Homily: the Cross and the Sun

The Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross

The Cross: A marketer’s nightmare

On the morning of the feast (Friday morning), I challenged you to think and pray on the implications of having the Cross as our standard.  It isn’t the kind of thing that a marketing team would come up with.  After all, who would market their product by saying; “try this – it will cause a lot of pain!”  Marketers would have chosen the wonderful image of the Sun: it gives warmth, allows things to grow, and makes it so that we can see things as they really are.  Plus, in English at least, it is a homophone for “the Son”, so putting the “Sun of Righteousness” on our shields and chests could still be a witness of our reverence for Christ our King and God.

The Sun of Righteousness

People love the sun.  I loved it before I moved to New England, but I love it even more now.  A sunrise after a long and difficult night gives new hope; a warm sun after a trying winter brings new life to tired bones.  Another tie-in that would make this a shoe-in for the marketing team is that we orient our churches to the East so that we can await the coming of the Messiah – again, the “Sun of Righteousness”.  The sun is such a huge part of our human subconscious and resonates with our Christian theology – surely it would be a better advertisement of the healing and resurrection power of the Church than a cross!

The cross is the opposite of the sun.  The sun builds up life, the cross destroys it.  The sun gives comfort and warmth, the cross brings pain.  Everyone recognizes the value of the sun; the only ones who value the cross are tyrants and psychopaths – and they certainly don’t want it for themselves.

The Logic of the Cross of Christ

So why the cross?  I have told you before that when the Orthodox Church reveals something to me that doesn’t make sense, I rejoice because it means I am about to learn something new and grow as a Christian.

[Leave aside the fact that non-human representations of Christ are problematic, e.g. the 82nd Canon of the Council of Trullo…]

The Sun might have been the perfect emblem for us if we had not broken our covenant with God in the Garden of Eden.  Just as plants in the well-tended garden mature upwards towards the rays of the Sun, we were made to grow naturally towards the goodness emanating from the Christ.  Take a look sometime at Michael Kapeluk’s iconography from Genesis, chapter one.  There is a series of his work in the chapel of St. Thomas at All Saints Camp.  It provides a literal depiction of Christ in human form bringing all the forms of creation into being (we recite this truth in the Creed every day; Christ is the one “through whom all things were made”).  Had we not chosen to grow according to our own [increasingly warped] will instead, we would have grown toward Christ from blameless simplicity into perfection, moving from blessing to blessing for all eternity.  So, to reiterate, the sun might have been a useful image for Christian theosis had we never fallen.

This idea [of the Sun as our banner] is still attractive to us now because we want to pretend that the love God has for us is strong enough to grow us into joyful perfection all on its own.  We want to pretend as if we have no flaws that access to better sun and soil could not overcome.  The problem is, to continue the agricultural metaphor in the same way Jesus did, that our roots are ruined.  They can grow nothing but nettles and weeds.  Without correcting the fatal flaws inherent within us, better soil and sunlight will only make for a bigger patch of poison ivy – it cannot turn that ivy into grape vines or roses.  And that result [of bigger weeds] is only for the short term – Christ tells us what will happen to such weeds in the long term: they will be thrown into the fire (St. Metthew 13:30).  The Sun of Righteousness is a dead-end for weeds!  Our roots must be removed and our branches grafted to the True Vine in order for rays and heat of the Sun of Righteousness to bring us everlasting growth and goodness.  Pruning is painful.  Grafting takes effort.  No one wants to do it, but the untended garden is a curse to your yard.  No one wants to do the work, but we know we have to.

Why We Love the Cross

The Cross is the work of salvation.  Putting to death the old man so that the new one can live in Christ – this is how we are transformed into perfection.  Yes, it will be painful.  Excising sin and unhealthy habits is not a lot of fun.  But it has to be done.  It’s not a lot of fun to be patient and loving in the face of hatred and stupidity, but that is the path of transformation.  We crucify our own sins, nailing them to the cross so that we can be forgiven and learn to live without them; but we are also crucified by a world that quickly turns against those who truly live in Christ and have Him living in them.  

If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.  Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; (John 15:18-20a)

If you desire salvation, if you desire joy, if you desire to do good, then take up the cross and follow Christ.  Being a Christian is not easy – we are sinful and so is the world we live in – but is the only right and rational thing to do.  If we are comfortable as Christians then we aren’t really trying.  The Cross is not comfortable, but it is our sign and symbol because it is the only path to victory.


All of you know pain.  All of you are tortured by crosses.  I have known you long enough to know the pain this world causes you.  The crosses are real.  The pain they cause is real.  There is no end to the number of crosses in this world, but there is only one that saves, and that is the Cross of Christ.  You cannot chose what this world does to you, you cannot avoid the pain this world inflicts on you – but if you allow that cross to be the Cross of Christ, your pain will transform you into an invincible warrior and a holy saint.  All other crosses lead inexorably to death, but the Cross of Christ is the way of eternal peace and perfection.