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September - October 2005

THE HOLY CROSS: Icon of the Fullness of Our Salvation

The Russian or Slavic-style cross is often admired for its imagery, but the average art-lover is soon struck by the absolute gravity of the imagery on the cross. "Is that a skull at the bottom?", one might hear someone ask a priest. Yes - it's a skull. But whose skull?

The cross is not simply a symbol of an event, but rather, it is a microcosm of the entirety of human history. The Lord's crucifixion is central to this history, but it is rooted in the skull: the skull of Adam, our first ancestor, whom Holy Tradition accepts without question as historical, and whose skull gave the name to the very hill of the crucifixion, Golgotha.

God incarnate hangs on the Tree of the Cross, the implements of His torture - a spear and a sponge on a pole - on either side. Yet His cross is a conquering cross, conquering death as the Greek inscriptions by His hands tell us. The sign above His head - Jesus Christ, King of the Jews - bears witness to the truth that we are the saved Jews. The Church is the New Israel, and the skull of dead Adam becomes the roots of the Tree of Life, not death.

Above the head of the Lord, He is greeted and praised by the angels, who bear between them the Holy Mandilion, a historic cloth bearing an actual and miracle-working Image of the Lord's face. It is this Likeness which Our Lord restores in us by His cross - if we are willing to take up our cross in sharing in His life. It is the only way we can rightly bear the name of Christian.

- FrG+

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