Augustine Sokolovski, Doctor of Theology, Priest
The third Sunday in Lent is dedicated to the remembrance of the Holy Cross. The approaching of the Sunday of the Cross marks exactly half of the forty-day period, which, according to the ancient Christian tradition, is dedicated to penitence. By analogy with the forty days of repentance, this period is a time of biblical lamentation of man over the imperfections of his soul. The coming of the Sunday of the Cross means that exactly half of those sacred forty days have already passed. There is a belief that, unlike Western Christianity which concentrates on the Cross, the suffering and death of Christ, Eastern Christianity has always been a religion of joy, celebration and resurrection. However, this is not entirely true. For the Cross undoubtedly resides also in the holy of holies of Eastern Orthodoxy.
If we try to formulate what is specific about the Cross that distinguishes Eastern Christianity from Western Christianity, perhaps it would be more correct to say that Orthodoxy perceives the Cross as a sign of victory. The triumph of the Risen One over the devil, hell and death, accomplished on the Cross. The Cross of Christ is mentioned in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, which Tradition identifies with the Second Ecumenical Council of 381. The Cross is mentioned. In doing so, it does not "appear" alone, but accompanied by a historical character – one of the few people in History who saw the Cross of the Lord Jesus with their own eyes. Apart from Jesus and the Virgin Mary, the Gentile Pilate is the only named person mentioned in the Creed. For reasons unknown, he was, as it were, the focus of the drafters of the text. "Crucified for us under Pontius Pilate". Many commentators thought that Pilate was mentioned only to mark the chronology of the Event of the Cross. Had this been the case, the makers of the Symbol would have had to have included Tiberius (+37), the emperor under whom Jesus was crucified. But, unlike Pilate, Tiberius Augustus did not speak to Jesus, and the extant legends about his involvement in the Lord's biography apparently already seemed too implausible to the Church at that time. Pilate is not mentioned in the Symbol for chronological reasons. His name is a political decision of the Church to witness to its parity, equality, opposition, interaction, dialogue with the Empire. In the language of theology, it means to express "universality". With the words of the Crucifixion under Pilate, the Church consciously opposed herself to the political and state world represented in the person of whoever then specifically represented the Empire before the Lord Jesus.
The Church perceived itself as a concrete vis-a-vis the Empire. As something or someone who, until the end of the age, would have a dialogue with it, preaching to its peoples. If we follow this logic, the Church was to live with the Empire forever. "Caesar proclaimed to all men the banner of salvation <...>, in the midst of the royal city he raised up a sacred symbol (of the Cross) against the enemies and inscribed firmly and indelibly that this salvific sign is the guardian of the Roman land and the whole empire" (Praise of Constantine 1:40).
It is interesting that Pilate, who crucified Jesus, immediately, and as it was thought at the time, forever, succeeded in getting away from the responsibility for his crime against the truth. Thus, already in the last chapters of John's Gospel, there is an obvious attempt to rehabilitate him. "Pilate said to them, 'I find no fault in him'" (John 18:38). "Pilate, hearing this word, was more afraid" (John 19:8). "From that time Pilate sought to let Him go" (Jn.19:12).
The first centuries of Christianity continued Pilate's Apologetics. In Tertullian (+220) we find evidence that the washing of hands by Pilate symbolizes baptism. Also, and in one of the synaxaries of the Ethiopian Church, he is mentioned among the saints, with a Memorial Day of 19 June. Among the monuments of this ancient Eastern Church, we find the "Martyrdom of Pilate," and even the "Anaphora," which the Eucharistic Prayer apparently attributed to his name ... Under the name of Claudia Procula, a martyr venerated in our liturgical calendar, many see the "last dreamer" of the New Testament (Mt.29:17) – the wife of the Roman Procurator of Judea. Pilate managed to keep his hands washed until the turn of the First and Second Millennium. Then, as a result of the Roman bishops' struggle for emancipation from secular rulers as well as the dispute over investiture, Pilate, in the perception of the Church, became what he was: a cynic who had lost his taste for truth.
In the twenty-first century the gospel image of Pontius Pilate has proved remarkably enduring. Today, in Pilate and his gesture of the Washing of hands – the harbinger of the changes now being introduced everywhere in the West – we see the image of the modern democratic ruler. He deliberately retreats into the shadows, "handing over" decision-making power to the people. In this way, but only temporarily, the eternal Pilate once again manages to absolve himself of his responsibility before the History.
The rejection of the conviction that Christianity was not meant to Christianise, but to overcome the Empire (something of which the pagan Roman authorities quite rightly and shrewdly accused the first Christians!) over the centuries has led to the quasi-dogmatic conviction that there can be only one Empire. Just as there is one God, one Redeemer, one Church and one Scripture. In this sense the "official creed of the Empire" was then becoming one of the key definitions of Orthodoxy.
"Wherever the power of thought may wander, whether to the East, or to the West, on earth, or to Heaven itself, everywhere it sees the Blessed Caesar, inseparable from his kingdom. His children reign over the earth. Like new luminaries, they illuminate the earth with the light of their father. He lives in them by his own power, increasing it in their succession, and governing all the universe even more perfectly than before", – we read in Eusebius of Caesarea (263–339) in his Praise of Constantine. Faith in One Empire necessarily led to the denial of the authenticity and orthodoxy of the states and churches which were outside of it. It turns out that, with the division of the Empire, the Separation of the Churches into Orthodox and Catholic Churches was bound to happen inevitably.