To become a community of the Cross
Today in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches alike is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Fr James Coles has posted a wonderful reflection about the cross on his blog. In particular, his statement of “Nothing sets Orthodox Christians apart from the world and even other Christians than our devotion to the cross” made me reflect long and hard because of my particular love of Orthodox Christian’s devotion to the incarnation. And as I started thinking about the observation further, I appreciated the good swift kick to the head as I realized the Cross is everywhere. The Cross so permeates our worship that I can overlook its presence. It is even on the cover of our Gospel book! [And incidentally the Resurrection is on the back cover.]
Yet what does it mean to become a community of the Cross?
In the Christian news circuit today, I think several issues stand in the way of becoming communities of the Cross. Respected persons may frame these issues as a liberal versus conservative schism. More and more Christian communities measure their standards of orthodox belief related to positions on women’s ordination, abortion and homosexuality. Recently, in trying to discuss the unique nature of Orthodox oikonomia, I cited that the decision of the Anglican communion to ordain women significantly changed the prospective nature of communion with the Orthodox Church. Many persons bemoan the loss of the traditionalists in the Anglican communion, a sentiment recently expressed by Metropolitan Hilarion.
While these issues are important issues regarding approaching how God desires to bring healing to humanity, I fear that most discourse lacks the perspective generated when discussed among communities of the Cross. The Cross compels us to find our common status as fallen human beings at the breaking point of pain, sorrow, betrayal and abandonment. We hear the cry of My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? We come to a place of our only plea Remember me when You come into Your kingdom. We encounter words that bring Christians to their knees in an internal agony With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The Cross invites us to see that we have more in common with each other than we previously thought.
Something curious happens afterwards in the Scriptures. We begin to see people banded together in community around this mystery. The women came to the tomb. Peter and John run to the tomb. Luke and Cleopas walked on the road. The disciples wait in the upper room. The transforming witness of the people gathered in Christ’s name is the love they share with one another.
Now, many people use this line of loving one another as a means to enable all sorts of variant moral conviction to exist within the Church, leading to rather intense schism. But an intriguing aspect of the Christian life is that the Cross points us to our need to die to ourselves. However, as Christians die, we tend to do so within that same community, which perhaps is one reason why martyrs are held in high esteem.
So I think becoming a community of the Cross requires us simultaneously to die to ourselves while journeying together. Therefore, we must come to be models of personal repentance rather than moral condemnation of others. We must stand firm on the Gospel as being about Christ: His Incarnation, His Crucifixion, and His Resurrection and prepared to draw lines in the sand to protect the unique witness of the Gospel of Christ. We must hear the cries of people who feel they bear crushing burdens of an unwanted pregnancy or a life lived conceivably without a possibility of a loving relationship while simultaneously being willing to open our hearts, our homes, and our lives to those who seem to be impossibly other than ourselves. We must illumine policies and procedures using the light of Christ to see if we have roped off far too many ministries with the need for ordination and if we have somehow exempted those whom we have ordained from the transfiguring demands of repentance, love, and Christian service.
Then, may we be accounted worthy to take up our cross after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, joyously prostrating ourselves before Him.