who was bit by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, (another type of cross), he will survive. Will God Himself violate His commandment, by asking Moses to make a graven image? The Holy Cross has no likeness of any natural object and hence it is outside the purview of idol or idolatry. Holy Tradition has that Apostles carried wooden cross. St. Thomas carried wooden cross in hand and tied around neck. He erected wooden cross wherever he founded a Church.
The Cross is the central symbol for Christians, not only as the instrument of the world’s salvation by the Crucified Christ, but also as the constant witness to the fact – that, human beings cannot be Christians unless they live with the Cross as the very content of their lives in this world. Cross is the symbol of victory over sin, Satan and death because Jesus nailed them on the cross and came out victorious. The Holy Cross cannot be grouped as a graven image.
There are other references in the Holy Bible, which signifies that Cross was dear to early Christians and was a source of power, a weapon of salvation. 1 Cor. 1: 17 “The Cross of Christ is God’s power for us” Gal. 6: 14. ‘Our glory is on the Cross of the Lord’. “May I never boast except in the Cross of Christ”. St. Paul also shows us his belief in the Cross as being important in Christianity when he says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2: 2) and also, “But far be it for me to glorify except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… by which the world has been crucified in me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6: 14). He said, “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” (1 Cor. 1:18). Therefore, when we sign, use, or venerate the cross, we become filled with power; for through the cross, our Lord trampled death itself. The Holy Cross is a source of Christ living within us. St. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Orthodox Church services, literature, theological writings, lives of saints are filled with references of the Holy Cross as the most powerful weapons against evil. Moreover, in Orthodox Faith there is unique importance and reverence for the Cross. The Holy Cross is the Centre of the Orthodox worship. The power of cross is illustrated in the countless lives of saints, as an unseen warfare with evil (including Saint Gregorios of Parumala). The veneration of cross seemingly started from the time of Emperor Constantine, whose mother St. Helena discovered the life giving, true cross of Christ on 14 September 325 AD, but history reiterates that it started from the Apostolic times. In the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (vol. 2, page 5 and 32), St. John of Zebedee “took a Cross of wood and placed it up, towards the East and knelt and was praying.” The use of the Sign of the Cross traces back to early Christianity, with the second century Apostolic Tradition directing that it be used during the exorcism of baptism, during ablutions before praying at fixed prayer times, and in times of temptation. The Eastern tradition celebrates the Holy Cross in many prayers and hymns made in her honor and praise, being a divine sign, inexhaustible in its meaning and a source of vital power. During our common prayers or worship in Church or at homes, we place the cross in the center and two lighted candles on both sides to feel and believe the presence of our Lord God and two angels on both sides. When we enter a Church we look at the Cross on the Altar and make the sign of cross as a symbol of our love, faith and reverence and we make the sign of Cross after reciting the prescribed prayer, “may I enter thy house in reverence to offer my vows to thee”.
A salute of the flag is a gesture of love and respect to the nation. We do not salute the cloth on which the emblem is painted. We salute the flag, not because it is the symbol of another god, but because it stands for the freedom and blessings that the Most High God has given this nation. Through Paul, God commands us to render respect and honor where they are due (Romans 13: 1). Idolatry is the worship of something other than God.
Each Orthodox Christian has been given this power of the cross as a formidable weapon in Christian armor. We have been signed and sealed by the sign of cross in the Name of Holy Trinity at the time of Baptism. By using and venerating the sign of the cross, we remember how our Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Our use and veneration of the cross proclaims our faith in the open for everyone to see. When we venerate the Cross, we should remember many vital matters, spiritual, theological, doctrinal and symbolic. We should remember God’s everlasting love towards us sinners, Christ’s total self-sacrifice, our redemption, Christ’s victory over death, over Satan. Cross is the symbol of saving grace of God for; Jesus’ death and resurrection brought redemption and eternal life to humankind. When a faithful might see a Cross, he or she realizes the presence of God, who sacrificed Himself on the cross for the liberation and salvation of the entire creation and the mankind from the bondage of sin, death and Satan. Our Lord offered His pure blood as the ransom for the liberation. We should remember how we should be crucified with Him and remember His promise of Eternal life.