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Prayer for the week

by
14 June 2013

Patrick Irwin reflects on the holy sign

Perpetual banner: the Cross of Caravaca, lent by the Embassy of Spanish in Bulgaria to an exhibition of crosses in Sofia

Perpetual banner: the Cross of Caravaca, lent by the Embassy of Spanish in Bulgaria to an exhibition of crosses in Sofia

Sanctify, O Lord, this sign of thy passion, and make it a hindrance to thy enemies and a perpetual banner for those who trust in thee. May the splendour of the divinity of thy only-begotten Son gleam in its gold, the glory of his passion in its wood; may the redemption of our death glow in blood, the purification of our life in splendour.

Prayer for the consecration of a cross, Lanalet Pontifical (tenth century)

THE cross is the Christian symbol par excellence. It is, indeed, a per-petual banner for those who trust in God. Ever since AD 312, when the Roman Emperor Constantine saw the cross in the sky, accompanied by the words "In this sign conquer", the cross has served as an encouragement to armies and nations.

Yet the cross also has a more personal meaning. We are marked with it at our baptism, and it accompanies us through our earthly life. It stands as a vivid reminder of the love of God revealed to us in the death of his Son, and in the salvation won for us by Jesus's death.

Some Christians cherish crucifixes adorned with the body of Christ as a reminder of his suffering, and others prefer empty crosses from which the risen Christ has departed, but all agree on the centrality of the symbol for our faith.

An exhibition in Bulgaria re- cently paid eloquent tribute to the variety of crosses that Christians have made. In preparation for this exhibition, the Spanish ambassador in Sofia kindly arranged for the splendid cross of Caravaca to be brought from Spain. This is a double cross, of the same style as the national symbol of Slovakia, which also featured in the exhibition.

The cross of Caravaca was on the Spanish ambassador's desk when the new Slovak ambassador came to call. The latter presented his visiting card, embossed with the Slovak cross, as he looked at the Spanish cross on the ambassador's desk. Both of them looked at the other's cross, and exclaimed at the same moment: "That's my cross!"

If only we Christians were always as quick to recognise our faith in the practice of our neighbour; for the cross is, indeed, the symbol of our faith. It is a possession common to all Christians, and a perpetual banner for those who trust in God. But our forms of devotion and decoration are less important than the faith we share - that Christ died on the cross for our salvation.

This ancient prayer reminds us both of the power of this symbol of salvation, and also that craftsmen use their skill in decorating crosses in God's service. As with music, so it is with art. Beauty in either idiom can stimulate our spiritual life, as well as refresh our senses.

As we look prayerfully at a cross, we may see in its gold the splendour of Christ's divinity, the wonderful news that God has sent his Son into our world. In its wood, we may see the glory of his Passion, the paradoxical triumph of Christ's death for us on an instrument of torture.

The style of portraying crosses varies through time. Yet every cross bears witness to the salvation won by Christ for us, and so we may always say, with humble recognition: "That's my Cross!"

The Revd Patrick Irwin was until recently Anglican Chaplain in Bucharest and Sofia.

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