VENERATION OF THE CROSS
Through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the cross, which had previously been a method of punishment, humiliation, and disgrace, became a symbol of glory, honor, and spiritual joy. Matthew (24:30) calls it the sign of the Son of Man. Hence the veneration that Christians came to feel toward it, using it as their distinguishing emblem and deriving courage, endurance, and fortitude from it. They blessed themselves with its sign; they wore it round their necks; they decorated their buildings with it; they erected it over the graves of their dead. It also became an object constantly in the hands of their priests.
The Coptic church designates two days for the Holy Cross: 17 Tut, to commemorate the discovery of the cross by Empress Helena, mother of Emperor CONSTANTINE I the Great, in 326, and 10 Baramhat, to commemorate its restoration to Jerusalem in 628 following the defeat of the Persians by Emperor HERACLIUS, who released the cross and liberated Patriarch Zachariah of Jerusalem.
The veneration of the cross, by bending the knee, bowing down before it in reverence, and kissing it, is a mark of respect and homage to the Savior’s cross, not in worship but in veneration.
Christians honor the cross for various reasons: (1) it is their own sacred emblem; (2) it is the symbol of redemption; (3) it was on the cross that God revealed Himself to us in the person of the crucified, enabling us to witness God’s consummate love, His perfect sanctity, His boundless mercy, His superior justice, His sublime wisdom, and His transcendent authority over nature and the entire creation; (4) it is the symbol of unity and peace, which broke down “the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16); the cross has brought about full reconciliation, not only between God and man, but also between man and men.
The essential significance of the miracle of the Crucifixion is summed up in the words of Saint ATHANASIUS: “It was fitting for the Lord to spread out His hands . . . that with the one He might draw the ancient people, and with the other the Gentiles, to unite both in Him.”
- Daniélou, J. A History of Early Christian Doctrine, Vol. 1, chap. 19. London, 1964.