The Power of the Image of the Cross - A Homily on the Feast of the Exaltation (2020)

September 27, 2020

The Power of the Image of the Cross - A Homily on the Feast of the Exaltation (2020)




The strength of the Orthodox faith is not relegated to a region consisting only of ideas, or only of words, or only of rituals. Instead, all that is good in the world is imbued with power from the Holy Spirit, and this is significantly true of images, the greatest of which is the Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All images correspond to the reality of which they are the image of. The model for the image of the Cross is the Cross on which Christ was crucified.

Narrative of Today’s Feast

Today’s feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross of the Lord originates from the finding of Christ’s Cross in Jerusalem by St. Constantine the Great and his mother St. Helen. The reason that St. Constantine set out on such a mission was the result of a vision he had wherein the Lord revealed to him that he would obtain victory in battle through the sign of the cross. Because of this vision, which was followed by his obedience always to bring an emblem of the Cross into battle, he desired to find the original Cross. Upon discovering several crosses in the ground where they were excavating, they tested each of them on a sick person and on one who had just died to see if the true Cross would reveal itself. The Cross of Christ, full of grace, healed the sick person and then gave life to the one who had died. The people in the surrounding area heard of these miracles and flocked to catch a glimpse of it. Because the crowd was too large for all to see the Cross, Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem had the Cross lifted up for all to see. That is, in brief, how our present feast came to be named The Elevation of the Cross.[1]

The Power of the Cross

As the tree in the Garden of Eden brought death to those who, indiscriminately, ate thereof, life is given to those who partake of the Cross, the Tree of Life.

“The Most High planted in the middle of Paradise the thrice-blessed wood, the gift of life for us,” writes St. Romanos in the sixth century,“In order that, in approaching it, Adam might find eternal and immortal life; But he did not strive earnestly to know this life; And he failed to attain it, and revealed death. However, the robber, seeing how the plant in Eden Had been beautifully transplanted on Golgotha, Recognized the life in it and said to himself: ‘This is what my father lost formerly In Paradise.”[2]

The Cross Pre-figured in the Old Testament

Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, the image of the Cross is manifest and points towards the day when the image will become a reality, and the reality will become efficacious, overflowing with the power of salvation for all who would eat of this tree, the fruit of which brings life.

The Defeat of Amalek

Moses and the Israelites defeated Amalek and his army as long as Moses kept his arms raised and outstretched in the sign of the cross. Not only this, but Moses stood atop a hill, overlooking the field of battle, a hill, the top of which all the soldiers could see and look upon the means of their victory. We read in the book of Exodus: “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. (Ex. 17.11-12).

There is no other reason for the success of the Israelites in this battle. It is not by the prayers of Moses. It is not by his obedience in leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The only way victory was going to be obtained was by elevating his arms, even if others held them up, and even if he sat down.

 “Who of you,” writes St. Justin Martyr, “knows not that prayer accompanied with tears, with the body prostrate, or with bended knees, propitiates God most of all? But in such a manner, neither Moses nor any other one prayed.”[3] The battle was won for no other reason than by Moses making the sign of the Cross.

Healing From the Bites of Serpents

In the Book of Numbers, the author recounts the complaints of the Israelites against Moses and against God, who were then punished by a plague of serpents whose venom was lethal and, consequently, killed many people. Realizing their transgression, they came repenting to Moses. He, being instructed by God, assembled a pole in the shape of a cross with a fiery serpent atop of it. All who were bitten could come, and by simply looking upon this cross, they would be healed of their bite and not die (Num. 21.5-9). This image, which restored physical life to those poisoned through the bites of snakes, finds its reality in the Cross of Christ, for all who look upon the Cross of Christ are not restored to their previous life but are given new life - spiritual life.

A General Overview

From Moses (and even before him) until the time of Christ, the Cross has been the image by which salvation would be wrought. Not only was there a Messiah who would come to set Adam’s children free, prophesied throughout the Old Testament, but there was a Cross, upon which the salvation of Israel would be accomplished.

Death and sin, which resulted due to the disobedience of our first parents, had to be abolished, and this was to be done through the Cross. For as the Lord declared to Adam in the Garden of Eden that although the serpent will bite the Lord’s heel, yet will the Lord crush the head of the serpent, indicating the death that He was to die.

Moreover, what we find in the Old Testament is not a mere image of what was to come. Every time the Cross is signified in the Old Testament, it always has power because every image of the cross is spiritually connected to the actual Cross and is a vehicle of the grace of God.

Unlike the burning bush, which is an image of the Mother of God, or of Jacob’s ladder, which is an image of the Mother of God and also of Christ, these images do not have a power related to them. We do not gaze upon a bush or a ladder and feel compunction or repentance or devotion towards Christ or the means of our salvation; nor do a bush or ladder expel demons.

The image of the Cross has the power to aid the Israelites to win in battle. It has the power to cure those who have been poisoned by snakes. St. Germanus I, Patriarch of Constantinople, writing about the uniqueness of the image of the Cross, says,

As the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father, in the same way the Image is in the Cross and the Cross is in the Image, for the Cross and the Image are the same thing. Moses the God-beholder showed this when he defeated Amalek, stretching his arms crosswise on the mountain, representing through himself the Cross as an Image, that is Jesus in the Cross for the sake of our flesh, and the Cross in Jesus Christ. For the one who honors and venerates His honorable Cross also honors His Image.[4]

The Cross, our Reconciliation

Why is the Cross of Christ significant? St. John of Damascus writes,

For by nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, has death been brought low, the sin of our first parents destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God.[5]

The Service for the Elevation of the Cross teaches what the power of the Cross is if we do not already know it from our own experience.

The Cross is at the right hand of Christians, being

our helper,

the ensign of joy,

confirmation of the faithful, and

confirmation of the whole world

the hope of Christians,

the glory of the angels, and

the rampart of the Church.

The Cross is the dwelling of Christians, being the

gate of paradise,

haven of salvation,

haven of the tempest-tossed, and

the beauty of the Church.

The Cross is the strength of Christians, being the

guide of the lost,

physician of the ill,

opponent of the demons, and

resurrection of the dead.

The Cross is the victory of Christians, being the

dominion of kings,

might of the righteous,

the wounding of the demons

invincible weapon, and

invincible victory of piety,

victory amid battles,

glory of the martyrs,

true adornment of the venerable,

The Cross is the guardian of the whole world!


Save us by thy power, O Cross! Sanctify us by Thy radiance, O precious Cross! And fortify us by thine exaltation, for thou hast been given to us as the light and salvation of our souls. (Stichera at the Apostica)



[1] Cf. The Bulgakov Handbook @, accessed on 9/26/2020.

[2] St. Romanos the Melodist, “On the Adoration of the Cross” in Kontakia of Romanos, Byzantine Melodist, Vol. 1: On the Person of Christ, Marjorie Carpenter, trans. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1970), 241.

[3] Dialogue with Trypho, ch. XC, 244ff.

[4] Baranov, V.A. “Unedited Slavonic Translation of the ‘Apology on the Cross and on the Holy Icons’ Attributed to Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople,” in Universum Hagiographicum. Mémorial R.P. Michel van Esbroeck, s.j. (1934–2003). A.V. Mouraviev and V.M. Lourie, eds. (St. Petersburg: Byzantinorossica, 2006), 12.

[5] St. John Damascene. St. John of Damascus: Writings, Frederic H. Chase Jr. ed. (Washington DC:The Catholic University of America Press, 1958), 350.

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