Date: Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 6:44 PM
Marble cross in loving memory of our late Holy Father erected at St Jacob of Serug Syriac Orthodox Monastery, Warburg, Germany
The cross in Eastern Christianity has a complex history with surprizing variety and symbology.
"The Holy Cross has illuminated, and it decorated the sky with stars and showed everything like the sun!" ~ from Ethiopian Orthodox blessing at Meskel
"No longer does the flaming sword guard the gate of Eden, for a marvelous quenching is come upon it, even the Tree of the Cross." ~ from Greek Orthodox Kontakion
|Khachkar 11th Century AD, Artsakh, Armenia|
Paul Juma - Daily Nation on the Web
12 January 2012
Deep in the rugged mountains of Ethiopia, a small village carries enormous historical and religious significance -- and wonder.
Lalibela village, 700 km north of Addis Ababa, has 11 mystical churches that bear the soul of Ethiopia's religious heritage.
On January 7, thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Church pilgrims made a journey whose significance has outlived generations: the pilgrimage to Lalibela to mark the Ethiopian Christmas.
The same day, they celebrated the birthday of King Lalibela, who is believed to have received instructions from God to carve from rock the 11 churches.
Located in a valley in the mountains of Ethiopia's Amhara state, the small village has a mix of traditional huts and tin-roofed buildings, and it is dry and quiet.
It is surrounded by rocks and a few trees, swaying to a breeze that pours into the valley from the hills to neutralise the heat of the scorching sun.
A dusty road across the village leads to the main entrance of a cluster of six of the historic rock-hewn churches.
The main church in this cluster now has a shelter constructed over it by Unesco to protect it from adverse weather.
It is supported by pillars on the outside. According to our guide, some of the original pillars, as had been carved by the King, had fallen off but were later reconstructed.
Before we get in, our guide informs us that we will have to remove our shoes first -- it is a holy place.
It is cool inside, and dark too, but there's enough light coming from a fluorescent tube on the Eastern corner of the rocky ceiling, adjacent to the holy of holies, a curtained section where a replica of the Mosaic Ark of the Covenant is kept.
Two monks are sitting close to the entrance to the holy of holies. According to our guide, only priests are allowed into the holy of holies.
On the right side is a huge painting of Jesus on the cross, and on the left that of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.
The church is dedicated to Jesus, and is called 'Saviour of the World'.
A tunnel leads into a second rock-hewn church: the 'House of Mary'. It is smaller, but has a resident monk.
Adjacent to it is the 'House of the Cross', another church in the cluster. Here, cameras with flash cannot be used inside the church, we are told. The two churches share a rectangular hole which acts as a baptism pool.
There are more tunnels that lead to the rest of the churches on this complex.
The 'Church of St George' stands alone across the road. From a distance, its roof, which is at the ground level, looks like a huge cross placed on the ground.
This is because the church, like all other Lalibela churches, is hewn on the ground rock going downwards.
The churches have a masterful Ethiopian architecture with hints of Hebrew influence.
But it is their religious significance and history that inspire awe among thousands of Ethiopian pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.
According to Ethiopian legend, King Lalibela's brother tried to kill him by poisoning him.
However, the King only fell into a comma and came to a few days later. It is during the comma that God gave him the vision of the rock-hewn churches, according to the legend.
In the 12 Century BC, when he is said to have begun carving out the churches, Ethiopians would go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Having made the journey himself and having seen how difficult and dangerous the journey was, the King is said to have found motivation to create a replica of Jerusalem in Ethiopia, thus saving the pilgrims from the long journey.
And so, this tiny village has come to be Ethiopia's Jerusalem.
By using just a hammer and chisel, and with the help of angels, King Lalibela carved out the churches from pure rock, according to legend. That took him about 23 years to accomplish.
The villagers and pilgrims consider a seasonal river which splits Lalibela River Jordan, the biblical river where Jesus was baptised.
Like those who were there before them, the pilgrims will come and go. But the churches, the solid rock that they are, will certainly carry the soul of Ethiopia's religious heritage and significance into the unforeseeable future.
The Ethiopians living on the roof
Saturday 10 December 2011
Sacred mysteries: An ancient African monastery is perched above the Holy
Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
I went to see the Ethiopians on the roof of the church of the Holy Sepulchre
in Jerusalem this week.
The way up is not easy for a stranger to find. Stone steps double back from
the Souk Khan el-Zeit in the Old City, where the jumble of goods for sale,
hanging from the low canopies – scarves, shoulder-bags, T-shirts,
full-length Muslim women's dresses, camel-tack, racks of postcards –
obscures the street plan.
From the steps, those who know where to look may see remnants of the first
church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Constantine in the 330s. At the top
is a flat roof looking towards the great domes of the church.
Some green wooden doors in adjoining walls stand open, up rickety wooden
steps. At one side, a bulgy rectangular hut apparently made of whitewashed
adobe, is fitted with eaves of corrugated iron above the tiny windows.
Monks in black habits come and go, and keep an eye open for interlopers, for
even this Ethiopian church territory on the marginal exterior of the church
is subject to rival claims from Copts.
The stone surface of the roof slopes gently in this dry climate. In the
middle is a dome with windows fortified with ancient iron bars. This dome
(once the confusing maze of the interior of the church has been
mastered) turns out to be the roof the chapel of the Holy Cross discovered
by St Helena, Constantine's mother. The Ethiopians kept its feast devoutly
One of the doors on the roof leads to the Ethiopian monks' chapel. This is
separated from a passageway by a green-painted railing, leaving just room
for four pairs of benches on each side of a Persian carpet-runner before a
simple screen of dark, silver-painted wood. In the centre, a horseshoe-arch
opens to the high altar, hung with white silk, beneath an icon of the Virgin
Ethiopians speak the ancient Semitic language of Amharic. They worship in
the even more ancient dead language of Ge'ez. Their liturgy if full of
surprises. As well as Sunday, Saturday is a holy day, and in each church the
Ark of the Covenant is revered. Indeed Axum cathedral is said to house the
Ark once kept in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple.
Evelyn Waugh tells of sitting next to an eminent professor at Haile
Selassie's coronation in 1930, who kept up a commentary on the ceremony:
"They are beginning the Mass now." "That was the offertory." "No, I was
wrong; it was the consecration." "No, I was wrong; I think it is the secret
Gospel." "How very curious; I don't believe it was the Mass at all."
No liturgy was in progress on the morning I visited, since the 4am worship
had long finished. At the back of the chapel, in front of a sort of shed, on
top of which lay a ladder and a green plastic bath, sat a monk in an old
armchair draped with a multi-coloured blanket. On an old brass dish he had
arranged two dollar bills crosswise, scattered artistically with some coins.
This was by way of ground bait, so that pilgrims passing through would know
where to bestow alms, which a little flock of Americans did. Their few
dollars were soon tidied away ready for the next group.
The Ethiopians are not well off. Once, they had a chapel inside the church
of the Holy Sepulchre. They lost that centuries ago during the long Ottoman
rule of Jerusalem, when political influence and payment of taxes counted for
much. It seems odd that the Copts later wrangled with them for their space,
for the Church in Ethiopia always took its chief bishop from Alexandria, the
The Ethiopians hung on. In 1923 there were only 100 in Jerusalem, all told.
They are stronger today, although the Christians are far outnumbered by the
30,000 Ethiopian Jews flown in from peril in the 1990s. But that is another
Christopher Howse's "A Pilgrim in Spain" is published by Continuum (£16.99).
Thousands in line to view 'Mother of God's Belt'.
Daily American News
Posted Nov 20, 2011 @ 07:32 AM
MOSCOW — Thousands of Muscovites are lining up to worship one of the most
revered Orthodox Christian relics - The Mother of God's Belt – as it goes on
display at the Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
The Orthodox Church believes in a legend that Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
wore a belt woven from camel wool, and, after her death and Assumption, it
came into the hands of the Apostle St Thomas.
The Christian relic, which came to Russia from Greece, is believed to have
divine powers to cure infertility and disease.
In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Belt was held in
By the end of the 4th century, the relic was taken to Constantinople (now
It had been repeatedly cut into parts throughout history. And only three
One of them is kept in Georgia, the two others are in Prato, Italy, and at
Vatoped Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece. The latter is believed by
Orthodox Christians to be under protection of the God`s Mother.
The Belt has never been taken from Athos before, with an exception only made
for the month-long Russian tour across 14 cities this year.
The relic will be on display for more than a week.
Jerusalem dig unearths Christian icon
November 01, 2011 12:00AM
A TINY, exquisitely made box found on an excavated street in Jerusalem
is a token of Christian faith from 1400 years ago, Israeli archeologists
The box, carved from an animal bone, decorated with a cross on the lid
and measuring 2cm by 1.5cm, was probably carried by a Christian around
the end of the 6th century AD, according to Yana Tchekhanovets of the
Israel Antiquities Authority, one of the directors of the excavation
where the box was found.
When the lid is removed, the remains of two portraits are visible in
paint and gold leaf. A man and a woman, they are probably Christian
saints and possibly Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
The box was found outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City in the
remains of a Byzantine-era road. Uncovered two years ago, it was treated
by preservation experts and researched before it was unveiled at an
archeological conference last week. The box offers the first
archeological evidence that the use of icons in the Byzantine period was
not limited to church ceremonies.
Part of a similar box was found in Jordan three decades ago, but this is
the only well-preserved whole example found so far. Similar icons are
carried today by some Christians, especially from the eastern Orthodox
The relic was found in the City of David excavation, named for the
biblical monarch thought to have ruled a Jewish kingdom from the site.
The politically sensitive dig is in the Palestinian area of Silwan, just
outside the Old City walls in east Jerusalem, the section of the city
captured by Israeli forces in 1967 and still claimed by Palestinians as
Two ancient churches discovered in Failaka Island of Kuwait
The Department of Antiquities and Museums in the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters discovered two churches on the island of Failaka reports Al Watan daily. The first consists of three large rooms and three entrances and a tomb of a monk with a cross on it, and the second consists of one room, daily reported.
Al Watan reported, quoting the Director of the department Shihab Abdulhamid Shihab, that a study is being conducted on the churches and other monuments that have been discovered on the island which backdate to the early Islamic era. Additionally, an Islamic village established on the island which includes a mosque, two Mihrab were also found besides and a large Islamic castle called Al-Zour Castle. He pointed out that there are monuments dating back to more than 2200 years BC.
Shihab said that the inhabitants of the Kuwaiti coast before Islam were Christian fishermen, who moved to the islands near Kuwait, including the island of Failaka after the spread of Islam. He added that there are also other ancient civilizations on the island including the Macedonian civilization led by Alexander the Great, who called the Island Icarus.
This tree of heavenly dimensions has been raised up from earth to sky; it is
an immortal plant, set between heaven and earth. Upholding all things,
bearing the universe, support of the inhabited world, it embraces the cosmos
and gathers together the diverse elements of human nature. For itself, it is
assembled of the invisible planks of the Spirit that it may not waver in its
conformity to the divine. Touching the heights of heaven with its top,
grounding the earth with its feet, and encircling with its great arms the
innumerable spaces of the atmosphere, it is wholly in all and around all...
It would have been of no account that the universe was blotted out, melted
with terror before the Passion, if our great Jesus had not infused the
divine Spirit in it when he said: "Father, into your hands I commend my
Spirit" (Lk 23,46)... Everything was shattered, yet when the divine Spirit
rose again the universe was re-animated, brought back to life and recovered
the firmness of its stability. God filled everything, everywhere, and the
crucifixion penetrated all things.
-- A Greek homily of the 4th century
On the holy Paschal mystery, 51, 63 ; PG 59, 743, SC 27 (inspired by a lost
sermon of Hippolytus)
The Victory of the Cross
Dear Friends in Christ,
Positions of the Fingers While Making the Sign of the Cross, Licensed from
I'm writing this message the week before the Third Sunday of Lent, when we
commemorate the Holy Cross. The Holy Cross has such an important meaning to
us, that we celebrate it twice a year. Back in September's bulletin, I wrote
about the appearances of the Cross in history. Appearances of the Cross led
to such miracles as the conversion of the Emperor St. Constantine in AD 312.
Since we've so recently covered the appearances of the Cross, I would like
to take this opportunity to speak about a related subject, namely, the Sign
of the Cross.
Humans seem to have a natural desire to identify themselves as part of a
group. One of the ways that members of a group identify themselves to one
another, and cement their ties, is by the use of signs. A well-executed
performance elicits a thumbs-up, the peace sign became a symbol of a
generation opposed to war, and a certain obscene gesture can be used to
insult others. The handshake is used to greet and to seal a deal, and a
salute is used to show obedience to a superior.
Christians from the time of the Apostles have had their own unique sign as
well. This is the Sign of the Cross, which we should make many times a day.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (+ AD 386) writes:
Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal,
made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the
bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our
sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when
we are at rest.
In other words, making the Sign of the Cross should become second nature to
the Christian, because Christ should be Lord over all aspects of our life.
This Sign should be executed attentively, however; it should not be done out
of habit without reflecting on its action. Each of the many times that we
make the Sign, it should be done deliberately. Let us not fall into the trap
of thinking that by doing something often it will become rote; let us do it
often and with attention! Tertullian (+ AD 220) writes: "We Christians wear
out our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross."
We make the Sign of the Cross properly by taking the thumb, index finger,
and middle finger of our right hand, and joining them together. This
represents the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We then take the
ring finger and pinky finger of our right hand and close them into the palm
of our hand, representing the two natures of Jesus Christ: divine and human.
With our fingers in this formation, we move our hand to our forehead, to the
solar plexus (navel area), then to our right shoulder, then to our left
shoulder (it should be noted that Roman Catholics make the Sign from the
left to the right, but this is an innovation dating to the 13th century). We
should avoid what some call the "banjo" Sign of the Cross, where the Sign
appears to be more akin to a man strumming an instrument rapidly with no
The Sign of the Cross identifies us as Christians, and it wards off the
demons. In fact, in some lives of the saints, we see that when an "angel"
appeared to a monk, he would be naturally cautious and ask the "angel" to
make the Sign of the Cross. At this moment, in many cases, the "angel" would
reveal its true nature, that of a demon, and flee. Demons cannot make the
Sign of the Cross, because of the power of Jesus Christ that the Sign
communicates. In fact, we know that in the last times, some men will take
the Sign of the Beast, or the Devil, instead of the Sign of Christ, upon
themselves: ".that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or
the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:17). We
perhaps should not understand this mark to be literal in a physical sense,
but a figurative mark or sign that mimics in opposition the Cross of Christ
that Christians have made since the beginning of the Church. At the same
time, there is a spiritual reality that many of us cannot see because of our
sinfulness, such that the Sign we make with our hand may make a spiritual
impression that is visible to God and the Angels.
As a visible sign to other humans, making the Sign of the Cross marks us as
Christians. It is a mini- "confession of faith." We should never be ashamed
to make the Sign of the Cross in front of other people who are not
Christians (while of course keeping humility in mind). The Sign of the Cross
is seen by the patristic quotes above to be something that dates back to the
beginning of the Church, and should be performed by all Christians. Finally,
in the lives of the Saints, we see the power of the Cross. Many more
examples from the saints' lives could be elicited if there were space in
this column to include them. I encourage you all to do some research on the
Let us make the Sign of the Cross our own; let it adorn us in everything we
do. May it lead us to greater repentance, and to focus our lives even more
on Our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Written By: B.J.Mathews on Jan 11th, 2011
Metropolitan of Kochi Diocese Dr. Yakob Mar Irenaeus inaugurated the meeting. Fr. Geevarghese Kochuparambil Ramban delivered the keynote address. Fr. P.I. Varghese, Fr. Sunil Jacob, and Fr. Simon Joseph spoke on the occasion.
Special Holy Qurbana and prayers were conducted earlier to mark the remembrance of those fathers, who pledged 358 years back holding on to the rope tied upon the stone cross as a symbol of their renunciation of foreign dominance in faith.
The procession with 358 lighted candles donned a new experience of history to the faithful.
Fr. Geevarghese Thomas Panickasseril welcomed the gathering. Number of faithful from all neighboring parishes participated in the event.
According to Ethiopian Orthodoxy, after the ascension of Jesus, the
cross on which he was crucified began performing extraordinary
miracles. This raised the ire of the people who crucified Jesus, who
then ordered the cross to be removed and buried in the outskirts of
town. Residents living in the surrounding areas were commanded to dump
their garbage on the site, and for the next three centuries the area
turned into wasteland.
Three hundred years later, in the early fourth century, the Roman
Empire was being ruled by Constantine the Great. His mother, St.
Elleni (Helena), concerned about the plight of Christians, beseeched
her son to allow the free practice of Christendom in her son's empire.
The Emperor consented, and St. Elleni traveled from Constantinople to
Jerusalem to look for the buried Cross. Once in Jerusalem, however, no
one could tell her the exact spot where it lay. It is said that she
went into seclusion and prayed for God's guidance.
As a result of her prayer, St. Michael the Archangel appeared unto her
and gave her certain instructions. She ordered her soldiers and the
local residents to gather a pile of firewood. After a prayer, a fire
was set ablaze the wood. Clergymen doused incense on the flame and the
smoke of the incense rose up towards the sky then arched down to the
earth, pointing out the exact spot where the Holy Cross was buried.
Following this miraculous sign, digging began and commenced for six
months until the True Cross was discovered.
This has been the premise of the celebration of "Mesqel" in the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Since then, clergy and parishioners have
dressed in traditional, colorful clothing to sing ancient hymnals
dating back to the sixth century. A bonfire is lit up to memorialize
the finding of the True Cross.
In Eastern Orthodox practice, the pectoral cross is worn by all bishops but not necessarily by all priests. In the Greek tradition, the pectoral cross is only given to specific priests for faithful service; in the Russian tradition, the silver cross is worn by all priests. Whenever the cross is put on, the wearer first uses it to made the Sign of the Cross on himself and then kisses it and puts it on.
The priest's cross depicts the crucified Christ, whether in painted form as an icon, or in relief. However, the Orthodox crucifix differs from the Western type by the fact that the soma (body of Christ) is not in full three-dimensional form, but in no more than three-quarter relief. It also bears the inscription INBI (the titulus that Pontius Pilate placed above the head of Jesus at the crucifixion) and the letters IC XC NIKA around the four arms of the cross. Orthodox pectoral crosses are almost always on chains of either silver or gold, sometimes with intricately worked links. Priest's crosses will often have an icon of Christ "Made Without Has" at the top. This is the icon before which Orthodox Christians usually confess their sins. In Russian practice, the back of a priest's cross is usually inscribed with St. Paul's words to St. Timothy: "Be an example to the believers in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12).
Orthodox pectoral crosses are awarded in several degrees (particularly in the Russian tradition):
When vesting before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the pectoral cross is presented to the bishop who will bless the pectoral, cross himself with it, kiss the cross and put it on. Meanwhile the Protodeacon, swinging the censer says the following prayer:
He who would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24, etc.); always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
A priest may be granted the right to wear a second pectoral cross.
A priest who has been given the pectoral cross will typically wear it at all times, whether vested or not.
In Russian practice, a nun who is not an abbess may also be granted the privilege of wearing a pectoral cross, as an honorary award (however, this award is not granted to monks who are not priests).
By David Luhrssen
(Milwaukee, Wis.) The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity, but as Roberta Ervine pointed out in her talk at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church of Milwaukee, the word has a particular richness in Armenian. In her March 14, 2010, presentation, “Only in Armenian: St. Gregory of Nareg’s Vision of the Cross,” the Armenian studies professor at St. Nersess Seminary began by contrasting the often negative associations of the English word cross with the richer meanings of the Armenian khach and its synonyms. In English, cross is a torture device, a cross to bear, especially if one is at cross-purposes. In Armenian, the word takes on associations with living and positive things such as Khachen Genarar (Life giving Cross) Pergoutyan Khach (Saving Cross), with trees and with staffs to support our burden.
Ervine focused on the 11th century mystic whose prayers and poems offer a vivid spiritual vision. St. Gregory of Nareg was in ill health and had reason to be resentful over the poor treatment of his father, a bishop driven into exile. And yet, as Ervine stressed, Gregory was able to love a church that was sometimes led by hateful men.
In St. Gregory’s writings, the cross took on many positive connotations. He visualized it as a knife’s edge freeing us from the bonds of oppression. He noticed that the unique configuration of the Armenian cross radiated like the rays of the sun to light our consciousness. The cross represented sacrifice in the form taken by altars in Armenian churches, where a horizontal plane meets a vertical support. For St. Gregory the cross was also like a wine press, transmuting grapes under steady pressure into wine. The wild horses that roamed near his monastery on the shore of Lake Van reminded him that their wildness could be tamed by a bridal, much as the cross can train human nature if Christ holds the reins to guide us. The cross symbolizes the key to our inner nature and the kingdom of heaven.
Illustrating her talk with visuals of Armenian religious art, Ervine summarized St. Gregory of Nareg’s views by saying that the cross for him was not an instrument of death, holding the dead body of the Son of God, but the Tree of Life, and is often represented in Armenian iconography as a living thing bearing branches and grape vines. The writings of St. Gregory, she concluded, are an invitation to see the deeper meaning of the cross in our world.