On the Occasion of Great and Holy Friday

The Mother of God in Mourning

The Mother of God in Mourning

Today is Great and Holy Friday in the East. As one of the great holy days of the Church, I thought that I would reflect for a moment upon the Cross of Christ and it’s meaning for all Christians.

Perhaps one of the more peculiar services of the Church is the Akathist Hymn to the Spiritual Ladder, The Precious Cross. My sponsor/godfather informed me that “if I could get through this service without having serious questions, I was meant for sure to be Orthodox.” Now, whether that is an overstatement or not is up for debate, but there is truth in that statement. It is true that the entire service consists of singing hymns to an “inanimate object,” and the shear power of the imagery sung and chanted makes no claims at subtlety. However, I did not have any problems whatsoever with the service and indeed found it to be one of the most powerful, poetic expousals of the true meaning of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of our Lord, Savior, and God, Jesus Christ ever uttered by human lips.

Consider for a moment this passage:

He who was on Sinai gave the law to Moses, Christ our God, by his own will is nailed to the Cross, lawlessly for the lawless men, and he loosed the ancient curse of the law so that beholding the might of the Cross, we might all now cry:

Rejoice, uprighting of the fallen;
Rejoice, downfall of the world’s adorers;
Rejoice, inauguration of the Resurrection of Christ;
Rejoice, divine reveling of monastics;
Rejoice, shady-leafed tree under which believers are sheltered;
Rejoice, prophet-proclaimed Wood which has been planted on earth;
Rejoice,  alliance of the kingdom against the enemy;
Rejoice, mighty protection of the state;
Rejoice, manifestation of the just Judge;
Rejoice, condemnation of offending mortals;
Rejoice, O Cross, aid to orphans;
Rejoice, O Cross, enricher of the poor;
Rejoice, O Wood most blessed.

In this passage we witness something very profound. Often, when we think about the Cross, we think upon the sacrifice that happened upon it. But, however we miss the fullness of the meaning behind it in such a linear look at the Cross.

To truly see the cross, we must look beyond the Suffering Savior to the Risen Lord (think for a moment on the Cross used in every Orthodox service for the processional, typically one side will have Christ crucified and the other Christ in his Glorious Resurrection. This is no mere coincidence!) The Cross is not at all a sign of death, but a sign of the resurrection. It is the ultimate fulfillment of all things. For the Fathers of the Church it is at once the Tree of Life and the Shade of Prophets. It is the Rod of Moses, and the Divine Ladder of Ascent to the Spiritual Heights.

On the Cross, we see not death. No, not at all! For our savior is not dead, but Living! In Christ is the Fullness of time. Through Him, the Cross is elevated from an instrument of Death to the Divine illuminator of life. Through His saving Passion on the Cross, death is destroyed. In His taste of Hades through the Cross, we come to taste the fruit of the tree of Life!

It may be Good Friday, and still only 3 days away from Pascha. Even so, through Christ, we may sing in the Fullness of Time:

“Rejoice, Oh Life-giving Cross! For Christ is Risen from the Dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in their graves bestowing life!”

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