I love miracle stories. And this is one of my favorites, the finding of the True Cross of Christ. It is not really necessary to believe in miracles, or to believe in visions or visionaries. We rush to these things because once in awhile we need to be reminded that what we believe is honest and true. Sometimes people travel great distances to visit the Holy Land, to walk on the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Grief and participate in the Stations of the Cross, walking where Christ walked and touching places in history. Many people make a regular occurrence of visiting monasteries or other places where they feel the presence of God more fully than in their favorite easy chair. I have many friends who love to just visit the Eucharist daily, to just sit in the presence of God, before starting their day. There are also lots of people who wear things to remind them of their faith, like prayer ropes or crosses. I was lucky enough to purchase a plain, Byzantine cross at a monastery many years ago, that had been made by an artist, to help support the monastery. I wear it pretty much all the time, and it reminds me of my walk with God and as I touch it off and on during the day, it also comforts me.
Because it is a cross normally associated with Byzantines or Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox, most people do not readily recognize it. I am often asked if I am wearing some sort of language symbol and most people suppose it to be an Asian-language word or symbol…like something you would get tattooed on yourself. I usually chuckle at that, but it also gives me an opportunity to share my faith.
When my husband and I were choosing our wedding rings about 30 years ago, he really liked simple bands and the one he loved was a gold band that had a cross inset on it, with tiny diamond chips. (Very tiny chips! Ha-Ha!! We were young and pretty poor, as most newlyweds are!) He wanted me to wear the matching band, but I had my heart set on another design. And I realized that I did not want to wear a cross on my finger, because I was not quite ready to proclaim to the world that I was a Christian. I look back on that now, and I am rather ashamed, but also treasure the growth God allowed to take place in me. Wearing a cross around your neck or on your finger says something about who you are as a person. Putting a sticker of a cross on your car, or hanging one from your rear-view mirror also makes a statement. Having a religious symbol on your home or in your yard makes a big statement about the people who live there. Some people now tattoo religious symbols or sayings on their flesh…a permanent reminder of what they believe and a permanent statement to whomever they are in contact with, on a daily basis. And sometimes I think we all forget what statement we are making. How often have we been run over by someone trying to exit the Church parking lot on Sundays, or cut off in traffic by a driver with a WWJD sticker on the back of their car? How often, while wearing a cross, do we get nasty with someone at a store or while driving? How often are we uncharitable to our neighbors, while flying a flag with a statement of our faith from our rooftops? We often forget that we have forged a relationship with God and that we have chosen to wear or display that relationship on our person, our vehicles, or on our homes.
We attended this wonderful parish picnic at a Melkite parish out of town one summer. It was a nice drive, the weather was wonderful, and we arrived early enough to be able to check out all the booths and sample some of the wonderful food being sold, before it got overly crowded. In the Melkite Church, we were spoiled because everyone appreciates those who serve on the altar so much. We were given little gifts of food and some wonderful coffee, as we strolled the picnic. We had parishioners coming up to us, explaining what they were selling, and the aromas of the shawarma booths were making me salivate! (Shawarma is a Levantine Arab meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit), and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate (generally with accompaniments), shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat. Shawarma is eaten with tabbouleh, fattoush, tabboon bread, tomato, and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba. It is now a fast-food staple worldwide. We are blessed to have a great Arabic food restaurant nearby where we can buy gyros with our choice of beef, chicken, or lamb shawarma! So blessed!). There was a booth that caught my eye, and it wasn’t even food-oriented! This booth had these great flags to put in front of your house. They are what are called garden flags in that you hang them on a stake in your yard. And there were flags for almost all the Holy Days, as well as some of my favorite feast days. I bought one of each and promptly went home and replaced my pretty flowered flag with a flag for the season of our faith. I loved being able to do that! When we relocated up here, one of the first things I did was hang my flag by the front door. I did not think a thing about it. In about 60 days or so, I had a letter from the HOA telling me I had to remove the flag or pay $50 fines for each month it was not removed. Apparently, nothing religious is allowed to be on your home, visible by anyone else. I was flabbergasted. I replaced my religious flag with a flowery-spring thing. I was so irritated. I could not believe there would be an ordinance about flags like this. In addition, we were not allowed to place religious artwork in our gardens or front areas of our home. The list was specific and long. Because we just lease and are not owners, I did not make a fuss. About a month after that, the President of the HOA drove up to our house to chat, as we were working in the yard. She told us that we could once again fly our flag because people complained about the fines and they got another company to represent the HOA. She told me, “Please fly those flags. I love seeing them.” Wow! Was I shocked and happy. I walked into the house and grabbed a flag, and proudly re-hung it by our front door. With packing up for our move, I brought the flag inside and I must say, I miss it being there. It sort of grounds me. And I also think our neighbors all appreciated our wanting to share a little of who we are in a quiet way.
I think that when we visibly demonstrate our faith before others, we become, perhaps, the only Jesus they may ever see or become acquainted with. We need to pray when we place a cross around our neck, on our fingers, tattooed on our person, or placed on our cars, or on our homes. We are a visible sign to others that God is present and that we are His followers. St. Helen was determined to bring the True Cross to her son, the Emperor Constantine, and she traveled great distances and endured much hardship to do so. She was a determined woman of faith and her faith never wavered in her quest to find the Cross of Christ, raise it out of obscurity, and bring it to where generations of Christians would worship the instrument of their salvation. It is a powerful thing and an incredible statement to and for others. I love wearing my Byzantine Cross around my neck and the ring my husband presented to me, matching his, with the simple Cross on it. The different styles of crosses confuse people, too, and it has started many conversations about what I believe. It is also a reminder to be the Christian I am declaring to the world when I drive, when I shop, when I am with anyone else. But more importantly, it is there for me, to remind me of the wonderful gift of faith Our Lord has given to me, and blessed my life with.