By Theodore Kalmoukos
We are in the middle of Holy and Great Lent. On March 19 we celebrated the Feast of the veneration of the cross. It was a sacred and great day. Why, though? What does the Sunday of the Veneration of the cross mean for us Greek-Orthodox Christians of 21st century America?
Let us start with the basic position that the cross and the resurrection are the very foundations of our faith. They are the hope of our life both the present one and the one that is to come: the permanent and eternal.
The cross is the blood-dyed banner of the Church. The alphabet of her leader and founder, Christ, who is our friend and our God; our savior and our brother; our whole life. The cross is the symbol of truth and life. It is the landmark of the purpose of our life. It is the signaling of a cruciform course taken freely and willingly, obedient to Crist’s invitation “whoever wants to follow me.” We have decided to march with Him knowing that it is a journey filled with loneliness and dereliction.
“Whoever wants to follow me”! This phrase includes the joy of choice or option, but at the same time the responsibility of our freedom. Our choices are based on our freedom, including our paradise or our damnation. Both the paradise and the damnation could start from now and here. The thoughtful Dostoevsky said so wisely that “man is condemned to be free.”
In Orthodoxy, which is the authentic and unchanged form and expression of Christianity, all are free and they live, act, and walk freely. The journey of freedom is cruciform but it leads to freedom of resurrection, liberation, and salvation. We are not talking here about a theoretical freedom, but about a salvific freedom from corruption and death. We shouldn’t forget that death is the extreme tragedy of our historic existence. It is a freedom for which God Himself fought and he became “the suffering God” in order to embrace the suffering man and liberate him (or her) from the enigma and tragedy of death. Here we are talking about a journey of an entire life, which is a relationship of truth and love with God, who is the source of life and truth.
The cross is the ladder on which God stepped and descended to earth and man (human beings) step on it in order to ascend to heaven. It is actually a two-way street of journey and encounter on the cross with Christ the Savior.
We shouldn’t forget that the cross is the meter of the loving passion of God for mankind. That is the reason that the Church in her effort to define this measure uses the phrase “The Passion of the Lord.” This is exactly the cross of Christ, the manifestation of the His passion out of love for our love. In a few days, during Holy Week, Christ will come “as a Bridegroom in the middle of the night,” because he passionately loves His Church, which means us, because we are the Church.
Through the martyrdom of the cross Christ manifested his love for us. It is a love without terms and boundaries, which dares to love even the enemies. It is a love that knows to give everything and to expect nothing in return.
The cross is a way of a total self-offering of Christ because He loved us very much. And he who loves with “passion” gives up his entire self. He himself becomes a sacrifice. He becomes “a cross” without terms. Love cannot be contained in terms and boundaries. Love is unidimensional and with no ending. That is why it dares everything, even the cross and the death.
This daring cruciform love is the “silliness” of the cross about which St. Paul spoke so clearly. The cross is a “scandal” inconceivable to our limited brain, which it cannot even conceive.
The cross is love and love is cross. Because these days we hear so many things about salvation, allow me to say that salvation is not our good deeds or good intentions, but God is our salvation as He was revealed on the cross, suffering and rejoicing, emerging from the tomb. He Who is the Life was lowered in the dark grave from which he pulled up the life. The divinized life liberated from corruption and death. And thus faith assumes a different dimension not intellectual or theoretical, connected with some religious axioms, values, and doctrines, but faith as a free and willing self-giving into the hands of God, in order that His Will be done, because then everything can be done.
I would like also to remind that in Orthodox Theology we do not speak unilaterally about the cross. We do not run out on an endless “crossology” but we speak about the cross and the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is total victory on the very death, which was transformed into life, and more into the “abundance of life.”