Resource Materials
for the Feast of the Elevation
of the Life-Giving Cross

Celebrated September 14th/27th

The Sign of the Cross

"Then He said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.'" (Luke 9:23-24)

But what is our cross? What is the Cross of Christ to us Orthodox Christians today?

A constant reminder of God's boundless love for us, and what He was willing to suffer for us and all mankind: worldly shame and humiliation, boundless sorrow at being betrayed by His own creation, physical pain, and finally mortal death!
A reminder that our salvation depends on cooperation with God. Bishop Kallistos (Ware) explains that "without God's grace, we can do nothing, but without our voluntary cooperation, God will do nothing." The Cross teaches us that we must freely make the decision to follow Him, then persevere throughout the difficult journey toward salvation with His help and grace. The Church celebrates the Sunday of the Cross mid-way through the Great Fast for just this reason: to strengthen us in our spiritual journey when we begin to despair and stumble. The Cross reminds us to depend on God's grace rather than our own efforts, which are necessary but never sufficient.
An outward mark or sign of our beliefs, which sets us apart. Because we are distinguished by the Cross from non-believers, we may have to bear their ridicule, scorn, and hatred just as He did, in addition to the cross of our own sins.
A protective armor we put on to face adversity, and a weapon we use to drive away "every enemy and adversary." We turn to the Cross in times of trouble, and make the sign of the Cross when we encounter danger or difficulty, sickness, or despair.
The means by which creation is "sweetened" and brought again to God. On the Feast of Theophany and on Holy Thursday, the Church reads about the bitter, undrinkable waters of Merrha (Exodus 15:22-16:1): "And Moses cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, and He cast it into the water, and it was sweetened." This water quenched the thirst of the Israelites in the desert, but now Living Water quenches our spiritual thirst. The Cross of Christ is the Tree used to bring forth both!

Water is blessed in the Church for liturgical use when a bishop or priest traces the sign of the Cross in a font filled with "ordinary" water - God uses the Cross to make part of creation useful to Him and His people. Large bodies of water - like oceans, lakes, and rivers - are blessed in this way, too, especially at Theophany in warm-weather climates. The bishop or priest of the local parish throws a hand cross (usually attached to a floating wreath) into the water from the shore or the back of a boat; it is retrieved by a diver several times with great flourish and celebration.
A warning to the enemies of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ warns those who know of Him but decline to follow Him, or follow Him half-heartedly, that they will not see the kingdom of God. "And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me, is not worthy of Me." (Matthew 10:38)

Hymnography of the Church

The following hymn or troparion is sung with great joy for the Feast of the Elevation of the Life-Giving Cross (September 14th/27th) and the Sunday of the Cross during the Great Fast. It is also sung on Wednesdays and Fridays - the days of the week on which the Church remembers the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Cross He took up for our sake.

O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance.
Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians
over their adversaries, and by the virtue
of Your Cross, preserve Your habitation!

Making the Sign of the Cross

Orthodox Christians often wear crosses on their bodies (e.g., on a chain or thong around the neck, or on a special pin), and trace the sign of the Cross on themselves during prayer, as a visible expression of their faith.

To make the sign of the Cross, use your right hand: Hold together the tips of your thumb, index finger, and middle finger, while bending your ring and pinky fingers against the palm of your hand. The first three fingers together express our faith in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The two bent fingers show our belief in the two natures of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was both perfect God (divine) and perfect Man (human). When the Pharisees and the Sadducees were testing Jesus Christ, to find out for themselves if He was the Son of God, a lawyer asked Him which is the greatest of the commandments. He answered, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." We remember this when we make the sign of the Cross!

With your hand in the special position, touch your forehead (for the mind), then your stomach (for body and soul*), then your right and left shoulders (for strength). Make your movements slow and deliberate, rather than quick and sloppy. Make sure to trace an upright Cross, rather than one that is distorted or upside down.

You can practice making the sign of the Cross together in front of a large mirror.

*Before the advent of modern medicine, philosophers and men of learning believed that the soul was centered in the abdomen, because it rumbled and churned when they were nervous or afraid. The Russian Psalter even uses the word for "womb" in its directions for making the sign of the Cross, according to Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy, so there is no mistake that the stomach/abdomen is meant!

Compiled from The Law of God (pp. xiii, 23-24) and various postings to the OCA clergy listserve on the development of the sign of the Cross.

Using the Sign of the Cross
Every Day

The sign of the Cross is a great way to sanctify or bring to God every part of your busy day - whether good or bad! Here are just a few times during the day when you might want to make the sign of the Cross:

Before you get out of bed, to thank God for protecting you through the night.
Before you prepare a meal for your family, to thank God for His bounty. (My grandmother Mary said a prayer and traced the sign of the Cross with the tip of her spoon whenever she opened a new sack of flour or sugar, opened a jar of jam or peanut butter, etc.)
Before and after meals, to thank God for the bounty He provides.
As you leave your home, to ask God to protect you on your journey and watch over your house or apartment while you are gone.
When you pass an Orthodox church building or monastery, to ask God to preserve it and guide its leaders.
As you bandage a "boo-boo" or take any kind of medicine, to ask that God will heal you both in body and spirit.
Over any new piece of equipment, tool, book, art supply, or toy, to ask God to guide you in using it wisely in His service.
Before, during and after any meeting or conversation you have - especially with someone you know to be "difficult" - that God will help you to approach them with Christian love and understanding.
As you begin any project, and before and after working or studying, to ask God to guide your efforts.
As you sign a contract, lease, or any other legal agreement - or even when you make a promise to someone - that God will protect and guide all involved.
As you mail or fax an important letter, that God will see it quickly to its destination and allow the reader to understand/not misinterpret its contents.
When you hear news of something wonderful (to thank God), or of something terrible (to ask for His mercy and protection).
When you witness any accident - big or small - to thank God for his protection, and ask His help in "setting things to rights" and recovering from it.
When you pass a cemetery, or are reminded of departed loved ones during the day, to ask God to forgive their sins and welcome them into His kingdom.
As you come through the door at night, to thank God for His protection and bounty.
Before reading the Bible, the writings of the Church Fathers, or the lives of the saints, to ask God for enlightenment.
Over your bed, before you get into it at night, to ask God to protect you as you sleep. (Many Orthodox prayer books include special prayers to say when blessing your bed, too!)
If you wake up in the middle of the night, after hearing a bump or screech, or having a bad dream.

by Nichola Toda Krause

© 1999 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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