When our Saviour rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, He did not leave us as orphans, He established His grace filled Church and adorned it with numerous gifts to help continue His presence amongst us. We have been given the Divine Services, the Sacraments, the icons, Holy Scripture, and so much more. And wherever we turn, we see the Life-giving Cross. We see it in icons, on the iconostasis, behind the altar table. We constantly make its image over ourselves and we kiss it as it is held by the priest. Several days of the liturgical year are set aside for its commemoration, as is also every Friday of the week. On Sundays we are not to kneel, but on Sundays commemorating the Cross we are instructed to kneel and to prostrate ourselves before it. This is how holy and venerable the Cross is.
Contrariwise, outside the Orthodox Church, the Cross (along with most everything else) has been pushed aside as an object of no particular spiritual importance. It is seen to be a "Christian symbol" and nothing more than that. And to many of those who wear it, it is only a piece of jewelry. Even a fair number of Orthodox Christians, either out of ignorance or complacency, pay little attention to the Cross. They make the sign of the cross sloppily and kiss the hand-held cross simply out of habit, not even thinking about what they are doing. But the precious Cross is of outstanding and vital importance to Christians. It is the instrument God chose in His plan for our salvation.
At the time our Lord was crucified, the cross was seen as a wicked device used to put criminals to a slow and agonizing death, It was seen this way rightly so, because that is exactly what it was, In fact, it gave Satan such pleasure to see so many people suffer upon it and die. But it is often God's way of doing things to take something "bad" and bring some good out of it; to bring repentance out of sinning, wisdom out of affliction, and so on.
So in His unfathomable wisdom, our Saviour deigned to suffer and die upon it. At first Satan delighted in our Saviour's suffering. He thought he was about to take possession of another "holy maws" soul just as he had with so many of the righteous of Old Testament times. He soon started realizing something was very wrong. Suddenly Satan found himself face to face with God Himself, face to face with God Whom Satan loathed with a perfect loathing.
And what unbearable pain the devil suffered from God's presence. Imagine a person being suddenly transported within a few feet of the sun and not being able to die What searing pain there would be from the intense heat and light. This is perhaps just a little of what it was like for Satan. And no matter where that wicked fallen angel tried to run in his kingdom of darkness, there was no place to hide. It was full of God's glory.
After dealing this excruciating mortal blow to Satan, our Creator took
the souls of all the righteous which the devil had in captivity for so many
centuries, and arose. From that time forth Satan continues to anguish. Now,
whenever Satan sees the Cross, that sight that once brought him such pleasure,
he writhes m pain. Whether he sees it on a wall in our homes, or hanging around
our neck, or being traced over us with our three fingers, the devil remembers
that it was through that cross that God descended into
Hades and caused him such agony. Now Satan despises it and shrinks from
it in fear. He even despises our venerating it. The Holy Fathers made this
analogy: When Jesus Christ descended into Hades, He struck Satan a deep, mortal
wound. Now, whenever Satan beholds the Cross, it is like rubbing salt into that
wound. He cannot bear the pain. So God has given us a mighty weapon indeed against our
enemy. Knowing its power, let us never hesitate to carefully make the sign of
the cross over ourselves. Knowing its sanctity, let us hold it in high
veneration and thoughtfully kiss it and bow down before it. Let us always
remember what a mighty weapon it is and give thanks to our Good Shepherd for so
mercifully giving it to us.
Priest Michael Fritz
Albany, New York