For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
I Corinthians 1: 18-24 (Epistle of Feast of Holy Cross)
On September 14, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross. This is one of the twelve major feastdays of the church year. This feast commemorates an historic event in 325 A.D., when St. Helen found the Precious Cross that Christ was crucified on. For those who don’t know the story, when Emperor (later Saint) Constantine (St. Helen’s son) made Christianity the legal religion in the Roman Empire through the Edict of Milan in 313, St. Helen had a great desire to find the true Cross of Christ. She went to Jerusalem, found the hill of Golgotha, and set out to find the cross. It was a rather large expanse of land and the cross would have been buried for some time, so she was not sure where to dig. A fragrant plant was growing on the hillside in one area and Helen ordered the soldiers to dig there. Three crosses were found under this plant. A funeral procession was passing by at that moment and the body of the deceased man was placed on each cross. When he was placed on the third cross, he came back to life. This was the life-giving Cross of Christ! This happened on September 14, 325.
The plant found on the hill is called “Basil” or in Greek “Vasiliko” with “Vasili” meaning “the King.” Vasiliko is a plant that you can cut a branch, effectively killing that branch, and then put the branch in water and it will grow roots and “come back to life,” just like Christ after He was crucified. On September 14, in Orthodox Churches, there is a procession that takes place in church where the priest will carry a tray of Vasiliko (people bring basil from their homes to church for the procession) above the heads of the people. The focus of September 14 is the cross of Christ. And this day has a strict fast, similar to the austerity of Good Friday. Yet, the hymns of the day are joyful, because, as we read in our prayers, “through the Cross, joy has come to all the world.”
In St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, he writes about how different people see the cross in different ways. In I Corinthians 1:18, he writes that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” meaning that the Christian message is seen as foolishness to those who do not believe. They see the cross as a trinket, a good luck charm. Christianity, to them, is a crutch or a feel good thing for those who need something to feel good about.
However “to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The cross I wear is not a trinket or a good luck charm to me. The cross, to me, is a reminder of my purpose, my destination, my strength and my hope. (It is also my name. I feel blessed that I have the name “Stavros” which is the Greek word for Cross.)
Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity during a military engagement when his army was vastly outnumbered. He saw a vision in the sky of a cross with the words “en touto nika” appearing around it, meaning “In this sign, you will be victorious.” Having won the battle, accepted the cross and its message as his sign for victory.
It is not wearing a cross that saves us. It is understanding the message of the Cross and Christ’s death on it, and subsequent Resurrection, this is what saves us. It is showing Christ-like faith and love, this is what saves us.
The challenge for us as Christians is to eschew the temptation of folly—in our moments of doubt, we sometimes lose faith in the power of that Cross. More and more people in the world seem to describe the cross (and Christianity) as folly. The challenge of life is for us to see the cross as the Power of God, and to put faith and effort into believing and living out this message.
Saint Paul reminds us that to those of us “who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” And that power and wisdom are available to everyone who puts faith in the cross, to those who live out that faith in Christ’s cross.
Today the Cross of the Lord comes out, and the faithful receive it with longing, and they obtain healings of soul and body and of every infirmity. Let us kiss it with joy and with fear: with fear, for we are unworthy because of sin; and with joy, because of the salvation, which Christ the Lord grants us, since He was nailed to the Cross, and He has great mercy. (Doxastikon, Orthros, Feast of the Holy Cross, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Wear your cross with faith in the power of the message it represents!