The Empowering Cross

September 18, 2017 Length: 9:26

Fr. Emmanuel Kahn is the preacher today. The Church Fathers taught clearly that to believe fully that Christ has been crucified is also to believe in the Incarnation, the life of Christ on earth, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ into heaven.

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is one. Amen.

In the apostle today from the first chapter of First Corinthians St Paul considers the importance of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross. He writes that he and his fellow disciples of Christ are preaching “Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Now, each of us have been called to become Orthodox Christians, to follow Christ to the best of our ability, in prayer and action. St Paul says here that because we have been called, Christ has become for us “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

A third century theologian, Origen of Alexandria—not a saint, but a person who sought to the best of his ability to understand the meaning of Biblical texts—offered a very powerful insight into the meaning of this text. He wrote, and I quote: “What has empowered us is belief in Christ crucified. To the extent that we are lacking something in our faith, then we are missing out on what the power of God has to offer” [end of quote]. Note that Origen is not concerned about whether a Christian has been a Jew or a Gentile, that is a non-Jew, before coming to belief in Christ. Let me repeat his words, because this insight is addressed to each of us today, no matter what our previous beliefs were or how long we have been Orthodox Christians: “What has empowered us is belief in Christ crucified. To the extent that we are lacking something in our faith, then we are missing out on what the power of God has to offer.” So what precisely is the fullness of this belief in “Christ crucified” that empowers us to live our lives in freedom in unity with “the power and wisdom of God”?

The Church Fathers taught clearly that to believe fully that Christ has been crucified is also to believe in the Incarnation, the life of Christ on earth, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ into heaven. Consider the evidence, beginning with the Incarnation. The great fourth century theologian, St Athanasius of Alexandria, who defended the Church so well against the Arians, wrote: “Given that men had rejected the contemplation of God and were looking for Him in nature and in the material world, making gods for themselves out of mortal men and demons, the loving and general Saviour of all, the Word of God, took to Himself a body and walked about like a man, in order to meet the sense halfway, so that those who think that God is corporeal [that is, related to the body] might perceive the truth by observing what the Lord accomplishes in His body, and through Him recognise the Father.”  What St Athanasius is pointing out to us is that it is in the body of Christ, in His crucified body, we recognise the Father.

Another outstanding preacher and theologian of the fourth century, St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, explained where a belief in Christ Crucified comes from and where such a belief leads us. He preached, and I quote: “To believe in the one who was crucified and buried and to be fully convinced that he rose again does not need more reasoning but faith alone. The apostles themselves were converted not by wisdom but by faith . . . . Plato was cast out not by another philosopher of more skill but by unlearned fishermen.” St John Chrysostom’s insight applies to us today just as it applied to apostles: to be fully convinced that Christ rose from the dead relies on faith, not on reasoning. When we reach out to others with our belief in Christ and His Church, it is with faith that we reach out.

That faith in Christ crucified is completed with the Ascension. A fifth century bishop of Rome, St Leo the Great has explained to us when he wrote On the Lord’s Ascension that with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection:

The chains of death were broken . . . weakness was turned into power, mortality into eternity [as] . . . the Lord Jesus Christ . . . carried even into heaven the triumphant victory that He had won over the dead. . . . Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the fortieth day after the Resurrection in the presence of the disciples, was raised into heaven and terminated His presence with us in the body, to abide on the Father’s right hand . . . and He comes to judge the living and the dead in the same flesh in which He ascended. And so that which till then was visible of our Redeemer was changed into a sacramental presence, and [so that] faith might be more excellent and stronger, sight gave way to doctrine, the authority of which was to be accepted by believing hearts enlightened with rays from above.

That is a beautiful understanding of how the Crucified Christ is resurrected and ascends so that the disciples’ sight of Christ on earth “was changed into a sacramental presence [and] gave way to [the] doctrine” of the Church. This movement from Crucifixion to Resurrection to Ascension happened so that the faith of the disciples and all those who were to come to believe in Christ, including each of us, “might be more excellent and stronger.” This is the reality of our faith. We believe in Christ Crucified, as St Paul has written in this text from First Corinthians. Then this belief in Christ Crucified draws us through faith into an awareness of Christ Resurrected and Christ Ascended, that then leads into the sacramental presence of Christ in each of our lives today and in His guidance for the doctrine of the Church. To become aware of the suffering of Christ Crucified is frightening, but as Origen and St Athanasius, St John Chrysostom and St Leo the Great have taught us, the Resurrection and the Ascension and the sacramental presence of Christ that flow from that Crucifixion are great joys for each of us now.

But the path to these joys of the Resurrection, the Ascension and the sacramental presence of Christ begins with our awareness of and our faith in the Crucified Christ. We each suffer, and we are each in some way crucified during our lives on earth. We experience with St Paul in Galatians, chapter 2, verse 20:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

And so, we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages.