Tag Archive for: Elevation

The Same Cross

Armodoxy for Today: Elevating the Cross

The Cross is the symbol of Christ and Christianity. This devise of torture became the expression of victory over suffering and death. In the symbol of the Cross we find the expression of victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate. It is the symbol of Christianity because in Jesus Christ we see and understand the same, that is, victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross refers to an event which takes place in history. But Armodoxy demands that we take ownership of the events we celebrate. In traditional churches, such as the Armenian, Catholic or Orthodox Church, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the event and lose sight of the purpose. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross points to the Cross of Christ.

In the town of Gyumri, Armenia, there is a church dedicated to the Holy Asdvadzadzin St. Mary. It is called Yot Verk, that is, “Seven Wounds” of St. Mary. One of those wounds refers to the Blessed Mother learning that her son is Crucified. Today, we are invited to stand as a witness to the Crucifixion, a witness to the awful and painful Cross.

Jesus is not an abstract figure in history. To St. Mary, he was her Son and Savior. In the Gospel of St. John we read that the Holy Mother was a witness to the Crucifixion from the foot of the Cross. (19:25) The excruciating pain of a mother watching her son being tortured along with criminals, is only a part of the story. Jesus was tried on trumped up charges; he became a scapegoat for humanity. The exercise today is to walk in the shoes of Jesus’ Mother, Mary. Can we sit at the foot of the Cross and look up. Against the backdrop of heaven, we imagine our brother, our sister, our mother, our father, our friend, our enemy, our son… who is being tortured, having life slowly drained from his body. The cries of Jesus are directed to all of us, “I thirst.” “Why have you forsaken me?” “Where is my mother?” Listen very carefully, and you’ll hear the same cries from Artsakh, the Congo, Darfur, from your back street, wherever injustice has taken charge. “I thirst.” “Why have you forsaken me?” “Where is my mother?”

For three hours, we sit and watch, only to note the innocent blood dripping next to us. We hear humiliating mockery from people that don’t even know us or our loved one. “He had it coming to him!” “He freed others, let him free himself.” “He said he believed in God, well where is his God now?” Finally, we hear the final gasp for breath and the words, “It is finished! Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” A silence which later will be referred to as deafening encircles us, forcing us to come to terms with the tremendous magnitude of our loss and the loss for humanity.

And now we open our eyes wide and understand that Jesus is not abstract. He does not belong to history but to all time. The refugee, the poor, the lame and blind, the weak, the downtrodden, the suffering and the oppressed are on the cross today and with our eyes wide open, we look up against the backdrop of heaven to see it is the same Christ on the Cross.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is a Feast of the Armenian Church because it pulls us in and connects us to Jesus and His Mission of caring for the lost, the lonely, the lame, the broken hearted and the suffering.

Let us pray, O Christ, You conquered the Cross and turned the instrument of torture into the symbol of our Salvation. You invited us to pick up the Cross and follow you. May we be inspired by the love and life you gave to all of us on the Cross, and in turn may we share the gift of life with others.  


Armodoxy for Today: Symbols

As humans we search for meaning. Alongside survival and reproduction, the human animal has a need to find meaning in life. Religion helps facilitate the search. In that search, sooner or later, we come to a point where our faculties cannot comprehend the vastness of life with all its intricacies.

In the Book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, the author begins with a preface to his search (1:1-8):

All wisdom is from the Lord, and with him it remains for ever.
The sand of the sea, the drops of rain, and the days of eternity—who can count them?
The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom—who can search them out?
Wisdom was created before all other things, and prudent understanding from eternity.
The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed? Her subtleties—who knows them?
There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared, seated upon his throne—the Lord.

After 43 chapters of intense descriptions of the wonders of the Lord and the heavens and earth, he comes to very simple conclusion:

We could say more but could never say enough;let the final word be: ‘He is the all.’
Where can we find the strength to praise him? For he is greater than all his works. (43:27-28)

Symbols help us understand that which cannot be expressed with words. Symbols can be presented to us in a variety of ways. Their meaning is ascribed by the person who confronts them.

Red, white and blue string are merely dyed fibers. Sewn together in stripes and stars, they take on a new meaning. They are the symbol of a country and all that it represents. Before the strings are sewn, they may be cut, torn, destroyed or thrown in the trash. But once they come together to make a flag, those dyed fibers represent something huge and great. To destroy or desecrate the flag is an expression of disrespect. The meaning of a symbol also changes with the times and the circumstance of the people. On the days following 9/11 in 2001, the flag flying over the rubble of the Twin Towers came to represent the unity and resolve of a nation against evil. The backdrop of the towers and the collective experience of the citizens brought further meaning to the flag.

The main symbol of Christianity is the cross. Two planks, placed perpendicular to one another, joined together, with a short headspace, longer leg area, and the horizontal plank dissected in its center constituting a left and right arm. Two planks of wood can be cut, whittled, and used as kindling in a fire, but create them in the shape of a cross, they now have a deeper meaning.

This Sunday, the Armenian Church celebrates the fifth and last feast day of the year: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross. After the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the cross became an object of veneration.

The story of Exaltation can be found in all major Christian traditions. The Armenian Church celebrates four different feasts associated with the Holy Cross of Jesus, the main one being this Sunday’s Exaltation (or elevation) of the Holy Cross. The others are the Discovery (or finding) of the Cross, the Apparition of the Cross and the Holy Cross of Varak. This last one, the Cross of Varak, is unique to the Armenian Church and is celebrated two weeks following the Exaltation.

The Cross is a symbol. It means more than the two planks of wood which compose it. It is a symbol of victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate. It is the symbol of Christianity because in Jesus Christ we see and understand the same, that is, victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate.

Let us pray, O Christ, protector of the people, protect and shelter me under the shadow of your holy and precious Cross in peace. Delivery me from enemies invisible and visible so I may always glorify you with the Father and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Cover photo: How Thomas E. Franklin took the iconic 9/11 photo of firefighters (northjersey.com)