Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery - garden fountain - Florence, Arizona.
The symbol of the cross is ubiquitous in society. It is printed on bumper stickers and tattooed on forearms; it is spray painted on concrete walls and stitched onto denim jackets; it adorns the necks of gangsta rappers as well as scantily clad models. Is the cross merely a fashion statement, a cultural icon, a religious trademark, or is it something more?
The cross is the third most celebrated subject in the Orthodox Church calender—the first two being the life of our Lord and the life of the Theotokos. The cross is commemorated on the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14 September), on the feast day of the Veneration of the Holy Cross (the third Sunday in Lent), and in the Thursday evening into Great Friday services during Holy Week. The cross receives so much attention because it is crucial for your understanding of the Christian faith. The word “crucial”—meaning decisive, critical, essential—comes from the Latin crux, from which we derive our English word “cross.” In other words, the most important event in history is what happened on the cross where Jesus Christ was executed. That act is at the root of salvation and is the basis for Christian theology. “Take therefore first, as an indestructible foundation, the cross, and build upon it the other articles of the faith” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).
There are many events in the Old Testament that foreshadow the cross: the blood of a lamb placed on lintels and doorposts during Passover (Exodus 12:23); Moses lifting his staff and parting the Red Sea (Exodus14:16); Moses’ outstretched arms in prayer for victory over Israel’s enemies (Exodus 17:8-15); and Israel being saved from poisoning by looking at a bronze serpent on a pole (Numbers 21:6-9). There are also prophetic allusions to the cross: the curse of being hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23); the predicted passion of the Messiah (Psalm 22); the saving mark on the forehead (Exekiel 9:3-6, LXX; cf. Revelations 7:2-4; 22:4); and the blood that drips from wood (2 Esdras 5:5). These references attest that the cross was always part of God’s plan for salvation.
God reconciles His people by delivering us from the consequences of sin, and the means God uses to rescue us is the cross. Isaiah stated that the Messiah, “poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). The Apostle Paul confirmed this prophecy when he wrote, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20; see also 2:13-15). Therefore the cross represents God’s victory over sin:
“For the cross destroyed the enmity of God towards man, brought about reconciliation, made the earth heaven, associated men with angels, pulled down the citadel of death, unstrung the force of the devil, extinguished the power of sin, delivered the world from error, brought back the truth, expelled the demons, destroyed temples, implanted virtue, [and] rounded the churches” (St. John Chrysostom).