The vandalism of crosses in churchyards naturally offends Christians for whom the Cross speaks of the God of love. Nevertheless, like water from the tap, we can take the Cross for granted. Holy Cross Day, also called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on 14th September, commemorates the annual exposition of a portion of the Cross upon this day in the church erected at Jerusalem by St. Helena. Another incident is connected with this day. The King of Persia, Chosroes attacked Jerusalem carrying off a piece of the Cross Helena had left there. At his parties, he made fun of the Cross. The Emperor Heraclius attacked him, recovering and returning with the Cross to Jerusalem. He found the gates shut, and heard a voice from heaven telling him that the King of kings had not entered the city in pomp and splendour, but meek and lowly and riding upon an ass. So he dismounted and entered the city barefoot, carrying the Cross himself.

Early in Christian history the Cross became surrounded with holy memories that tended to displace its disgraceful associations. St. Paul exclaimed, “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. He is probably expressing the same feeling that led the early Christians to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, a practice Tertullian (A.D. 200) speaks of as traditional in his time. Such an action keeps alive in the hearts of the faithful the memory of the Passion. From the earliest times the Church has used this sign in sacraments, benedictions, private and public prayer, etc., in recognition of the efficacy that all acts of devotion acquire through the Cross of Christ.

St. Jerome (A.D.390) speaks of Christians using it in inscriptions, but it rarely appeared before this time. By the sixth century it appears on tombs and fonts and pretty generally. There were two forms, one representing the dead body, the other representing the living Christ, robed and crowned as priest and king with royal diadem. Not only is it depicted as the sign of ignominy but also as the most glorious of trophies, the throne of glory of the King of kings who defeated sin and death.

Inevitably it claimed a place of honour in churches, on the altar, the topmost points of the exterior and on sacred vessels (showing they belong to Christ). Altars are marked with five crosses in memory of the five sacred wounds. Graves were hallowed by the Cross, demonstrating the overcoming of sin and death. Wayside crosses appeared reminding passersby to think on Him who died for them. From apostolic times it has reminded the world that the crucifixion was the consummation of that life of sacrifice by which He redeemed mankind. The most distinctive feature of his human life was that He should die as mortal man, and so pass to His resurrection and ours.

“How then do we enter into the likeness of His death? By being buried with Him in baptism. There is only one death and only one resurrection, of which baptism is the figure. That is why the Lord established the covenant of baptism, which contains that figure of death and life, the water being the likeness of death and the Spirit imparting life “. Basil of Caesarea On the Holy Spirit, 15.

Arthur Middleton