Friday, September 14, 2012

The Feast of the Cross & Progressive Christianity

The elevation, the exaltation, the worship, the praise of the Holy Cross finds itself being celebrated today, as it has been in some form since the late fourth century. This feast day is celebrated by many groups within Christianity including the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Old Catholics, Armenians, & the Oriental Orthodox. The traditions vary just as the proper name of the Feast does. For Christian with a Latin heritage the name is "Exaltatio Sanctae Crucis" which literally translated means: Raising Aloft of the Holy Cross. For some it is simply Holy Cross or even Cross Day. One might hear the words: glorious, triumphant, & adoration on this day during Divine Services. Quite the grandiose occasion it seems! Perhaps at times, so grand, it feels as if it were celebrated somehow above and away from us rather than within us. How is today, this feast, applicable in our lives as simple everyday followers of the Divine?

Perhaps we will find a purpose in this feast by looking at the history behind it. This feast day liturgically celebrates two events in the church history: the finding of what is considered the true cross by St. Helen in 326AD and its repossession by Christians from the Persians in 627AD (having been lost in battle in 614AD). Of course, that is the brief version of the story and most likely as historically accurate as they get. The stories are infused with legend and symbolism conveying doctrines and ideals of the Church. When St. Helen found what would be considered the very cross Christ was crucified on we are told of fragrant plants growing above its resting place, bodily resurrection occurring by a casting of shadows, and a woman healed of an incurable disease by a simple kiss to the wooden splinters. The repossession brings about the story of war, death, and destruction in the name of God and the prize is to reclaim the wooden beams! Are you feeling inspired and intrinsically linked to this feast yet? Probably not, most critically thinking modern people of faith would rightly take issues with many of the facts and concepts surrounding these liturgical stories. Are we to believe that Jesus once and only once brought a dead boy to life by the shadow of his cross as some sort of fanciful glorious display of power and confirmation while ignoring the countless others in the city that day undoubtedly grieving deaths of loved ones? Are we to believe the man who told us to, "turn the other cheek," also led an army to victory killing a host of fellow mankind to then elevate his cross in glory for their accomplished work? That is just about as easy to believe and reconcile with Scripture & science as the belief that Constantine became a follower of Jesus because a symbol appeared in the sky which led him to successfully slaughterer humans and follow up by introducing Christianity where and when it pleased him in the Roman empire.

We can mostly appreciate the lore, the beauty, perhaps even the dread fear of God which these stories convey. We can see why people easily attached themselves to the idea of a miraculous finding of the cross and the struggle to maintain its possession over the centuries. It satisfies the human desire to explain the inexplicable, to bring into one's own faith the grand miracles and triumph which the pagan religions contained, and to somehow link the present to the past not only in worship but tangibly. I myself find within these stories much beauty and some truth but do I find every detail of the stories to be factual historical Does that mean we should abandon the feast all together? Are we above the need for it? Back to an earlier question...can we somehow actually become a part of the feast and make it personal within our lives? I believe we can and should find a means to make this feast a meaningful part of the Christian year and we do not need to abandon it in its entirety. 

So how do we do this? Let us look at the truths contained within the message of the cross that surpass time and creatively over-grown stories. Beyond the shadows, miraculous plants, and healing kisses what do we find in the bare splinters of wood before us? We find the message of love as never before demonstrated to mankind. We find a man who so loved all of creation that he was willing to be crucified unnecessarily in order to show us a means of rescue from our own self-hatred, fear, and short comings. He is the icon of love elevated before us calling us all to become as he was and is today in our faith. We are each called to find ourselves attached to the holy cross, to rid ourselves of anything that stand between us and full embrace of all mankind. At the cross we are called to lay down every weakness we find in ourselves that limit us from becoming all we are created to be and living an abundant life. At the cross we rid ourselves of hatred, racism, bigotry, anger, and confusion. We embrace reality at the cross, we embrace all of creation, we embrace ourselves and then find our-self to be exalted as Jesus was. The cross is first the image of death to all that hinders and then a call to newness and a full resurrected life.

There is a prayer sang on this day in the Eastern rite churches as follows:
"Save, O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance; grant victory to the faithful over their adversaries. And protect Your commonwealth, by the power of Your Cross."
I would like to offer to you my attempt of a modern version of the prayer which I believe contains all the same truths but with a realization of what our modern faith demands as progressive Christians:
"O God, who is incarnate Love demonstrated to us on the Holy Cross, rescue your children from self-destruction and bless the whole of creation. Grant to all humankind the ability to be victorious over their fears which only cause hardship and death to oneself and their neighbor. By Divine grace may we come to cherish in one another the image of God and protect it as holy and sacred."
Today, I honor the cross, I honor the man who was crucified upon it and confess him as my way-shower and Lord. I honor myself and neighbor by realizing we too are called to be exalted for the image of God is found within us and at the cross I personally attempt to make that image clearer to those around me. Today, I exalt the cross and the message it proclaims to the earth: All the world is loved and redeemed by the grace of God! Today should hearken us to the words of St. John: God is love. The cross is one of the greatest emblems of that love. Beyond fragments of precious wood we find the Divine love that rescues us all! When we kiss the cross, we kiss love, we kiss God, and remind ourselves to walk in the love of Jesus and then give it away to the world.


  1. Daniel,
    (I believe you've wanted open discussion on your blog, so I'll post some thoughts. If you'd rather not, that's fine as it is your blog.)

    In your blog you emphasize the need to embrace everyone & to respect others' beliefs; these are high & honorable ideals with which I agree. I find, however, a discrepancy between that sentiment and many of your expressions in this post criticizing teaching & piety held by many Christians worldwide & through many centuries. It is certainly your prerogative to disagree, but I think you oversimplify the situation when you associate the celebration of the cross with war and casually throw down the gauntlet of 'why this person was healed, and not others' as proof against it when you already know that is a complex issue in numerous contexts.

    I don't find this approach to be very accepting of our beliefs, and I know that acceptance is a virtue which you have many times expressed a desire to possess & exercise. I say this as one whose own beliefs on this matter are summarily dismissed in this above post, but I say it as a loving brother.

    in Christ,

  2. My brother Lucas,

    I sincerely appreciate your comments. I believe you present a valid point. Does the ideology behind progressive Christianity end up doing exactly the opposite of its initial goal? A very worthwhile question. I can easily see how the above post would be received to be derogatory to those who maintained the above traditions and beliefs. I will admit I did not cultivate within the post an appreciation for those who hold to these stories as factual. Obviously my undertaking was the perception that the reader would be one who was already coming from a point of view other than the traditionalist stance. Naturally you approached from a much different point of view and therefore understandably would find my post to be non-accepting, if not offensive. I know I would have found it, once upon a time, to be the case and I do appreciate the loving reminder of such. I believe I could have approached these subjects with a little more care and less drastic gauntlets, as it were. Honestly, this should be a multiple page topic and in a few paragraphs it comes out focused on a limited perspective. However, in the end, I still find the overall idea behind the post to be genuine and the provocative questions it asks to be authentic. One can go back and forth with these questions I propose on Constantine, etc, but ultimately they are legitimate questions. Must it be any more complicated that asking straight up: does the conversion of Constantine reinforce (was it organic to) the teaching of Jesus or did it reinforce the existence of the Church? Ultimately, we both know these stories are often used as a means to miraculously reinforce the authority of the Church & Christianity or to try and distinguish between those who are 'in' and those who are 'out.' This is obviously not unique to Christianity either, many faiths of the world do this very same thing often citing the miraculous as proof.

    (See below for remainder of message)

  3. At the end of the day I do agree with, or at the least understand, where you are coming from on feeling I dismissed your beliefs and many others. The question I have to ask myself is how do I present my beliefs (that by default are contrary to some of yours) without dismissing yours and honestly you must ask yourself when was the last time you heard a homily in your parish or read a traditionalist blog which offered a much more critical and progressive theological approach in a non-judging way as to not offend the 'progressives' in the world? Is this possible? One might honestly interject here that I am attacking when the traditionalist is not attacking by simply not presenting both views - but that would leave me voiceless as whenever one offers a new interpretation or advancement, by default, it can be viewed as attack on the previous belief. This is true of any field of work or study. I would say that the progressive Churches, I know, would welcome you to attend with open arms without a moment's hesitation regardless of what you think of Constantine or the miracles surrounding the cross (I restate the ones I know of - this is likely not universal). Could you say the same for me and my views? I might very well be presenting here a somewhat circular logic but I feel it can very much be a circular disagreement.

    On a personal note, Andrew, does often remind me how easy it would be for me to become exactly what I have tried to leave behind...a judging person who feels he has it all correct - from one end to the other of the spectrum but you send up being the same thing at its core - a fundamentalist who has no room for anything but what you perceive to be absolute truth. Probably, had he read this post he would have had me soften my words. So I will keep your thought provoking questions in mind.

    The peace of Our Lord be with you and yours,


    (I will add Lucas and I know each other personally and he has always been loving towards myself and my family and is very special to our son. We have shared many days together and life has taken us in very different directions but I know next time I see him we will share a true loving hug and for that I am ever grateful!)

    1. Daniel,

      Thank you very much for your gracious reply, and I appreciate that you received my words in the spirit of love with which I intended them. I can certainly understand the fundamental conundrum of respectful disagreement: if we believe the other is mistaken, how can we still model love & respect for his or her beliefs? I'm afraid that's a question that--as you correctly point out--requires much more thought than a combox reply, but I hope some day I can begin to figure it out.

      Looking forward to seeing you very soon!


    2. That makes two of us who hope and pray to meet that challenging task!

  4. Strictly for purposes of reference, I offer you the account of Antiochus Strategos of the sack of Jerusalem in 614: