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    Saturday, April 15, 2006

    The Image of the Cross

    “I grew up in a Christian tradition that rarely if ever displayed the crucifix. In fact, I can remember a time when I had been given a crucifix and later I was asked why would I want such a thing since ‘Jesus didn’t stay on the cross.’“

    Twenty years later, I’ve gotten past that comment and am able to say that I love the crucifix,” Strom said. “For the Evangelical Covenant Church and ‘The Well,’ it is a both/and proposition and it is with great anticipation that we walk through this holy week with both the crucifix and the cross as symbols of God’s great love for the world.”


    For about a month each year, the beautiful tapestry of the resurrected Christ that usually hangs behind the altar at St. Mary’s Catholic Church temporarily disappears so church members can reflect instead on a painting of Jesus nailed to the cross, a crown of thorns pressed into his forehead.

    The stark display of Jesus’ agony mounted high above the platform reminds people of the price of salvation, the Rev. John Henderson said of the Lenten tradition at St. Mary’s, where he serves as pastor.“

    We need to realize what Easter’s all about,” he said. “It’s too easy to focus on the glory of the Resurrection and to say he rose from the dead, without seeing the pain and agony of Jesus dying for our sins.”

    Henderson explained that the Roman Catholic Church’s commitment to the crucifix flows out of the desire to experience, at least emotionally, the ordeal Jesus went through.

    “We see the body of Christ that suffered and died for us,” he said.

    He thinks a lot of people simply don’t understand Catholic traditions. They may see an emphasis on what Jesus went through on the cross and think that Catholics still see Jesus there, he said. “But that’s not true.”

    Catholics appreciate the traditional crucifix as a symbol of God’s sacrificial love for mankind. Orthodox Christians prefer a cross upon which Jesus has already died and is no longer suffering, and most mainline and evangelical churches emphasize the empty cross as a symbol of Jesus’ power over death.

    Father James Baglien, the priest at St. Martin’s Orthodox Church, explained the differences between the Orthodox view of the cross and other groups is consistent with their approach to religious imagery in general.

    Catholics focus on the suffering of Jesus, but Orthodox iconography is traditionally dispassionate by intent, he said. Protestants’ tendency is to avoid imagery, especially when it could become the subject of veneration, he continued. “To them the cross is more of a symbol than reality depicted.”

    The primary difference between an Orthodox crucifix and traditional ones is that Jesus is already dead, Baglien said.“

    It is a sober depiction but at the same time it’s not tragic — it shows a serenity Christ has in having completed his redemptive work.”

    The emphasis of the Orthodox tradition is not on the passion of Jesus suffering but on the finished sacrifice, he added. “In Orthodox thinking, this is the ultimate act of love.”


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