14th of September, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrated the glorious Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross. It is a truly memorable event in the church calendar, as the Cross conveys such a strong message to Orthodox Christians around the world.
The mother of Saint Constantine the Great, Saint Helen Equal of the Apostles; is praised for finding the authentic remains of the Holy Cross, which our Lord was crucified on. Back in the year 325 AD, the pious Saint Helen, who was quite advanced in years, undertook the hardships of a long journey to Jerusalem, in search of the Cross.
On the actual site of our Lord’s Crucifixion, called Golgotha, a temple to Aphrodite had been raised by Emperor Hadrian. Emperor Hadrian was a devout Pagan, and persecuted Christians extensively during his period of reign. The temple was erected to defile and cover with oblivion the place where the saving Passion had been suffered by our Lord.
The venerable Saint Helen had the statue of Aphrodite destroyed, dug up the earth beneath, revealing the Tomb of our Lord, and three crosses.
To see which cross was our Lord’s, the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Saint Macarius suggested they place the crosses on a very sick woman of prominent descent who lived in Jerusalem.
The woman, who was near death from a mysterious disease, was miraculously brought back to full health as soon as she touched the 3rd cross, which was the Cross of our Lord.
Fast forward to today, and the largest collection of pieces of the True Cross of Christ are held in the main Church of the Holy Monastery of Xeropotamou on Mount Athos. There are thirteen pieces of the True Cross of Jesus Christ here, with four large pieces in ancient reliquaries and nine smaller pieces which are also housed in reliquaries with other relics of saints.
During Sunday’s Orthodox Cafe, held weekly at the Greek Orthodox Parish of St. Stylianos in Gymea, Dr Philip Kariatlis opened an inspiring discussion about what the Holy Cross means for us, Orthodox Christians. The Cross is a symbol of:
- Hope – It is the hope of light overcoming darkness, of good overcoming evil, of life victorious over death and the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ
- Sacrifice- Looking beyond one’s self. Sacrifice for others. An example of this is in a marriage, where the husband will sacrifice for his family by working long hours to support them financially. Or the wife sacrificing sleep to feed the baby during the night so that her husband can rest properly. Sacrifice requires humility. Humility in compromise
- Redemption- of new life and resurrection. The reversal of ancestral sin by Adam and Eve. Our Lord’s promise of a second coming
- ‘Christian Flag’, the cross is our symbol as Orthodox Christians, it is our ‘flag’
- Protection- many people don’t leave their house without a cross-chain necklace worn around their neck. It is a Christian’s beacon of strength and assurance
- Love – “We ought to live our lives in a Christian manner, loving our neighbour as ourselves. This is what separates Christian love from other definitions of societal love. It is a selfless love, love for the other, the ‘other’ is where life is found,” Dr Philip said
- Strength- “Christ will never give us a ‘Cross’ (a trial) that we cannot bear. If we live by this, we won’t be despondent because we will trust in God and not lose hope. We can look at COVID-19 as a cross, something we must endure,” he continued.
Perhaps the most important symbol of the Cross is the promise of Eternal Life.
“This is why God died on the Cross for us, to grant us Eternal Life. We are all God’s creation. We, as Christians, should be the walking image of Christ, living a Christ-like life. We can call this ‘Christification’. Our best witness to this is our example, shown through our actions as Orthodox Christians.”
“Embracing the Cross in our lives means that we can begin to bear the burdens and even weaknesses of others, turning the ‘other’ cheek. For example, another person’s anger or envy towards us can, of course, give rise to a reprisal on our part; or, we can freely and actively choose to bear, and take these negative and hurtful forces upon ourselves to neutralise and put an end to them, as Christ Himself did.”
Our appreciations to Dr Philip Kariatlis for his powerful message and for helping us to acknowledge these astonishing symbols of the Cross and allowing them to resonate within ourselves.
May the Holy Cross give us all strength to achieve our highest goal, which is to reach Heaven and meet our maker, the Lord God Jesus Christ.
The Orthodox Cafe continues every Sunday at 11 am, at the Greek Orthodox Parish of St. Stylianos, Sts. Peter & Paul & St. Gregory of Palama in Gymea.
Click on the links for directions and more information:
Dr Philip Kariatlis: e: [email protected] or http://www.sagotc.edu.au/sub-dean/philip-kariatlis