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Today the Cross clothes us in the habit of life

· The canon of Cosmas of Maiouma ·

Christian hymnograpy, especially in the Syrian and Byzantine traditions sings of the Cross of Christ and presents it on every occasion as a place of victory over death. In the Byzantine rite Office of Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September is a canon composed by Cosmas of Maiouma (675-752) [also called Cosmas the Melodian]. Originally from Damascus and adopted by the family of John Damascene, he was educated with him; a monk at the monastery of San Saba and later Bishop of Maiouma, near Gaza, he is the author of liturgical compositions that have been incorporated into the Byzantine eucologion.

In Matins, the canon replaces the Old Testament biblical hymns and Cosmas comments on the Old Testament passages as prefigurations and prophesies of the Cross of Christ. Moses already prefigured the triumphant Cross: “Outlining a cross, Moses, with his vertical staff, divided the Red Sea for Israel which passed through it dry, then he reunited the roaring waters, turning them against the Pharaoh's chariots, stretching out his invincible weapon”. Then Jonah, praying in the belly of the whale with his arms outstretched, prefigured Christ's Passion and Resurrection: “In the belly of the sea monster, Jonah stretched out his palms in the form of a cross, clearly prefiguring the saving Passion: therefore, emerging on the third day, he represented the resurrection beyond this world of the God Christ crucified in the flesh who with his Resurrection on the third day  illumined the world”.

Cosmas saw the great moments in Moses' life as a prefiguration of the Cross: “standing between the two priests, Moses once prefigured in himself the immaculate Passion. Then arranging himself in the form of a cross, he raised the trophy with his arms outstretched, annihilating the power of the evil Amalek. Moses placed on a pole the remedy that saved the people from the poisonous and destructive bites. He bound the serpent that crawled on the ground crosswise to the wood, an image of the cross, and with this triumphed over the scourge. On one occasion Moses transformed with his staff the brackish springs in the desert, prefiguring the conversion of the people to piety, thanks to the cross”.

Several times Cosmas drew a parallel  between the cross and the tree of Paradise. “In Paradise once upon a time a tree emptied me, because by making me taste the fruit, the enemy introduced death; but the tree of the Cross, which brings the habit of life to men, was planted on earth, and the whole world was filled with every joy”. The Cross then became a weapon of the Church: “A staff is taken as a figure of the mystery; for the Church which was once barren, the tree of the Cross has now flowered, as strength and support. The hard rock hit by the staff, caused water to flow for a rebellious and hard-hearted people, revealed the mystery of the Church chosen by God, whose Cross is strength and support. The immaculate size, pierced by a spear caused water and blood to flow, inaugurating the covenant and washing away sins: the Cross, in fact, is the boast of believers”.

From the image of the Cross as the tree of life, Cosmas develops the theme of Christ crucified as bait for the enemy who in Paradise became a deceiver with a tree and a fruit: “O most blessed tree, on which Christ, Kind and Lord was hung! For you has fallen the one who had deceived with a tree, was lured away from God  who in the flesh was nailed to the Cross in you, and gives peace to our souls”. Then the theme of the cross is taken up as a victory over the cherubim with flaming swords who guard the entry to Paradise: “Before you, famous tree on which Christ was hung, the rotating swords that guarded Eden was afraid, and the terrible cherubim retreated before Christ nailed to you, who bestow peace upon our souls”.

Throughout the canon the author underlines the profession of Trinitarian faith, based on Old Testament images: “Bless,  children, equal in number to the Trinity,  God the Father Creator, sing hymns to the Word who came down and changed fired into dew;  exalt throughout the centuries the Most Holy Spirit who bestows life upon all”. Moreover, he highlights the Incarnation: “While the tree watered by the blood of the Incarnate Word of God is raised, sing, heavenly hosts, celebrating the redemption of mortals. Adore, O Peoples, the Cross of Christ, through whom the world was given resurrection”.

Lastly, from the parallel between the Church and Paradise he develops the parallel between Mary and Paradise: “You are a mystic Paradise which, without cultivation, O Mother of God, produced Christ, by whom the live-giving tree of the Cross was planted on earth: in worshipping him, through the Cross which is now exalted, we glorify you. Let all the trees in the wood rejoice,  for their nature has been sanctified by the One who planted it in the beginning, Christ, stretched out on the wood. For this reason we glorify you”




St. Peter’s Square

Oct. 17, 2019