The cross is a heinous instrument of execution. Why, then, do Maronites and other Christians venerate it? The cross adorns our necks, for example, and we hang it in our homes, churches, workplaces, etc. At various liturgies, we adore the cross by kissing and bowing to it. We refer to it as the cross of splendor, the cross of wonder, and the cross of glory, and the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Glorious Cross each year, on September 14.
The cross, in and of itself, depicts total defeat and horrendous death. Paradoxically, the cross of Jesus Christ symbolizes victory and life. Why? Precisely because of who Jesus the Nazarene is: he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Crucified One. Hence, in the light of Jesus Christ, let us explore a couple of theological themes about the cross found in the Maronite Book of Offering—henceforth BO.
Chorbishop Seely Beggiani, S.T.D. was Rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary from 1968 to 2013, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America from 1967 to 2014. He has researched and written on a variety of subjects including systematic theology, Maronite Church history, Maronite liturgy, Syriac theology, and Eastern Christian Spirituality.
St. Ephrem, who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church by Pope Benedict XV, and Jacob of Serugh were two of the earliest and most important representatives of the theological world-view of the Syriac Church. A good part of their work was in the form of hymns and metrical homilies wherein theology was expressed in poetry. This present work strives to present their insights in a systematic form according to headings used in western treatises, while not undermining the originality and cohesiveness of their thought. The material is organized under the themes of the hiddenness of God, creation, and sin, revelation, incarnation, redemption, divinization and the Holy Spirit, the Church, Mary, the mysteries of initiation, eschatology, and faith.
This work notes the paradox of God’s utter mysteriousness and yet his presence in all that he has created. The kenosis (emptying) of the Word of God is found not only in the human nature of Christ but in the finite words of Sacred Scripture. The purpose of these actions is for the divine to make itself accessible to humans. The triple descent of the Son of God into the womb of Mary, the Jordan River at his baptism, and into Sheol at his death were actions directed both to redemption and divinization. The system of types and antitypes used in Sacred Scripture are employed to demonstrate the sacraments as extensions of Christ’s actions through history.
The goal of this work is to display the rich theological insights the early Syriac fathers provide to the tradition of the universal church. A second purpose of this work is to highlight the fact that the liturgical tradition of the Maronite Church, one of the Syriac Churches, is consistently and pervasively a living expression of the theology of these to Syriac church fathers. This is done through citations from the Maronite divine liturgy, ritual, and divine office.
While monographs on specific themes in St. Ephrem and James of Serugh have been published in English and other modern languages, this work aims to present a complete overview of the theological world-view of these Syriac writers.