Look, The Cross Is Empty!

Written By: on Apr 3rd, 2010 and filed under Articles, Features, We Believe.


In the Quolo of vespers for the Saturday of Holy Week after the Sedro, it is described the shout of David: “Death entered into sheol carrying the body of Messiah, who had succumbed to death. Seeing Him from far away, David shouted; “Doors, lift up your heads, Gates of ancient times, be lifted up. May the King of glory enter”. As an antiphon to this shout, the sheol asked; “Who is the King of glory?” (cf. Ps 24:1ff)

Why did the King of glory enter into sheol? What did He do there? Fathers answered this question with a lot of interest and fervor. The Holy Spirit inspired by the fathers to cry aloud time and again that the King of glory plundered the sheol and emptied it to win souls that were therein from Adam onwards. What was the visible reasoning behind this thought? The fathers looked into the Gospels to read that at the moment Jesus breathed His last, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Mt 27: 51-53) Unless the sheol was plundered this would not have happened, the fathers concluded. Therefore, ‘this was the day that the Lord had made’ (Ps 118:24) for them. This was the new daylight that removed the old darkness. This was the new dawn, which trampled and killed the killer of Adam, namely, the death. This day has given hope and salvation to many and this light has untied and freed the bonded humans to death. This was the day on which the Gospel of life was preached in the tombs and therefore, let us rejoice and be glad on this day! This is the very understanding we get from the Sedro of Kyomtho, Easter, for the vespers.

The prayer for Easter-eve heralds a very similar concept, namely, ‘Today, we say along with the Apostle, who spoke divine things; “We were dead yesterday along with Him, but today we are alive with Him. We were buried yesterday along with Him, but today we are raised along with Him (cf. Col 3:1). The God, who died in flesh, is what we need. We died and buried with Him to resurrect with Him. Therefore, Father, grand us the glory too with Him on the day of judgment’”. This is the understanding of baptism too, for St. Paul proclaims that when one goes down into the water at baptism, that person takes part in

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9 Responses for “Look, The Cross Is Empty!”

  1. Seraphim says:

    By descending (in Ephesians 4:9) to the very depths of hades where Adam lay in waiting, the Father has filled the entire universe with the fullsome praises of the Son.

  2. Suraj Iype says:

    I agree substantially with you. Yes religious art as in the very early examples at Dura Europos and the excavated Jewish synagogue might have existed in all Christian churches. Also iconoclastic tendencies seem to have existed in all churches. It is only late that it solidified into what we see today.

    As I said , I would like to read Tuele’s work. Which year was the Old Pampakuda published ? Do you have a copy with you? You should think of digitizing it and putting it up (if copyrights are not an issue)

    Have you compared the Pampakuda with the Shehimos coming from the Mosul region ( from the monastery of Mar Matta). The Syrian Catholics were strongest in the town of Mosul and near abouts. Ok it is only my opinion, but it seems that the Syrian Catholic 1853 book should have a connection with the texts from the Syrian Orthodox Church. I seriously doubt somebody at Sharfeh created a new work and had it printed.

    The multiplicity of Syrian Orthodox orders (prior to the uniformity created by Afrem Barsoum) is a very interesting aspect in all this

  3. Suraj Iype says:

    The work of Teule may be interesting ( I refer to a article by my friend N Mathai ), but I would rather wait to make conclusions. A substantial amount of data has to be generated to make a distinctive conclusion.

    The work may shed new light, but does it make a killer argument. I wager not. Perhaps you need to appreciate that you are not the only scientifically inclined person , interested in such things :). I am moving from the centre of iconography in Imperial Constantinople towards the borders of the Christian world. The more one moves from the Centre, in Rome in Alexandrian in Tur Abdin, in Armenia and across the Persian border in Nisibis and farther into Iran; we see Iconographic forms becoming more basic and more rudimentary.

    To think that a Persian Church torn from the rest of the Christian world by the Nestorian schism would have a very basic if non-existent understanding of iconography seems reasonable in my book. You may find it a worthless opinion, but I think plenty of people will tend to agree. The very fact that all of he grand evidence of the lost tradition of the veneration of images in the last 2000 years can be condensed into the slim profile of Prof Teule’s book is an argument in itself.

    As long as the Church of the East knows the difference between the veneration of images and idolatry; even if it abstains totally from the use of images I don’t see anything unworthy. I would be interested to read Tuele’s book .

    Which Syrian Orthodox versions of the Shehimto did you compare the Old Pampakuda with?

  4. Suraj Iype says:

    Reg what I said about the english translation of Fr Griffith
    http://syrcom.cua.edu/Hugoye/Vol11No2/HV11N2PRKilroy.html

  5. Suraj Iype says:

    I think you are mistaken on some points.

    The Risen Christ speeches do not flow from a Protestant influence. Does greeting each other with a Christ is Risen! , imply neo-Protestant influence then.

    Frankly in my opinion, the use of the crucifix and having devotions like the stations of the Cross (at the same time having very little emphasis on the risen Christ ) often seems to indicate a lack of balance in popular RC devotions and praxis( I am not saying RC theology is imbalanced; they do have a way of paying lip service to the right things). Ex: see how the stigmata and signs of participation in the Passion is popularly seen as a sign of sanctity.

    By contrast both West Syrian and Byzantine traditions ( and the broader Orthodox tradition) seem to be more balanced in this regard. The emphasis on a empty cross is basically Orthodox, I think it is much more theologically correct to have a bare cross on the altar than to have a crucifix.
    Just because the protestants too like to have a bare cross does not make us protestant influenced. That said particularly in India, we need to be more aware that in the West Syrian traditions icons of Christ on the cross have been depicted, so such a depiction is not inherently heterodox.

    And I dont think Fr Jacob Mathew has argued as such. Who argues that the crucifixion is not relevant for us? Who dares seperate the crucifixion from Qyamtha? When we glorify the bare cross, are we mocking the crucifixion?

    The primary synaxis of the laos is to celebrate the Eucharist, and the eucharist is primarily a celebration of Qyamtha, seen in this context using a bare cross( or even insisting on it) is definately not a Marthomite influence. Again as I said, it is a question of having a balanced position.

    The argument that iconography has been lost in the Church of the East due to various reasons is a very flimsy one. If iconography existed , some semblances of it would have survived, most notably in the paradosis of that Church.
    I am not inclined to take Chaldean sources unless they have critically looked at. You see Roman Cholij type defenses of clerical celibacy to understand that Uniate theologians try to shore up their positions often. Iconography reached its highest point in the Byzantine church after the struggle againt iconoclasm. In all non-Byzantine churches( Latin, Syrian and Alexandrian) , iconography exists only in much more rudimentary form. Particulary in the Coptic and West Syrian tradition, the influences of the Imperial church needs to be looked at.
    As such to argue that the East Syrians did not develop an iconographical tradition beyond what is seen at Dura Europos or those at Jewish synagoges at that period does seem reasonable.

    You are right, the Pampakud Fenqitho does not have Sedre, but please look up both the Crown of the Year and the Harp of the Spirit, Fr Bede does explain his reasons for depending on the Mosul version. I will supply the source, if I find it.

    Which version is the Syrian Catholic 1853 Shehimto based on? I dont think the pampakuda Malpans directly translated the book from the 1853 version . This is not to say that they may not be similar. Probably they are both based on the same base version.
    The Romans examined the base texts, made some corrections and printed them. Unless there were things which seemed to the Romans to be Christologically problematic, few corrections would have hapenned.

  6. John Mathew says:

    Suraj,

    I was referring to the Pampakuda Shehimo, not the Fenqito. It’s a version of the 1853 Syriac Catholic one published in Rome, as far as I can see.

    Regarding your comment on the Pampakuda Fenqito and the reasons Fr. Francis abandoned it, I don’t think it was due to the “quality” of the sedre in the Pampakuda Fenqito. Why? The P.F. doesn’t have any sedre — it’s purely the Qule, Madroshe, etc.

    In the orthodox tradition the Sedre are absent from the Fenquito, rather, they appear in another text, the Ktobo d-Husoye, which is separate from the Fenquito.
    The Mosul edition integrated the two together, but that is not the orthodox practice (although it’s very convenient!).

    Also, you wrote: “the East Syrian tradtion is totally abstained from iconography and instead venerated the bare cross”

    This is not strictly correct. It is misleading to look at the Church of the East in its present, degraded, decimated form, and extrapolate it’s historic practice from this. There are references in the literature from the “golden age” of the East Syriac Church to indicate that icon veneration was a part of that Church’s tradition. To what extent, I don’t know — but icons did exist in that Church. The Chaldeans have done some research into this, and more recently, a European scholar (unaffiliated with the East Syriacs) has done some research on this as well.

    Personally, I strongly believe in the Byzantine tradition of using the crucifix. We already know that Christ is God, hence, the Risen Christ is to be expected. What is completely unexpected is God’s incarnation as man, his willingness to submit to humiliations as man, and his willingness to submit to execution as man. Hence, a crucifix very strongly reinforces this, what I believe is a key principle in Christianity exposes God’s love for humanity. God’s trampling of death, by death. It’s very “heavy”, in my opinion.

    Similar sentiments are expressed continuously throughout the Old Testament as well. And if one pics up the Shehimo and studies it, one will be inundated by references to the crucifixion and what that means for us.

    I can’t help but suspect that all of the “Risen Christ” speeches we get from our clerics is actually a vestige of protestant influence (not that the Risen Christ is a protestant concept; just the relative emphasis). And the anti-crucifix sentiment is a vestige of the anti-catholic bias our Church has strangely fostered — to the extent that the masses of orthodox faithful seem more strongly attached to the protestant/marthomite heretics, as opposed to their brothers, the catholics.

  7. John Mathew says:

    Dear Father,

    I appreciate your response, despite the harshness of my tone. Please forgive the latter.

    Regarding the Pahlavi Cross — yes, it is most likely that the cross came from the East Syriac Church. So, if this is the case, we should be calling it: a) an East Syriac cross, b) a Persian cross (due to the language), c) a Pahlavi Cross, or d) a Nestorian cross.

    But certainly *not* a Manichaean cross or a cross of Mani — absolutely *not*.

    And (d) is unsatisfactory as well because the Pahlavi doesn’t seem to have any ounce of Christology expressed in it.

    Now finally, regarding whether there is any theology implicit in the cross. I don’t know. However, I can say this: although the Pahlavi Crosses are likely East Syriac, there are similar motifs that the West Syriac Jacobites use in the Middle East that do have a down descending downwards to the cross. I have the image stored on my computer and can provide it to you if you would like evidence.

    So, my point is:
    a) Yes, the cross likely comes from the East Syriac cross and from an era when that church became “Nestorian” (the 7th century)
    b) No, the cross does not confer any theological idea that is contrary to our West Syriac faith because even the West Syriacs have similar motifs.

    I don’t see how the Pahlavi Cross is anything other than a decorative cross. It does express any theology as far as I’m concerned

    But I’m no theologian — however, if there was anything overtly theological in the Cross I don’t see how:
    a) our fathers and those of the Jacobites in India consented to its continued use — it is prominently on display in at least two of our old Churches: Kadamattom and Valiyapally, if not others
    b) the Syriac Catholics (Syro-Malabar) who are anti-Nestorian consented to the same
    c) the Chaldean Catholics fathers, who “ruled” our Church at times during the 16th century, consented (as they were also anti-Nestorian).

    I understand the contention between the three theological position: that of the East Syriacs, that of the Miaphysites, and that of the Chalcedonians.

    I personally don’t care too much about this because for the most part Christology is not expressed in most of our liturgical pieces. For example, I can use a Jacobite or a Maronite Shehimo with little concern as to whether there are improper theological opinions expressed in the latter — the Christological positions are expressed only very minutely in most of our liturgical pieces.

    For example, the Pampakuda Shehimo used in Malankara is none other than a copy of the Syriac Catholic Shehimo published by Rome in 1853 — does anyone question it’s use? No. Why? Because Christology doesn’t ooze out of most of the prayers of the Fathers. And similarly, the songs of John of Damascus — a Chalcedonian — are used by the Jacobites (the so-called “Greek canons”). Why? Same reason as above. And finally, if we look at the Shebitho — the book of monastic prayers of the West Syriac (Jacobite) Church — we’ll find a plethora of prayers by East Syriac writers. This is so because basically as the East Syriac Church waned in power, the West Syriacs took over many of their monasteries and incorporated the prayers of the previous occupants. Did they have any problem with this? Obviously not. Christologies differ, and there may even be violent objection between the various parties — but the prayers of the saintly fathers are still golden because they are attempting to reach God. And in that attempt, trivialities such as theological positions evaporate — they don’t get expressed because there are more vital things that the saints are concerned with, their spiritual ecstacy, etc.

    At the end of the day, good can even come from people with other Christological positions. And when these good fruits do not contain contaminating elements of these alternate Christologies, what’s the problem with using those fruits?

    A small note: we like to denigrate the Nestorians by objecting to their difficulty in calling Marth Mariam the Theotokos. Too much should not be made of this. They are no less than us in their devotion to Marth Mariam. The use of a lesser term (“Christotokos”) is not intended as disrespect. Calling someone by an honorary term is of no use if one does not truly honor them, and vice versa. For example, some Protestants use the term Mother of God — but they have very little honor for St Mary. Let’s not amplify mere words. The Nestorian terminology for Marth Mariam is not intended to disrespect, but rather it is consistent with their theological position. That’s all. When I open my Hudra or my Ktobo d-Qadom w-Bothar, I find no scarcity of honor given to St Mary.

    Finally: I’m very sorry if I was overly harsh, and if you believe I was attacking you personally. However, I think that when incorrect memes come up, they must be quashed strenuously. I want to see Orthodoxy survive, and for that a little bit of toughness is necessary to ensure that liberals do not overrun our Church. (I’m not saying you are liberal — I’m merely explaining why I take the extreme tone I do.)

  8. Dear Semmassan and Mr. John Mathew!

    Thanks a lot for the comments. It makes me happy that there are people, who read articles of theological flavor, with a critical mind.

    First of all, anyone, who underplays the cross and crucifixion be anathema. It was definitely not my intention to underplay the cross or the salvific sufferings on the Cross by one of the Trinity. However, these sufferings of the Son of God become human becomes complete only with resurrection on the third day. This is a fact that is lesser emphasized, when only the crucifixes are highlighted. Orthodox Church is a Church that gives a lot of importance to Kyomtho or resurrection of our Lord and we shall not lose that orientation. The ancient Syriac Church has this important highlight all through the season of Kyomtho. This was my intention. Hope, this elucidation makes sense to you. love!

    Mr. John Mathew: It seems that you are a learned person and your English is exemplary. Let me appreciate both these qualities.

    We need to go behind a bit more to find out, where from the Pahlavi Cross came. Didn’t it come from those heritages, that finds it difficult to acclaim St. Mary as Mother of God? Those traditions that has problems with the statements of Ephesus? St. Severus of Antioch says in the fifth Cathedral Homily that it is not wrong to accept a statement from heretics, if it is correct. For instance, one ousia and three hypostases, the great paradigm of Nicea was from the heretical streams condemned at the Council of Antioch by the middle of third century. However, he carries on to ask, if there are enough good grains, why do we look for barley? What ever be the heritage of this pahlavi cross in India, it has a dove descending upon it and if the theological education is sound enough, one can understand that it is not pointing to a hypostatic union to depict the incarnate Son, rather adoptionism or a union, which is external and moral. Being a person educated in Orthodox Theology as well as that of the Malankara Orthodox Church, I have problems with the way you uphold the above said cross without a deep scrutiny of the theology behind that motive. I will request you to read the book, ‘The Council of Chalcedon Re-examined’ by LL Revd. Prof. Dr. V.C. Samuel to understand more on what I take.

    Secondly, I will greatly appreciate, if you check your parlance when disagreeing with someone. We can be more respectful to each other, even when we disagree, can’t we? Let me open the bible, look for the 3rd chapter of the letter of St. James and read. Peace!

    Jacob Mathew Achen.

  9. Dn Geevargheese says:

    Dear Achen,

    It is an interesting article. However, I respectfully disagree with you in regards to the empty cross. I think Christ on the Cross and Christ off the Cross are equally important because you can not have one without the other. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15) is what we believe. Furthermore, St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians (2:2), mentions that he has decided to know nothing except “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant (52:13-53:12), also speaks of the suffering of Christ on the Cross.
    Though I studied at a Byzantine Seminary (St. Vladimir’s), I have no intention of incorporating Byzantine practices into our Church. Our Church is unique and has its own practices. However, I am ashamed to say that we use Protestant arguments against the Catholics and Catholic arguments against the Protestants. We are still discovering what our identity is. Christ on the Cross is not just Catholic theology, it is Christian theology. We have just associated the crucifix with the Catholics. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It is mere polemics. In fact, in the early Church, the Resurrection was never seen apart from the Crucifixion or vice-versa. We only need to look into our liturgical music for clarification. For example, in the shhimma, the Ekbo of Ramsho, “Akilandathe vahipone handtha vahichu kurishmaram” which is translated: He who bears the whole creation was borne by the wood of the Cross; the living one and the giver of life tasted death of his own will; he, whom the boundaries of the world cannot hold and the creation cannot contain rested in the tomb; the here of the world reclined among the dead. Further more, the alternative kolo(Meno) for Ramsho on Friday says: On Friday, the Church saw Christ on the height of Golgotha and bowed down and worshipped him, and she answered and said to him: glory to you, Lord, halleluia and halleluiah, who came and saved me. Thus, it is not against the teaching of the Church to worship or adore pictorial representations of Christ on the Cross.

    In Christ,
    Dn. Geevargheese Koshy, NY

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