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And was crucified…and…the third day He arose again

September 28, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 6.40.54 AMRESURRECTION-ICONThe Symbol of our Faith is meant to be said and prayed in its entirety, but for the purpose of these weekly reflections and in the hope that the different aspects of the creed might descend more deeplyinto our hearts, I have broken it down into smaller segments. Some segments, however, really belong together forming a seamless garment that should never be rent. This is especially true for the Cross and Resurrection, for Christ Himself taught us to speak of them as a unity when He spoke to His disciples of the future with the clarity of the present: “The Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Matthew 17:21).

In their fear, the holy apostles didn’t comprehend this until Christ appeared to them after His resurrection during which time He opened the Scriptures to them.  Saint Leo the Great even writes, “And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy” (Sermon 73). For us strugglers far from the illumination of the Holy Apostles, there is something bewildering about the Cross and something almost beyond belief about the Resurrection, but when held together as a unity, the bewilderment disappears and the unbelievable become an unshaken conviction. Held together, our every joy in what is good and our every sorrow for failing to attain it become meaningful in a powerful way. Held apart, we can hardly even make a confession faith. This explains why Saint Cyril of Jerusalem once wrote, “I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection. If He had remained as He was after being crucified, I would probably not confess it, for I would have been inclined to conceal both it and my Master; but now that the Resurrection has followed the Cross, I am not ashamed to declare it” (Catechetical Lectures, XIII).

The ultimate meaning, content, and power of the Cross is revealed only in the Resurrection. In Ancient Christian Wisdom, I write, “‘The Resurrection of Christ is what fills the Christian heart and mind with ever-burgeoning optimism and unfaltering courage. In fact, Christians are Christians only in so far as they live the Resurrection of Christ and make it their guiding light in life as well as in death. In the luminescence of Christ’s Resurrection, believers see death as a sleep from which Christ will awaken them. Christ’s victorious Resurrection shines radiantly through ‘the apostleship of the apostles, the martyrdom of the martyrs, the miracles of the wonderworkers, the faith of the believers, the love of those who love, the hope of those who hope, the fasting of those who fast, the prayer of those who pray,’ (St. Justin Popovich, Dogmatics III) for apart from the Resurrection of Christ all these things remain inexplicable.” Because of the Resurrection, we make the sign of the Cross in joy and in sorrow, in every season and at every hour, with hope in the One Who brings us our resurrection in the very crosses we are called upon to carry.

Keeping both the Cross and the Resurrection together before our eyes should be instructive for us in our daily lives.  When we encounter evil or when we are subject to suffering and pain, we are often tempted to become discouraged, fearful, and full of doubts about “Why does God allow this?”  Yet, the Creed reminds us that no cruelty or evil circumstance is beyond the purview of God.  While it may appear that evil is having its way in the world today, we as Christians recall our Savior, perfect God and perfect man, the Lamb of God, tortured, mocked, spat up, and crucified on the Cross, we recall that the earth shook and the sun was darkened before this wave of evil that seemed to engulf all that was good in a tragedy beyond redemption and then at the same time we bring to mind the empty tomb, the radiant Angel, and the words of our Risen Lord, “lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” And then we know that the apparent victory of every demonic force is ultimately vacuous, because evil was permanently and completely conquered in the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

This Cross/Resurrectional unity is no mere academic artifice.  It has real import for us in our daily struggles.  This unity reflects the wonderful, salvific work of Christ. What began in the garden of Gethsemane restored what had been separated in the garden of Eden.  Death of course is the ultimate disunity, our separation from life as a result of disobedience.  Suffering is a manifestation of that disunity.  Because it was Christ the Lord God who suffered and was crucified, suffering and death become something new and restorative.  Suffering and death become in Christ a bridge to Resurrection and new life.  Death no longer is a permanent separation, but a bridge to eternal life.  Death is no longer an isolated, meaningless event.  Death is now conjoined to life that is eternal and blessed.  This is precisely why we speak of Christ’s death and Resurrection as if they are one event. When this belief becomes a core belief in our heart, we will never look at setbacks, sorrow, and death in the same way. Like the Christian martyrs and all the Saints, we are no longer afraid of whatever crosses we may face in life, for we know that if we empty ourselves, humble ourselves, and rely on God, they contain our very resurrection. And then Christ’s victory on the Cross, forever united with His victory in the Resurrection, becomes our own.

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2 Comments
  1. Bruce permalink

    Father Bless!!!

    Thank you so much for this important post. Your final paragraph is especially powerful in describing the ‘eyes of faith’ which can begin to see His Victory in our own suffering and death.
    ________________________
    Death of course is the ultimate disunity, our separation from life as a result of disobedience. Suffering is a manifestation of that disunity. Because it was Christ the Lord God who suffered and was crucified, suffering and death become something new and restorative. Suffering and death become in Christ a bridge to Resurrection and new life. Death no longer is a permanent separation, but a bridge to eternal life. Death is no longer an isolated, meaningless event. Death is now conjoined to life that is eternal and blessed. This is precisely why we speak of Christ’s death and Resurrection as if they are one event. When this belief becomes a core belief in our heart, we will never look at setbacks, sorrow, and death in the same way. Like the Christian martyrs and all the Saints, we are no longer afraid of whatever crosses we may face in life, for we know that if we empty ourselves, humble ourselves, and rely on God, they contain our very resurrection. And then Christ’s victory on the Cross, forever united with His victory in the Resurrection, becomes our own.
    __________________________
    Your post reminds us that the cross is Christ’s vehicle for transcending the world and revealing God in spiritual realities far greater than His material manifestations and gifts.

    Dumitru Stanliloae in his small booklet ‘The Victory of the Cross’ says:
    ___________________________
    The world is a gift of God, but the destiny of this gift is to unite man with God who has given it. The intention of the gift is that in itself it should be continually transcended. When we receive a gift from somebody we should look primarily towards the person who has given it and not keep our eyes fixed on the gift. But often the person who receives a gift becomes so attached to the gift he forgets who has given it to him. But God demands an unconditional love from us for he is infinitely greater than any of the gifts he gives us; just as at the human level the person who gives us a gift is incomparably more important than the gift he has given and should be loved for himself and not only on account of his gift. In this way every gift requires a certain cross, and this cross is meant to show us that all these gifts are not the last and final reality. This cross consist in an alteration in the gift, and sometimes even in its entire loss.

    We can see many meanings in this cross imprinted on the gift of the world which God gives to us. St. Maximus the Confessor said that ‘all realities which we perceive with the senses demand the cross’ and ‘all the realities which we understand with our mind have need of the tomb’.

    ….No one can escape the cross on this earth. But he who wishes to avoid it, he who does not see or does not wish to see God through it, will be lost by it. He who seeks to separate the gift of the world, the gift of life, from the cross, never really succeeds in doing so. He finally loses the gift itself because he does not see it as the gift of God who reveals his own reality as greater than the gift, and who shows the way towards himself by the cross. He remains definitively weighed down under the weight of his suffering, that is in hell. The cross is given to all of us to lead us towards the life of the spirit and as a means of reestablishing the dialogue of man with God. It is given to all because in it the meaning of life is objectively to be found. But the one who does not discover this meaning in it will be totally lost in the darkness which his suffering causes him, since his suffering instead of revealing the meaning will hide it more impenetrably.
    _____________________________________

    In many ways, our crosses allow God to more fully reveal Himself to us and for us to lose what we imagine God to be and to experience more profoundly His Truth, His Life, and His Love. I find in my resistance to my crosses the lack of faith which is preventing God from more fully allow me to know Him in greater fullness and for me to see more clearly the ‘little gods/idols’ that separate me from the True God.

    May God bless you and all that you do!!!!

  2. May the Lord God bless you, Bruce!

    Thank you for sharing with us that beautiful passage from Dumitru Staniloae. I very much like the way he expresses the fact that the world is the gift, God is the giver, and we become so attached to the gift that we forget the giver. The Cross that reorients us from our many other gifts to the One true Giver of life and Giver of light is truly the gift of gifts, for through it we transcend all gifts and begin to become like the Giver, the very purpose of our lives. Thank you once more for the gift of this marvelous insight from your spiritual reading.

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