GR US

Analysis: Beyond the Symbolism and the Folklore

Αssociated Press

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

It’s the year 2021. We are in the middle of Holy Lent and the deadly pandemic continues for the second year now, although there are some strong rays of hope smiling at us thanks to the vaccines. Last Sunday, April 4 we celebrated the Feast of the Veneration of the Holy Cross which is the very foundation of our Faith.

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 the 21st century today in America?

How does this Feast appeal to contemporary generations existentially and not just as another folkloric custom or ‘tradition’, the dramatic the litany of the Cross and the charming distribution of flowers?

It seems to me that today, when we do things in the Church – including the celebration of feast days – we know that they are of great importance, but in essence we don’t really know what we are celebrating and why. 

Allow me to start with the very 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 supreme symbol 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 signpost of the purpose of our life.

The invitation of Christ was very simple and yet very substantial. It is contained in the phrase “whoever wants to follow me.”

If we decide to follow and march with Him we should also know that it will be a journey filled with loneliness and dereliction.

“Whoever wants to follow me”! This phrase includes the joy of choice or options, but at the same time the responsibility of our freedom. Our choices are based on our freedom, including our salvation or our damnation. The road to both paradise and hell start from here and now.

In Orthodoxy, which is the authentic and unchanged form and expression of Christianity, all are free and we live, act, and walk freely. The journey of freedom is cruciform, but it leads to the freedom of resurrection, liberation, and salvation. We are not talking here about a theoretical freedom, but about a salvific freedom from corruption and death. Freedom based on the crucified love of Christ.

It is a freedom for which God Himself fought, and he became “the suffering God” – if I may use the expression – in order to embrace suffering man and liberate him or her from the enigma and tragedy of death.

By the way, let us not forget that death is the common enemy of all of us no matter who we are, how old or how young, how poor or how wealthy, how educated or how illiterate.

Following Christ is the full-time journey of an entire life, which is a relationship of truth and love with God, who is the source of life and truth.

We shouldn’t forget that the Cross is the measure 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 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.

I would like also to remind that in Orthodox Theology we do not speak unilaterally about the Cross. We do not run out an endless ‘crossology’, but we speak about “the Cross and the Resurrection.”