St John of Damascus: Do You Adore the Sign of the Cross?

Feast of St Ariadne the Martyr

John_Damascene_Square_3.jpgWE ADORE the likeness of the honorable and life-giving cross, even though it be made of another material, not that we honor the material—God forbid!—but the likeness as a symbol of Christ. Thus, when He explained to His disciples, saying: “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven” (Matt. 24.30), He meant the cross. For this reason, also, the angel of the resurrection said to the women: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified” (Mk. 16.6). Likewise, the Apostle: “But we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1.23). Now, there are many Christs and Jesuses, but only one Crucified, and He did not say “pierced by a lance” but “crucified.” Therefore, the sign of Christ is to be adored, for, wherever the sign may be, there He, too, will be. If, however, the form should happen to be destroyed, the material of which the likeness of the cross was composed is not to be adored, even though it be gold or precious stones. Thus, we adore everything that has reference to God, although it is to Him that we direct the worship.

The tree of life which was planted by God in paradise prefigured this honorable Cross, for, since death came by a tree, it was necessary for life and the resurrection to be bestowed by a tree. It was Jacob who first prefigured the cross, when he adored the top of the rod of Joseph (cf. Heb. 11.21; Gen. 47.31 LXX). And when he blessed Joseph’s sons with his hands crossed (cf. Gen. 48.13-15), he most clearly described the sign of the cross. Then there were the rod of Moses which smote the sea with the form of a cross and saved Israel while causing Pharaoh to be swallowed up; his hands stretched out in the form of a cross and putting Amalek to flight; the bitter water being made sweet by a tree, and the rock being struck and gushing forth streams of water (cf. Ex. 14.16ff.; 17.11ff.; 15.25; 17.6); the rod of Aaron miraculously confirming the dignity of the priesthood; a serpent raised in triumph upon a tree, as if dead, with the tree preserving those who with faith beheld the dead enemy (cf. Num. 17.8; 21.9), even as Christ was nailed up in flesh of sin but which had not known sin; great Moses calling out: “You will see your life hanging before your eyes on a tree” (Deut. 28.66 LXX); and Isaiah: “I have spread forth my hands all day to an unbelieving and contradictory people” (Is. 65.2 LXX). May we who adore this attain to the portion of Christ the crucified. Amen.

—St John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith

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