- Indian Orthodox Herald – Breaking Catholicate, Malankara, Indian Orthodox Church News And Doctrinal Information - http://www.orthodoxherald.com -

Look, The Cross Is Empty!

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 the death of Christ and when one comes out of water, that person takes part in the resurrection of the Lord (cf. Rom 6:2-6) Therefore, a baptized has put on the Risen Christ! (cf. Col 2:12) In short, the risen Lord is an actuality in the life of a Christian every day. That is also an added reasoning to say that every Sunday is Easter!

St. Paul often used to prove it argumentatively even to his hearers that the Lord Jesus suffered, died and resurrected from among the dead according to the scriptures. (cf. Acts 17: 2ff) He was convinced that the Messiah, who he was preaching was the very same the prophets and the fathers of ancient times have figuratively narrated. This kind of a conviction is that we need to have today that the Lord, whom we confess as risen is truly God become human, who died and risen from among the dead. We might see it time and again in Pauline writings like Rom 1:4; 6:5; 8:34; I Cor 15:13-20; Phil 3:10; and so also in the Petrine writings, I Pet 1:3; 3:21 etc.

In the ancient Orthodox understanding, a crucifix was not very commonly depicted, unless it is describing the very act of death of our Lord. The Orthodox theology understood that death of the Lord culminated at the resurrection. It is the resurrection that donned eternal life to the humans, who were bonded to death and therefore, the Risen Lord is depicted more often than the crucified Lord even in Orthodox iconography too. It is the Catholic theology that highlights the crucifix and crucified Jesus. Although many Orthodox Churches have tended to the crucified Lord now days, one Orthodox Church has yet to succumb to the idea of Crucifix, which is the Malankara Orthodox Church. How do we describe the Risen Lord by not depicting any shape of a human? Answer to this very question is the empty cross, which we have all around in our Churches. Yes, the empty cross is depicting the Risen Lord. The women, Simon Peter and the ‘other disciple’, who went in into the cave, where Jesus was buried witnessed the empty cave. This empty cave and the empty cross have similar ideas to tell to the Christians, says the Orthodox theology, namely, the Lord is risen! Some years earlier, the prayer books of our Church had a pictographic narration, where two angels were bowing down in front of an empty cross. When years passed, this pictographic narration gave way to the cross of Mani, which scholars opined as something depicting the ancient Indian Christian heritage. What ever it is, the empty cross, which the angels venerate, was depicting the Risen Lord. We need to re-discover this understanding too, it seems.