The Leavetaking of the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross is tomorrow, Sunday September 21. On this solemn occasion it is essential to revisit Islam's vehement and violent stance against Christianity.
The Universal Exaltation of the Cross, and its Scandal for the World
by Fr. Steven C. Kostoff — Orthodox Christian Meditations
September 13, 2014
As we behold the Wood of the Cross exalted on high, let us magnify God who in His goodness was crucified upon it in the flesh. (Small Vespers of the Feast)
We are approaching the Feast Day of The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross - to give the Feast its full title – this coming Sunday, September 14. This is the day that we liturgically commemorate and venerate the Cross that will be placed in the middle of the church toward the end of Great Vespers on Saturday evening. The Feast will then have a full "octave" for its celebration – thus making it an eight-day Feast which serves to stress the importance of the Cross in the life of the Church and in our personal lives. To further turn our attention toward the Cross, we recall the Third Sunday of Great Lent - the Adoration of the Cross; and the less well-observed Feast of the Procession of the Cross on August 1. And, importantly, every Wednesday and Friday is a day of commemorating the Cross, one of the reasons that we fast on those two days on a weekly basis.
Prominent though that the Cross may be for Christians, it is the Apostle Paul who very succinctly and profoundly captured the unbelieving world's attitude toward the Cross in his well-known text:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (I COR. 1:23-24)
This leads the Apostle to one of his most astonishing and paradoxical insights:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (I COR. 1:26)
The "scandal" for the unbelieving Jew would be the claim that the Messiah was crucified. The "folly" for the Greek/Gentile would be the claim that the divine would even enter the realm of flesh and blood and "become" human, let alone suffer death on a cross. Yet God, in and through Christ, transformed what is shameful, weak, lowly and despised - a crucified man - into "our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (I COR. 1:30) The entire passage of I COR. 1:18-31 deserves careful, close and constant study.
It remains fascinating, and highly instructive, that even non-Christians who profess to have a great respect for Jesus Christ, struggle terribly with the scandal of the Cross. This is clearly the case with Islam. Jesus is treated with great respect in many passages in the Qur'an: even to the point of acknowledging His virginal conception in a passage that clearly resembles the Annunciation form the Gospel According to St. Luke! (Qur'an, 3:45-47) However, the Crucifixion is treated in a way that bears no resemblance to the Gospel accounts:
"yet they did not slay him, neither crucify him, only a likeness of that was shown to them." (Qur'an 4:156-159)
The Muslims believe that someone else - a figure unidentified by the Qur'an - was crucified in the place of Christ, but not Jesus Himself. The Muslim scholar Dr. Maneh Al-Johani wrote: "The Qur'an does not elaborate on this point, nor does it give any answer to this question."
Clearly, the "scandal" of the Cross is too much for Muslim sensibilities, since Jesus is for them a great prophet sent by God. Muslims further believe that Jesus was raised to Heaven, yet before He died, clearly an odd teaching that again is meant to completely distance Jesus from His crucifixion. If there is anything that is agreed upon today among New Testament scholars - believers and skeptics alike - it is that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by crucifixion by orders of Pontius Pilate in the early 30's of the Christian era. This lends a certain fantastic quality to these claims of the Qur'an.