St John of Damascus

On the Holy Cross

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Saint John of Damascus is an important father of our Church who lived in Syria in the seventh century. A monk, but also a polymath, he was very knowledgeable in the areas of law, philosophy, music, science and astronomy. Above all, he was gifted in tying all of these disciplines with the field that he is most famous for: Theology.

In his premier work, the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, he writes at length about the importance and significance of the Holy Cross on a number of levels, as it represents the ultimate means by which God transcends all human categories. He states all that has been accomplished though the power of the Holy Cross: Death has been abolished, ancestral sin has been loosed, hell has been despoiled, the Resurrection has been bestowed, the way back to blessedness is made straight and the gates of Paradise are opened (Expos. 83.21-9).

Therefore, the very making of the sign of the Cross has a unique power in itself. This action, so central to our worship, is described as a shield, a weapon, a trophy against the devil, a seal protecting us from the destroyer, the resurrection of the fallen, a staff for the weak and a rod for the shepherded (Expos. 83. 42-8).

The Holy Cross can finally be seen as a symbol for all of creation itself. Just as the four arms of the Cross have been made firm and are bound together in the middle, so – through the power of God – height and depth, length and breadth, that is all of creation, both visible and invisible, have been secured (Expos. 83. 36-39).

In a time where, similar the present day, he was faced with numerous opponents arguing against the honouring of the Holy Cross, St John makes it clear that it is indeed proper, right and indeed necessary to venerate this Holy Symbol of God’s Salvation (Expos. 84.72-3).


Source: August-September 2015 Lychnos Edition