10 March 2017

The scandal of the cross

     Some years ago I attended a wedding between a man who had been raised as a Christian and a woman who had been raised as a Jew. The wedding was held in a nondenominational chapel. When the bride's father entered the space, the first thing he did was go to the altar and remove the cross. He could not abide being in a place that featured the cross--even if it had practically no theological significance in that place whatsoever.

     A few days ago I saw photos from a new Protestant 'church' building, posted on Facebook. The building is beautifully decorated; it has almost everything you could want. It even has beautiful art, like large poster-sized paintings of a lion and a lamb. But it's missing one thing which, to my mind, is the most important: it has no cross. It made me think back to that Jewish father. If his daughter were to be married now in most newer Protestant churches, it's likely he wouldn't have had to remove the cross. It was never there to begin with.
     What a contrast with apostolic Christianity. "God forbid that I should boast," said St. Paul, "except in the cross of Christ, by which I was crucified to the world, and the world to me." And again, he said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  In a little over a week, the Orthodox Church marks the third Sunday of Great Lent--the Sunday of the Holy Cross. Our little parish is blessed to have a relic of Christ's cross, given us by our bishop. Still today the cross is a scandal--a stumbling block--but now, not only to Jews but also to many who claim to be followers of Christ.

     We Orthodox glory in the Cross of Christ. We even speak to it in one of our prayers:

Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered; and let those who hate Him flee from His face. As smoke vanishes, let them vanish; and as wax melts from the presence of fire, so let the demons perish from the presence of those who love God and who sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross and say with gladness: Hail, most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, for Thou drivest away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ Who was crucified on thee, went down to hell and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us thee, His honorable Cross, for driving away all enemies. O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help me with our holy Lady, the Virgin Theotokos, and with all the Saints throughout the ages. Amen.