We see it soaring atop church spires and standing solemnly over graves. It ornaments our places of worship, and dangles from the neck to rest close to the heart. It flashes through our field of vision when an ambulance speeds by on a mission of mercy, and lends a reserved dignity to the crests of great universities.
It is the sign of the Cross: the universal symbol of Christianity, which lends its eloquent simplicity of form to the distinctive virtues of our religion. Faith, hope, and charity. Righteousness, compassion, and mercy. Humble appreciation for learning, and for conveying the fruits of accumulated knowledge. Comfort in the trials of living, and the promise of life after death.
These are the impressions we take for granted after 2,000 years of Christian civilization. But it was not always this way. In ancient times, the cross was an object of fear and loathing; and it was in this guise that the cross was made the instrument of painful death for our Lord, Jesus Christ. It was only in the light cast by his resurrection that the cross took on a new symbolic meaning.
Christ’s apostle St. James was the first to perceive the cross not with fear, but with reverence and awe. In raising up the cross, and bowing before it, St. James showed the world that Christ’s resurrection marked a decisive turning point in history. The old era’s symbol of death would henceforth be known as the Christian era’s symbol of everlasting life.
This is a story the Armenian Church will remember this Sunday, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It’s one of the major feast days of the church calendar, and the first of several celebrations marking the season of our Lord’s Cross.
Click here to read more about the Exaltation of the Cross. And to read a special blog feature on the Exaltation posted in honor of September 11, click here.