- Troparion of the Holy Cross
Yet, after His death, the instrument of His humiliation is a source of awe for His followers. Instead of being an image of oppression it becomes the image of true freedom. The Cross, an instrument of Roman occupation, becomes the symbol of Christian victory. To this day the Cross is an object worthy of veneration, even for those who disavow the use of icons. Why should something so gruesome become so important to the followers of a man killed by it?
The answer is that the Cross, just as every other part of the Gospel, reveals the great Truth, God has remained faithful to His creation. Christ’s submission “to the point of death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8) is the ultimate sacrifice. The co-eternal Son and Word has identified totally with those created in the image and likeness of God. He has taken on the burden of an unjust death, and it is in that very act of dying that He reveals what being in the image and likeness of God really means. Through this act He is able to fill hades with the love of God, which brings life, and to return those bound in sin to the One who created them. He makes known both the love of God that never be made out of reach and the real “greater love” of man “for his friends” (John 15:13).
The Cross of Christ is “to the Jews a stumbling block and to the [Gentiles] a foolishness…”, but for the Christian it is the ultimate expression of God’s love for His creation. In the crucifixion of Jesus we are freed not just from an earthly master but from the bondage to the enemy, Death, and we are given the perfect example of humanity in God’s image and likeness, a humanity that bridges the earthly and the heavenly realms.
Through this ancient symbol of oppression Christ showed that the denial of the world and its desires is the path to salvation. It is the great paradox of Christianity; in weakness we are made strong, in humility we are raised up, and in submission to God we are truly set free. This is why Christians still venerate the Cross, for in stretching out His hands on it, Christ has embraced us and surrounded us in His love, reuniting us with our God and Father. By partaking of the “tree of Life” Christ has revealed the knowledge of, and in, God that has healed the wound of ignorance caused by Adam’s partaking of the tree of the Garden of Eden without God.