The Holy Cross has particular significance for the Church. An instrument of death, it has become the instrument of salvation. St. Basil the Great identifies the ‘sign of the Son of man’ mentioned by Christ in connection with His Second Coming (Matt 24:30) with the arms of the Cross pointing towards the four ends of the universe. The Cross is a symbol of Christ Himself and is infused with miraculous power. The Orthodox Church believes that Christ’s energy is present in the Cross. Therefore Christians not only make crosses and place them on the same level as icons in churches; they also wear crosses on their chests, make the sign of the Cross over themselves and bless each other with the sign of the Cross. They even address the Cross as something capable of hearing them: ‘Rejoice, life-bearing Cross’, ‘O most honorable and life-creating Cross of the Lord’.
The Church knows about the miraculous, salvific and healing power of the Cross and of the sign of the Cross from her centuries-old experience. The Cross protects a person traveling, working, sleeping, praying. Indeed in all places, through the sign of the Cross, Christ’s blessing comes down upon every good deed which we undertake: ‘The Cross is the protector of the whole world, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the power of kings, the Cross is the foundation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of the angels and the sore of the demons’, sings the Church at festivals of the Cross.
The teaching on the Holy Cross as a symbol of divine dispensation and as an object of religious veneration is expounded by St. Isaac the Syrian in one of his newly-discovered works. According to St. Isaac, the power in the Cross does not differ from that through which the worlds came into being and which governs the whole creation in accordance with the will of God. In the Cross, the very same power lives that lived in the Ark of the Covenant, itself surrounded by fearful veneration on the part of the people of Israel. The Ark was venerated, he answers, because in it the invisible Shekhina (Presence) of God dwelt. The very same Shekhina is now residing in the Cross: it has departed from the Old Testament Ark and entered the New Testament Cross.
The material Cross, whose type was the Ark of the Covenant, is, in turn, the type of the eschatological Kingdom of Christ, states St. Isaac. The Cross, as it were, links the Old Testament with the New, and the New Testament with the age to come, where all material symbols and types will be abolished.