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Modern cross processions have their genesis in OT-period liturgy

by Peter Benyola
This scene is a detail of the fresco cycle in the Room of the Ark. Billowing clouds of aromatic incense surround the Ark of the Covenant, which is being carried in a solemn procession into the city of Jerusalem. The high priest of the Temple leads the pageant with the tabernacle containing the sacred Tablets of the Law. Painting by Luigi Ademollo in 1816, located in the Galleria Palatina of Palazza Pitti, in Florence, Italy.

This scene is a detail of the fresco cycle in the Room of the Ark. Billowing clouds of aromatic incense surround the Ark of the Covenant, which is being carried in a solemn procession into the city of Jerusalem. The high priest of the Temple leads the pageant with the tabernacle containing the sacred Tablets of the Law. Painting by Luigi Ademollo in 1816, located in the Galleria Palatina of Palazza Pitti, in Florence, Italy.

 

Several months ago, one of my relatives visited the church where I am a member, St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. This person later said although the service was enjoyable, some aspects of its liturgy — especially the cross procession, in which the cross is carried followed by the choir and clergy from the back of the sanctuary to the chancel at the beginning of the worship service — were too reminiscent of Roman Catholicism and reduced the practice to “ritualism.” I then did some cursory research of the subject and found that this practice is grounded in Scripture.

I am publishing my apologetic response that was given via email to my relative here for the benefit of anyone who sees a cross procession in an orthodox Christian church to be extraneous or overly traditional.

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I’d like to answer in more detail your question about why we have a cross procession at St. Andrew’s. Obviously, this practice is most familiar in the Roman Catholic communion, but as its origin is found in both the Old and New Testaments, it is inaccurate to say that it is an exclusively Roman Catholic practice and is mere ritualism, or worse, idolatry. Kissing and bowing to the brass cross, as sometimes happens in Roman Catholic mass, would be crass idolatry.

image: Michigan Stained Glass Census

image: Michigan Stained Glass Census

“The cross is the fundamental symbol in Christianity representing the whole meaning of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, life and ministry, and incarnation and coming in glory. While there are many forms of the cross, one of the most common forms is the resurrection, or empty, cross — called the Latin cross. The letters ‘IHS’ at the center of the cross are the first three letters of ‘Jesus’ in Greek … The person who carries the processional cross is called a ‘crucifer.’ During the Service of the Lord’s Day, one of our young people carries the cross leading the procession reminding us that Christ carried the cross to Golgotha, the place of the skull, as a self offering for us. As the benediction is offered at the conclusion of our worship, the processional cross recesses reminding us of our mission to carry Christ into all the world.” (Source: First Presbyterian Church, Reidsville, NC)

The procession accompanying Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem prefigures and inspires the processions of yesterday and today that the Christian church undertakes as part of its worship throughout the world. Two reports of the same event:

(Matthew 21:9) “The crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!'”

(Mark 11:9) “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

(As an aside, the New Living Translation, in both these verses, renders this event as a “procession.”)

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