Monday 25 September 2017

Come O ye faithful, let us worship the life-creating Tree

From the Works of St Theodore the Studite

(759 - 826 A.D.) 

The present day is a day of joy and gladness; for now the sign of joy itself is placed before us, the most holy Wood. O, most precious gift! This is not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as once in Eden. No, in very truth this Tree is full of grace and comely, for this Tree grants us life, and not death; it illumines us and does not cast us into gloom; it brings us into Eden and does not cast us out there from. This Tree, on which Christ was raised up, has covered the devil, who had the power of death, in shame, and it has freed the race of man from grievous servitude. This Tree is that on which, during the contest, Jesus Christ, as the most adept Champion, was wounded in the hands, the feet, His side, on which He healed the wounds of man, that is our nature which had been mercilessly smitten by the supremely pernicious serpent. This is that Wood, on which the Blood of the Master was poured out, which laid the demons low and enlightened the world.

Who does not draw nigh that he might be receive sweetness through the sight of what lies before him! The Angels themselves greet this festival with joy; the Apostles, the assembly of the Prophets, the choir of the Martyrs, the whole company of the Righteous rejoice with us, for how can it be otherwise than that they all should be filled with joy, beholding this sign of victory, whereby they themselves, emulating Jesus Christ, have conquered the power of the enemy? Even the irrational beings, being shone upon by the heavenly glory, sense within themselves a certain joy, because from the Passion of Jesus Christ upon the Cross an inheritance unto good has been imparted unto all things.

For this reason David cried out: Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His feet; for He is holy (Ps. 98:5), and the wise Solomon also exclaims: Blessed is the wood by which righteousness cometh (Wisdom 14:7). For this reason also the Church is manifested as having in her midst the Tree of life from Paradise, under which there is no longer a deceiving demon, but rather an Angel of the Almighty Lord abides there, who grants us access again to the burgeoning tree of the Cross. Now worship is offered up to the holy Cross, and Christ's Resurrection is proclaimed; now that Wood is honoured which imparts life to us, and the whole world is stirred up to glorification; now festival is celebrated in memory of the three-barred Cross, and the four ends of the world are called to the joy of holding festival on this day. How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel (Romans 10:15). Blessed are those eyes which behold this universal festivity, - and those lips which kiss this most precious emblem. A particular grace is granted unto all; an ever-flowing spring has been revealed, from which sanctification flows forth, and no one is barred from access to this abundant stream. It makes the pure man yet purer, and him that is defiled by the filth of vice it makes clean; he that is careless and dissipated it brings under the yoke of its teaching; he that is fierce and proud it calms; and in general each one that approaches it with a firm intention to set his life in order it does not turn away, but rather grants him the Divine grace, necessary for life and piety.

The life-creating tree of the Cross, that we behold, is medicine to the eyes of him that was deceived in Paradise by the sight of the tree that brought death. Touching that Wood with our lips and setting it before our eyes, we are set free from the taste of the tree that bore death and from contact therewith. O, great gift! How festively it is presented now! O, unspeakable blessedness! Once we experienced death through a tree, and now through the Tree we receive life; before we were deceived through the tree, now through the Tree we drive off the ancient serpent. In very truth, this is a wondrous and most glorious change! Instead of death, life has been granted us; in place of corruption, incorrupt ion; instead of dishonour, glory. And thus it is not without cause that the apostle exclaims: God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). From the Cross there shines forth the most exalted wisdom, which shames the proud wisdom of this world and shows it to be disordered. The countless benefactions, granted us through the Cross, suppress the seeds of evil dishonour within. Even the unique appearance and form of this Tree was manifest from the very beginning of the world through great events which were its foretellers and forerunners.

Anyone, who wants to comprehend this, can see. Were Noah and his sons and their wives, and every kind of living thing, not saved from the universal flood according to the will of God through a paltry piece of wood [i.e. the Ark] (Wisdom 10:4)? And what does the staff of Joseph signify, upon the top of which the Patriarch Jacob bowed (Heb. 11:21; Gen. 47:31), if it is not an image of that life-creating Wood, before which we now bow down? Was the rod of Moses not an image of the Cross, by which he turned the water into blood and by which the illusory snakes were swallowed up? With one stroke thereof he divided the sea, and with another he reunited the waters of the sea, and thus at one and the same time he drowned the enemies and safeguarded the Chosen People. And was the rod of Aaron, which one day flowered and manifested the canonical priesthood (Numbers 17:8), not exactly the same, that is an image of the Cross?

But we should continue far too long, if we wished to number all those things which prefigured the Cross. Abraham himself prefigured it, when he laid his son upon the faggot of wood (Gen. 22:9-13). Likewise Jacob prefigured it, when he placed his hands one across the other in granting a blessing to Joseph (Gen.48:14). Preeminently, Moses in his own person made manifest the image of the Cross, when by raising his arms he put Amalek to flight (Ex. 17:11). Behold Elisseus as well, who threw a stick of wood into the waters, and with this wood drew forth the iron from the depths (4 [2] Kings 6:5-6). And it is not only in the Old Testament, but under the law of grace, that the Cross has repeatedly displayed its wondrous power in gaining victory over enemies, in expelling demons, in the healing of ailments and in countless other instances.

Do you see, beloved, what power in contained in the very sign of the Cross? Yet if there is such power in the image, then what power there must be in the prototype, the one on which Jesus was crucified! (For quite obviously, that which is most excellent in the most sublime thing of all, that is the prototype, is passed on to the images of the prototype.)

Now let us approach the Cross with joyful doxology. The Cross is riches, more precious than any other wealth. The Cross is a hazard-free haven for Christians. The Cross is the lightest of burdens, which is laid upon the shoulders of Christ's disciples. The Cross is the sweetest consolation for the souls of those who sorrow. The Cross is the reconciler and mediator between heaven and earth. By the Cross death has been put to death, and life has been returned to Adam. By the Cross we have been clothed upon with Christ, and have been divested of the old man. By the Cross we banish our enemies and calm disturbances. He who bears the Cross upon his shoulders is made an emulator of Jesus Christ and receives glory with Christ. Signing the Cross upon oneself, one dispels fear and brings back peace. He who is protected by the Cross with not be a prey to enemies, but will remain unharmed.

O Cross of Christ, most comely praise of Christians, worthy preaching of the Apostles, royal crown of the Martyrs, most precious adornment of the Prophets, most brilliant illumination of the whole world! O Cross of Christ - (I address thee as if thou wast a living being), - protect those who glorify thee with hearts aflame! Safeguard those who with faith draw near to kiss thee! Ever keep thy servants in peace and firm in faith! Grant us all to reach the joyous and radiant day of the Resurrection; ever keep us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and dominion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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