By This Sign Conquer!

September 14 commemorates the Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, or commonly known as the Feast Elevation of the Crossof the Holy Cross in the western church. In short, Emperor Constantine sent his mother, Empress Helen, to the Holy Land to find the Cross of Christ in Jerusalem in the year 326. The site was nearly forgotten due to the shameful desecration at the hands of previous pagan emperors. But, by Helen’s actions and those of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Macarius, the site was located and the Cross of Christ was identified. Once again the Cross of Christ was elevated, but now to be venerated by the faithful.

However, St. Constantine had his own encounter with the Cross when he was a younger man, and not yet a Christian. Prior to what would become a decisive victory, his forces were confronted by the superior numbers of his rival Maxentius. In the sky he saw a vision of the Cross. As he contemplated its meaning, the voice of the Lord came to him saying, “In hoc signo, vinces!”, or “by this sign, conquer!” His army then defeated Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. And, as they say, “the rest is history.”

Today’s Feast has nothing to do with St. Constantine’s victory, but the message of the Lord should ring in our ears today: “By this sign, conquer!” For by the Cross Jesus conquered death – he destroyed death by death. The instrument of shameful execution became his weapon of victory!

And of course, Christ has given to us our own crosses to take up and carry. For us, as it was for our Lord and the Cross, our own crosses are both instruments of death and weapons of victory. We must die to ourselves. To do so, we must take up the little crosses placed in front of us each and every day. Those little crosses are the mundane things, the annoying, and irritating things and people we encounter each day. The little crosses are not to be avoided or ignored. By doing so, we only allow darkness and corruption to remain active in our lives.

A little Cross can be the impatient driver that cuts in front of us on the freeway to make his exit. To deny this little cross would mean that one reacts in anger: a gesture is made, the horn is blown, and “French words” are spoken. This is just the action our Adversary wants from us. But, to take up this little cross means we bless the other driver and pray for him. We give thanks for his action because by it he comes into our consciousness. By praying for blessing to come to him, corruption in us is put to death. The situation and the driver are carried to Christ. Redemption and transformation take place. That little cross became a weapon of victory. Additionally, the very act of giving thanks for the little crosses that are presented to us, we die to ourselves. By such dying the life of Christ is poured into us, and the Eucharist is lived out before the universe.

There is another way in which we take up the Cross, though perhaps not known by every Orthodox Christian. Impressed onto the surface of the bread that will become the Body of Christ, called the Lamb, is the image of the Cross. Above and below the arms of the cross is a message similar to that which came to St. Constantine. Above each arm of the cross are the letters IC (Jesus) to the left, and XC (Christ) to the right. Below each arm is half of the Greek word “nika”, or “[he] conquers”. The two letters NI appear to the left, and KA to the right. It looks like this:


When put together, we have the message, “Jesus Christ conquers!”

Thus, each time we consume the Body and Blood of Christ his Victory enters into every part of our being, because Jesus is in that Bread and Wine! Hence, we are given the spiritual power to conquer. We are to conquer, by the grace of God working in us, the darkness of sin and its death still at work within us. And more, by consuming Christ’s Body and Blood we are given the power to embody Christ – to be Eucharists – before the world and the entirety of creation. “By this sign, Conquer!”

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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