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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The path of the Christian
The cross of Christ: The path and power of the Church.
The dogmatic teaching of the Church has the most intimate connection with the whole
moral order of Christian life; it gives to it a true direction. Any kind of departure from the dogmatic
truths leads to an incorrect understanding of the moral duty of the Christian. Faith demands
a life that corresponds to faith.
The Saviour has defined the moral duty of man briefly in the two commandments of the
law: the commandment to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and understanding; and
the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. But at the same time the Saviour taught that
the authentic fulfillment of these commandments is impossible without some degree of selfrenunciation,
self-sacrifice: it demands struggle (The Russian word podvig most commonly means “struggle,”
but sometimes must be translated more specifically as “asceticism” or “ascetic exploit.”).
And where does the believer find strength for struggle? He receives it through communion
with Christ, through love for Christ which inspires him to follow after Him. This struggle of fol-lowing Him Christ called His “yoke:” “Take my yoke upon you. . . For my yoke is easy, and My
burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30). He called it also a cross. Long before the day of His crucifixion,
the Lord taught: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross,
and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy
of Me” (Matt. 10:38).
The Orthodox path of the Christian is the path of the cross and of struggle. In other words,
it is the path of patience, of the bearing of sorrows, persecutions for the name of Christ, and dangers
from the enemies of Christ, of despising the goods of the world for the sake of Christ, of battling
against one’s passions and lusts.
Such a path of following Christ was taken by His Apostle. “I am crucified with Christ,”
writes the Apostle Paul (Gal. 2:20). “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our
Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal 6:14).
Following the path of Christ, the Apostles finished the struggle of their life with a martyr’s death.
All believers are called to struggle according to their strength: “They that are Christ’s have
crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). The moral life cannot exist without
inward battle, without self-restraint. The Apostle writes: “For many walk, of whom I have told
you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ —
whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind
earthly things” (Phil. 3:18-19).
The whole history of the Church has been built on struggles: at first the sufferings of the
martyrs in the earliest Christian age; then the self-sacrificing labors of the pillars of the Church,
the hierarchs; and then the personal ascetic struggles, spiritual attainments in the battle with the
flesh, on the part of the desert dwellers and other strugglers — “earthly angels and heavenly
men,” the righteous ones who have lived in the world without being defiled by the world. And
thus up to now Christianity is adorned with confessors and martyrs for faith in Christ. And the
Holy Church supports in believers this duty of self-restraint and spiritual cleansing by means of
instructions and examples from the Gospel and the whole Sacred Scripture, by the examples of
the saints, by the rules of the Church typicon, by vigils, fasts, and appeals to repentance.
Such is the lot not only of each separate Christian but of the Church herself as a whole: to be
persecuted for the Cross of Christ, as was shown in the visions to the holy Apostle John the
Theologian in the Apocalypse. The Church in many periods of her history has endured totally
open sorrows and persecutions and the martyr’s death of her best servants — what one contemporary
priest and Church writer has called “harvest of God” — while in other periods, even in
periods of outward prosperity, she has endured sorrows from inward enemies, from the unworthy
manner of life of her members, and in particular of the people who are assigned to serve her.
Thus is defined the dogma of the Cross. The Cross is the path of the Christian and the
At the same time it is also the power of the Church. Looking with one’s mental eyes “Unto
Jesus the Author and Finisher of our Faith” (Heb. 12:2), the Christian finds spiritual strength in
the awareness that after the Lord’s death on the Cross there followed the Resurrection; that by the
Cross the world has been conquered; that if we die with the Lord we shall reign with Him, and
shall rejoice and triumph in the manifestation of His glory (1 Peter 4:13).
The Cross, finally, is the banner of the Church. From the day when the Saviour bore the
Cross on His shoulders to Golgotha and was crucified on the material Cross, the Cross became
the visible sign and banner of Christianity, of the Church, of everyone who believes in Christ.Not everyone who belongs to Christianity “in general” has such an understanding of the
Gospel. Certain large Christian societies deny the Cross as a visible banner, considering that it
has remained what it was, an instrument of reproach. The Apostle Paul already warned against
such an “offense of the Cross” (Gal. 5:11), “lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are being
saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:17-18). He exhorted men not be ashamed of the
Cross as a sign of reproach: “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His
reproach,” he teaches (Heb. 13:13-14). For the reproach on the Cross led to the Resurrection in
glory, and the Cross became the implement of salvation and the path to glory.
Having always before oneself the image of the Cross, making on oneself the sign of the
Cross, the Christian first of all brings to his mind that he is called to follow the steps of Christ,
bearing in the name of Christ sorrows and deprivations for his faith. Secondly, he is strengthened
by the power of the Cross of Christ for battle against the evil in himself and in the world. And
thirdly, he confesses that he awaits the manifestation of the glory of Christ, the Second Coming
of the Lord, which itself will be preceded by the manifestation in heaven of the sign of the Son of
Man, according to the Divine words of the Lord Himself (Matt. 24:30). This sign, according to
the unanimous understanding of the Fathers of the Church, will be a magnificent manifestation of
the Cross in the sky.
The sign of the Cross that we place upon ourselves or depict on ourselves by the movement
of the hand is made in silence, but at the same time it is said loud, because it is an open confession
of our Faith.
Thus, with the Cross is bound up the whole grandeur of our redemption, which reminds us
of the necessity of personal struggle for the Christian. In the representation of the Cross, even in
its name, is summed up the whole history of the Gospel, is also the history of martyrdom and the
confession of Christianity in all ages.
Reflecting deeply on the wealth of thoughts bound up with the Cross, the Church hymns the
power of the Cross: “O invincible and incomprehensible and divine power of the precious and
life-giving Cross, forsake not us sinners.”