We see crosses everywhere. On tops of churches, in our church. We wear them. We even see famous people wearing them at times. But what is so special about the cross? Many people do not know what makes the cross important. However, back in the time that our Lord Jesus Christ taught and worked miracles, everyone knew about the cross.
The emperor of Rome, the most powerful man in the world at the time, used crosses to kill people who broke his laws. The condemned person was stripped of all his clothes and tied or nailed to the cross with his arms stretched out. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die, because the person was in constant pain, and it could take up to a couple of days to die. Unless the person had family or friends to take him away and bury him, most people were left on the cross to rot in the open air. Sometimes several people were crucified on opposite sides of the roads. The cross served as a warning to everyone who walked past it—do not break the emperor’s laws, or it will be you hanging on the cross.
Why, then, do we Orthodox Christians put crosses everywhere? On our churches, on our icons, and even around our necks? Why do we kiss the cross at the end of each Divine Liturgy? Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that a bit like kissing a picture of an electric chair or a hangman’s noose? Not exactly…
We human beings have a problem. When God created us at first, He wanted us to grow to be like Him—loving Him and loving one another. But we have all fallen short of loving Him and each other. We have sinned, which means that we have “missed the mark” like an arrow that doesn’t hit the bullseye on a target. Because we sin, we cut ourselves off from God Who is the Giver of Life, and we die.
Our Lord Jesus Christ changed the world when He allowed Himself to be crucified on the cross. Since He is God, He could have avoided the cross altogether. He could have destroyed the wicked men who wanted to kill Him. But He didn’t, because He loved them just as He loved His disciples and just as He loves all people. He was sad that all people sin (fail to be who they are meant to be) and die. Before Christ came into this world, all people were the slaves of sin, death, and Satan. But when He came to us in the flesh and died on the cross for us, He destroyed sin and death. When a man dies in battle, his enemy has defeated him. However, when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He defeated our enemies—sin, death, and Satan. Through our Lord Jesus Christ’s work on the cross, we now can become like Him—without sin, victorious over Satan, and rising up to eternal life when He returns.
This is why we bow before the cross and put it at the center of everything in our lives. God took something that was meant to do evil—the cross—and transformed it into the thing that gives us victory and life. With the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ has changed everything.
- In ancient times, how did people think of the cross? Why?
- What is the problem that all human beings have?
- Why did our Lord Jesus Christ allow Himself to be crucified on the cross?
- Why do we venerate (show great respect for) the cross?
- Write a question that you have about this week’s lesson.