Why Christians Venerate the Holy Cross

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Crucifixion, detail, St George the Great-Martyr Church in Stemnica, Greece, Wall-Painting by Stamatis Skliris, 2004

Crucifixion, detail, St George the Great-Martyr Church in Stemnica, Greece, Wall-Painting by Stamatis Skliris, 2004

“When, then, you see a Christian worshipping the Cross, know that his adoration is not given to the wood, but to Christ Crucified. We might as well worship all wood, as Israel worshipped woods and trees, saying, “Thou art my God, and Thou hast brought me forth.” It is not so with us. We keep in churches and in our houses a remembrance and a representation of our Lord’s sufferings and of those who fought for Him, doing everything for our Lord’s sake.”

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“On this account I depict Christ and His sufferings in churches, and houses, and public places, and images, on clothes, and store-houses, and in every available place, so that ever before me, I may bear them in lasting memory, and not be unmindful, as you are, of my Lord God. In worshipping the book of the law, you are not worshipping parchment or colour, but God’s words contained in it. So do I worship the image of Christ, neither wood nor colouring for themselves. Adoring an inanimate figure of Christ through the Cross, I seem to possess and to adore Christ. Jacob received Joseph’s cloak of many colours from his brothers who had sold him, (Gen. 37.32ff) and he caressed it with tears as he gazed at it. He did not weep over the cloak, but considered it a way of showing his love for Joseph and of embracing , him. Thus do we Christians embrace with our lips the image of Christ, or the apostles, or the martyrs, whilst in spirit we deem that we are embracing Christ Himself or His martyr. As I have often said, the end in view must always be considered in all greeting and worship. If you upbraid me because I worship the wood of the Cross, why do you not upbraid Jacob for worshipping on the point of Joseph’s staff? It is evident that it was not the wood he honoured by his worship, but Joseph, as we adore Christ through the Cross. Abraham worshipped impious men who sold him the cave, and bent his knee to the ground, yet he did not worship them as gods. And again, Jacob magnified impious Pharao and idolatrous Esau seven times, yet not as God. How many salutations and worshippings I have put before you, both natural and scriptural, which are not to be condemned, and you no sooner see any one worshipping the image of Christ or His Most Holy Mother or a saint than you are angry and blaspheme and call me an idolator. Have you no shame, seeing me as you do day by day pulling down the temples of idols in the whole world and raising churches to martyrs? If I worship idols, why do I honour martyrs, their destroyers? If I glorify wood, as you say, why do I honour the saints who have pulled down the wooden statues of demons? If I glorify stones, how can I glorify the apostles who broke the stone idols? If I honour the images of false gods, how can I praise and glorify and keep the feast of the three children at Babylon who would not worship the golden statue? How greatly foolish people err, and how blind they are! What shamelessness is yours, 0 -Jew! what impiety! You sin indeed against the [133] truth. Arise, O God, and justify Thy cause. judge and justify us from people, not all people, but from senseless and hostile people who constantly provoke Thee.”

by Saint Leontius of Naples,Cyprus