SYMBOL OF LIFE'S EXECUTION

by Rev. Vladimir Berzonsky
Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio

"Joy to you, precious cross of the Lord, guide to the blind, physician to the sick and resurrection to all the dead.
You lifted us out of corruption and removed the curse; through you we have been made godly, and the power of hell has been completely destroyed.
Therefore seeing you today lifted up by our priests we exalt Christ who was suspended on you,
And we bow down low before you, seeking forgiveness and great mercy."
(Hymn of the Holy Cross Feast)

 

The Orthodox theology of the Cross is at once Cross-Resurrection. We must have both at the same instant if it is to make sense at all. For us the Cross is a joyous victory, overwhelming to the imagination and too wonderful to comprehend.

As in Constantine's dream this is the symbol by which we have triumphed over the forces of evil, darkness and death. In the classic analysis of drama where every plot ends in either tragedy or comedy we dare to affirm that the plot of life is a comedy; not that it is comical, as we today understand comedy; rather, that the principal characters of life, Adam and all his offspring, have triumphed over the tragic elements of existence through the victory won by Jesus of Nazareth.

We Orthodox glory in the Cross-we kiss it and wear it on our breasts, we mark our houses and bless our persons with that sign of life; yet the very joy we find in it is an offense to many persons who view life as a tragedy.

Much of today's youth movement must be put in that category; for all their good intentions, there is not much of a positive, triumphant nature in their songs and writings. They speak of peace and love, they pity the world and, sadly, themselves also. This tragic view of life permeates modern art; for example, a painting of Christ's cross by a young American, Rico LeBrun recently acquired by the Cleveland Art Museum. Its title is. "Shroud on the Arm of the Cross." Besides showing the nothingness of death and its senseless tragedy, the dark streaks of wood clinging to the white tatters of the shroud by blunt wedge nails, a soldier's spear in the shape of a Spanish pike hinting at the Inquisition, a starved dog like Picasso's "Guernica" beasts yelping up at the cross, impatient for the death of his meal dying above him, and high above the Crown of Thorns like the crest of death itself, marking the artist's inability not only to understand Christ's redemptive death, but any hope in life's force, and the unwillingness to go beyond physical pain to the meaning of suffering.

In our joy of the Resurrection theme, we Orthodox Christians are accused of a tendency to pass over the stark terror of the cross, seeing it for the cruel instrument of death it was; yet the Elevation of the Cross Feast is meant precisely to correct such an impression. We are brought to the Cross for that purpose.

Touched as we are by the tragic, sympathetic understanding of life our young people display, we point to the lack of any goal, any idea which transcends the tragic in their understanding of life. Their emotions are in fact pre-Christian; sympathetic, but pagan. For Christians, life in itself is not the greatest good, nor pleasure our human purpose; Christ is asking us to be sons and daughters of God, and to take the responsibility for transforming the world with love. By his life, death and resurrection he has shown us what true values are.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
March 1971
p. 12

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