Compiled from a homily by Abba Isaac the Syrian
We do not speak of a power in the Cross that is any different from that power through which the worlds came into being—a power which is eternal and without beginning, and which guides creation all the time without any break, in a divine way and beyond the understanding of all, in accordance with the will of God.
The limitless power of God dwells in the Cross, just as it resided in an incomprehensible way in the Ark which was venerated amidst great honor and awe by the Jewish people, who were not ashamed to call it God—that is, they would gaze upon it in awe as though upon God because of the glory of God’s honored name which was upon it.
This Ark was not only honored with this name by the Jewish people, but by foreign peoples, their enemies, also: for when the Ark of the Covenant entered the camp of the Philistines, they cried out: ‘Woe to us, for the God of the People has come to the camp today’ (I Sam. 4:7).
That power which existed in the Ark of old is believed by us to exist in this revered form of the Cross, which is held in honor by us in great awareness concerning God.
What then was in the Ark to make it so awesome and filled with all manner of power and signs, apart from the Jar of Manna, the Tablets of the Law, and Aaron’s staff which blossomed? Therefore, Moses and the People prostrated before the Ark in great awe and trembling…Joshua, son of Nun, lied stretched out on his face before it from morning until evening…And God’s fearful revelations manifested there, providing honor for the object, seeing that the glory of God was residing in it.
This glory, which now resides in the Cross, has departed from the Ark, and has resided mysteriously in the Cross! The power of this glory manifests itself in the Cross in no less a way by means of mighty signs than at that time there—indeed they occur even more so here. Were not all things described in Acts as having occurred through the hands of the Apostles greater than those of old?
Through the power of the Cross many have restrained wild animals, have acted boldly in the face of fire, have walked on lakes, raised the dead, held back plagues, caused springs to flow in parched and wild terrain, have laid a boundary to the seas, have stilled the surge of mighty rivers, and have reversed the course of water.
But why do I speak of these things? Satan himself and all his tyranny is in terror of the form of the Cross, when it is depicted by us against him.
And listen to what is greater than all these things: in that ministry of the Old Testament, despite all the signs and wonders that took place in their presence, they were still unable to eradicate even the smallest kind of sin; whereas in the ministry that takes place with the Cross, sin has become like a spider’s web on which a heavy object is hung, and it no longer succeeds in standing up.
And as for death, which had been so fearful for human nature, now even women and children can hold up their heads against it.
Revered is He Who altered His decree against us by means of the reconciliation which He himself effected on our behalf. Blessed is He Who willed to manifest openly, at this time, the eternal love which He has for creation.
In front of the Ark, in which it is said that God’s glory existed, adoration filled with awe was offered up continuously to God by Moses and all the people.
But today, the moment the form of the Cross is depicted on a wall or on a board, or is fashioned out of some kind of gold or silver and the like, or carved out of wood, immediately it puts on, and is filled with, the divine power which was residing there at the time, and so it becomes a place of God’s glory, even more so than in the Ark!
Just as the ministry of the New Covenant is more honorable before God than the things which took place in the Old…and just as there is a difference between Moses and Christ…and just as the ministry which Jesus received is more excellent than the one which was given through Moses…and just as the honor of a human person is greater and more excellent than that of inanimate objects….
So is this form of the Cross, which now exists, much more honorable because of the honor of the Man, Who is also God, Who was crucified thereon for our salvation.
Whenever we gaze upon this image in the time of prayer, or when we show reverence to it, because Christ our God was crucified upon it, we receive through it divine power, assistance, salvation and ineffable good in this world and in the world to come.
There, in that ministry of the Old Testament, severity and great fear made their demands; but here, by contrast, there is gentleness. For there, anyone who made bold to act carelessly towards those symbols would immediately incur punishment.
But here, grace without measure has been poured out, and severity has been swallowed up by gentleness, and an abundance of familiarity of speech with the Divinity has entered in, which is in the habit of chasing away fear, thanks to the abundant kindness of God which has come upon us at this time.
For true believers, the sight of the Cross is no small thing. But whenever they raise their eyes and gaze on it, it is as though they were contemplating the face of Christ, and accordingly they are full of reverence for it: the sight of it is precious and fearful to them, and at the same time, beloved. And because they are children, they have all the more familiarity of speech towards Him, as a result of confidence in His love.
And whenever we approach the Cross, it is as though we are brought close to the body of Christ: this is what it seems to us in our faith in Him. And through our drawing near to Him, and at our gaze towards Him, straightaway we travel in our minds to heaven, mystically—our hidden vision is swallowed up through a certain contemplation on the mystery of faith.
Whenever we gaze on the Cross in a composed manner, with our emotions steadied, the recollection of our Lord’s entire economy gathers together and stands before our interior eyes.
Through His death and resurrection He confirmed the twelve men who had been chosen out of the entire race of Adam for this ministry. Then, amid ineffable splendor, He raised Himself up into heaven, to that place which no created being had trod, inviting all rational beings, angels and men, to that blessed entry, in order to delight in Him Who is now seated with our human nature, in ineffable honor and splendor, with God the Father.
These are the mysteries which the holy form of the Cross bears, which is joyfully revered and held in honor by us.
Let our hearts rejoice in the mysteries of the Faith which we hold! Let us exult in God Who is so concerned with us! Let us enter, in our mind’s contemplation, into this amazing work which He has accomplished for us! Let us rejoice in the hope that has been revealed to us, the children of Christ!
How greatly to be worshipped is the God Who, for our salvation, has done everything in the world to bring us close to Him! How greatly to be worshipped is the sign of the power of the Cross, seeing that it has given to us all these things, and through it we have been deemed worthy of the knowledge of angels.
Worthy of all manner of praise, exaltation and glory is He Who created us, and Who has given us all these things—and is going to give us many other things: to Him be worship, honor and exaltation for eternal ages. Amen.