Feast of Sts Trophimus, Sabbatius & Dorymedon the Martyrs
IT IS DOUBTLESS true and right that persons reveal their love for one another by their gifts, and this is also true in God’s relationship with men. In this sense we cannot think of the cross without the world as God’s gift. But on the other side we cannot think of the world without the cross. The cross makes this world transparent for God. The cross shows that the world is God’s gift, and as such is a lower and lesser reality than God Himself. The cross is the sign of God as a person who is above all His gifts. But it is also the sign of a perfect relationship between God and man. In this sense the cross is specially the sign of the Son of Man in whom this relationship has been perfectly realized. The cross is the sign of the Son of God become man, the sign which He prints on the world by His solidarity with the world.
Without the cross man would be in danger of considering this world as the ultimate reality. Without the cross he would no longer see the world as God’s gift. Without the cross the Son of God incarnate would have simply confirmed the image of the world as it is now as the final reality, and strictly speaking he could have been neither God nor God incarnate. The cross completes the fragmentary meaning of this world which has meaning when it is seen as a gift which has its value, but only a relative and not an absolute value. The cross reveals the destiny of the world as it is drawn towards its transfiguration in God by Christ. For this reason at the end of this stage of the world this sign, “the sign of the Son of Man”, will be revealed in the heavens above all the world, as a light, as a meaning, as a destiny which illumines the whole history of man (Matt. 24.30).
In this way the cross prophetically points to the eschatological, the final destiny of the world. For this reason we associate the sign of the cross with the Holy Trinity, with the Kingdom of God. This is the reason why in the Orthodox Liturgy the cross is printed on the loaf which is used in the Eucharist, bread being at once the sign of God’s gift and of man’s work, the existential expression of the whole of man’s life in this world offered to God. With this sign of the cross the Church blesses, and before all their actions Christians make the sign of the cross in order to dedicate them to God. With this sign the priest blesses the water of Baptism, and also the holy water with which he sprinkles the house, the fields and the whole world in which the Christian lives and works—all is covered with the sign of the cross.
The world has value only in so far as through it we see and receive the revelations and the energies of the person of God who in Himself, in His essence, cannot be described, but whose energies are already at work in all creation and will be fully revealed in the transfigured world of the age to come. Until the last day God is at work in this world, leading it towards its resurrection, above all by means of the cross.
Thus the cross is the sign and the means of the salvation of the world. All the world is a gift of God, and by the cross all the world has to be transcended in God. Only in Christ is this meaning of the cross fully revealed. In the cross of Christ the salvation of the world is founded, the salvation of the whole cosmos, because by the cross the tendency of the whole cosmos to transcend itself in God is accomplished. One cannot conceive of a world which is not saved, a world which would always remain in suffering, enclosed in itself, a world in which the cross would not fully fulfill the destiny of the world. Suffering would have no meaning at all unless it was leading the world towards its salvation in God. The hell of an eternal suffering is no longer ‘a world’, properly speaking, but simply fragments detached from the world without meaning and without solidarity amongst themselves, shadowy, phantasmagoric fragments of the world. In hell suffering is eternal and would finally swallow up the gift. In the kingdom of God the world has been transfigured by the cross through which God Himself is finally revealed and glorified.
—Fr Dumitru Staniloae, The Victory of the Cross