The Spiritual Meaning of the Cross by H.H. Pope Shenouda III

Let us examine the spiritual meaning of the Cross, and its importance and benediction in our lives. The Cross is every difficulty which we suffer in view of our love for God, or for our love for people, for the Kingdom of God in general. When we make the sign of the cross, we remember many of the theological and spiritual meanings that are
connected to it.

1. We remember the love of God for us, who accepted death instead of us, in view of our salvation. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). When we make the sign of the cross, we remember “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole
world” (1 John 2:2).
2. And in the Cross, we remember our sins. Our sins that He has borne on the Cross, and for which He Incarnated and was crucified. With this remembrance, we become humiliated, our souls become contrite, and we thank for the price which He paid for us “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).

3. And in the Cross, we remember the divine justice: How forgiveness was not on account of justice. But the divine justice took his right on the Cross. We do not then consider sin as a slight matter, the sin whose price is such as that.

4. In our signing of the Cross, we declare our discipleship to this crucified One. Those who take the cross simply by its spiritual meaning, inside the heart, without any apparent sign, do not openly manifest this discipleship, which we declare by signing the cross, by carrying the cross on our breasts, by kissing the cross in front of everybody, by drawing it on our hands, and by raising it above the places in which we worship. With all this, we openly declare our faith, and we are not ashamed of the Cross of Christ in front of people, but rather we boast of
it, we hold fast to it, we celebrate feasts for it. Even without speaking, our plain aspect manifests our faith.

5. We do not make the sign of the cross on ourselves in a silent manner, but we say with that: In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus each time we declare our faith in the Holy Trinity who is One God for ever to eternity, amen. Thus the Holy Trinity is continually in our thoughts, and that is not available to those who do not make the sign of the cross as we do.

6. In making the sign of the cross, we also declare our belief in Incarnation and Redemption: When we make the sign of the cross from upward to downward, and from the left side to the right side, we remember that God has come down from heaven downward to our earth, and transported people from the left side to the right side, from obscurity to light, and from death to life; and how many are the meditations which come to our hearts and minds from the signing of the cross!

7. We remember forgiveness in the Cross, how our sins were forgiven on the Cross, and how our Lord addressed the heavenly Father saying (while He was on the Cross): “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

8. In the signing of the cross, there is a religious instruction for our sons and for others: Whoever makes the sign of the cross, when he prays, when he enters the church, when he eats, when he sleeps, and at every moment, he remembers the Cross. This remembrance is spiritually useful and scripturally desirable. In it there is also an instruction for people, that Christ was crucified, and an instruction especially for our small children who grow from their childhood being used to the cross.

9. By making the sign of the cross we preach the death of the Lord for us, conforming to his commandment. This is the commandment of the Lord who has redeemed us, to preach His “death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). In making the sign the cross we remember His death at all times, and we keep remembering Him till He comes. We also remember Him in the sacrament of Eucharist. But this sacrament is not done every moment, while we can make the sign of the cross at every moment, remembering the death of Christ for our sake.

10. In making the sign of the cross, we remember that the retribution of sin is death: because otherwise Christ would not have died; “we were dead in trespasses” (Eph. 2:5). But Christ died instead us upon the Cross and gave us life. Having paid the price on the Cross, He said to the Father: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).

11. In making the sign of the cross, we remember the love of God for us. We remember that the cross is a sacrifice of love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We remember that “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… and we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5: 8,10). In the Cross, we remember the love of God for us, because “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John: 15:13).

12. We make the sign of the cross because it gives us power. The apostle Saint Paul felt that power of the Cross, and said: “by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). And he also said: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Note that he did not say that the crucifixion is the power of God, but he said that the simple word of the cross is the power of God. Therefore when we make the sign of the cross, and when we mention the
cross, we are filled with power; because we remember that the Lord trampled death by the cross, and He granted life to everybody, and forced and defeated Satan. Therefore, we make the sign of the cross, because Satan dreads it: All the labor of Satan since he fought Adam until the end of time, has been lost on the Cross, because the Lord has paid the price, and erased all the sins of people with His blood, for those who believe and obey. Thus, whenever Satan sees the cross, he is terrified and remembers his greatest defeat and the loss of his labor,
and so he is ashamed and runs away. Thus all the sons of God constantly use the sign of the cross, considering that it is the sign of conquest and victory, that it is the power of God. As for our part, we are filled with power inside. But the enemy outside is scared. And as in ancient times the bronze serpent was lifted up, as a healing for people and salvation from death, even so the Lord of glory was lifted up on the Cross. (John 3:14). Thus is the sign of the cross in its effect.

14. We make the sign of the cross, and take its blessing: In ancient times, the cross was the sign of malediction and death because of sin. But on the Cross, the Lord bore all our maledictions, in order to grant us the benediction of the reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:10), and the benediction of the new life. Therefore all the gracious things of the New Testament come from the Cross. The clergy use this cross in the giving of benediction, as an indication that the benediction is not issued from them personally, but from the cross of the Lord who has entrusted them to use it for granting benediction, and because they take their ministry from the ministry of Him who was crucified. All the blessings of the New Testament follow the cross of the Lord and its effect.

15. Thus, we use the cross in all the holy sacraments of Christianity, because they all have their source in the merits of the blood of Christ on the cross. Without the cross, we could not deserve to come near to God as sons in Baptism; and we could not deserve the communion of his body and blood in the mystery of Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:26), and we could not enjoy the blessings of any mystery from the mysteries of the Church.

16. We pay attention to the Cross in order to remember our participation in it. We remember the word of the apostle Saint Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). And also his word: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being comforted to His death” (Philippians 3:10). Here we ask ourselves when shall we enter into participation with the sufferings of the Lord and shall be crucified with Him. And here we remember the thief who was crucified with Him, and deserved to be with Him in paradise. Probably he is in paradise singing with the song that Saint Paul said later “I have been crucified with Christ.” All our wishes are that we ascend on the cross with Christ, and to boast about this cross, which we remember now whenever we touch it with our senses.

17. We honor the cross, because it is a subject of joy for the Father: The Father who has accepted Christ on the cross with all joy, as a sin sacrifice and also as “a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord” (Lev.1: 5,13,17). The Lord Christ has satisfied the Father with the perfection of His life on earth, but He entered into the fullness of this satisfaction on the Cross, where He “became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Each time we look at the cross, we remember the perfection of obedience, and the perfection of subjection, in order to imitate the Lord Christ in his obedience, to the point of death. As the cross was a subject of joy for the Father, so also it was a subject of joy as regards the Son who was crucified, of whom it was said: “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Thus was the fullness of Christ’s joy in His crucifixion. May we be like that.

18. In the cross, “we go forth to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:12) with the same feelings that we have in the holy week, and in that, we remember what was said about the prophet Moses: “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). The reproach of Christ is His crucifixion and His sufferings.

19. On the cross, we remember the salvation that the thief who was crucified with the Lord obtained: That gives us a wonderful hope. How could a man be saved in the last hours of his life on earth, and get a promise to enter the paradise. How the Lord with His spiritual influence on this thief, had been able to draw him to Himself, and remember his faith and his confession, without remembering any of his previous sins. How great is that hope which was realized on the cross.

20. We bear the cross which reminds us of His second coming: As it has been mentioned in the gospel about the end of the world and the coming of the Lord: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven [i.e., the cross], and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds.” (Matt. 24:30). Let us remember the sign of the Son of Man on earth, so long as we expect this sign of His in heaven in His majestic coming.