Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Cross, Russian icon

Some time ago I read Anthony Esolen's commentary in Magnificat about the elevation of the cross from the point of view of an English monk's meditation written in the Middle Ages from the point of view of the cross itself. It has haunted me, in a good way I hasten to add, as I would come upon small annoyances and inconveniences and then remember the image of the young Hero as a warrior striding toward the cross. Shame on me if I do not at least attempt to match that valiant attitude.
For it is not a shy and effeminate Jesus, this Savior of ours, the Healer, the Chieftain. No courageous German could respect a man who did not fight. And will Christ own us, if we do not fight for him? The poet dares to make us see Calvary in a way that we are not used to -- but in a way that is right and just nevertheless. Says the cross:

Then the young Hero ungirt himself -- that was God almighty,
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.

Yes, Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane. But he took the cross to himself, suggests our poet, as eagerly as the warrior takes the battlefield, or the bridegroom takes the bride. He needs no armor here. He strips himself, he climbs. And though it all the cross, as the first and most loyal follower of the Chieftain, stands firm; trembles, but does not bow; is drenched with blood and driven through with the same spikes that pierce the body of Christ.
Applying this to my daily life with its small and petty sacrifices, this helps immeasurably when I am reminding myself that my time is not really my own, that making a meal for a friend in need takes priority over my previous plans, and that even such a small thing is a step toward becoming a warrior in the young Hero's footsteps. It is surprising how contented one can be when embracing the cross with such an example.


This commentary is from 2008 and I repeat it here because it did me good to read it this morning.

It is rare that I relate to the daily reading in Magnificat from the saints who wrote a really long time ago. I always read them though because you never can tell just when something is going to hit you right between the eyes.

As did this from Saint Symeon the New theologian (died 1022):
... For Christians the cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ who was crucified; all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the cross; and all our exaltation and all our glory are in the humility of God, who humbled himself to such an extent that he was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling, and with extreme reverence. For the image of the cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.

Therefore the demons also fear the image of the cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the cross depicted even in the air, but they flee from this immediately knowing that the cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God...

Those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom... To the degree of the reverence which one has toward the cross, he receives corresponding power and help from God. To him may there be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.
Just a little something to remind me not to make the sign of the cross automatically, as so often happens, I am very sorry to say. I must be heedful of what that sign has cost and what that sign means for me in my relationship with God.


I like this commentary also, which I posted a few years ago, from Word Among Us, which comments upon the strangeness of the feast and the fact that we are reading about poisonous serpents. Good stuff.


This is short, but good. And says it all.

The cross is the hope of Christians.
The cross is the resurrection of the dead.
The cross is the way of the lost.
The cross is the saviour of the lost.
The cross is the staff of the lame.
The cross is the guide of the blind.
The cross is the strength of the weak.
The cross is the doctor of the sick.
The cross is the aim of the priests.
The cross is the hope of the hopeless.
The cross is the freedom of the slaves.
The cross is the power of the kings.
The cross is the water of the seeds.
the cross is the consolation of the bondsmen.
the cross is the source of those who seek water.
The cross is the cloth of the naked.
We thank you, Father, for the cross.

1 comment:

  1. I love that icon. Your post is beautiful also. The Cross ... in small or larger share ... belongs to all of us.

    God bless you!