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Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
The Resurrection and The Willow - The Life-Giving Cross

Icon - The Exaltation of the Cross


Midway through Great Lent on the road to Paskha, the Eastern Church celebrates the feastday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. In his book, Great Lent - Journey to Pascha, Orthodox theologian and writer, Father Alexander Schmemann, quotes from the synaxarion of the day as follows: "On this Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the honorable and Life-Giving Cross.... the Life-Giving Cross is presented to us for refreshment and assurance, for remembrance of our Lord's Passion, and for comfort.... Christ, who is about to show us His victory over death , and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending to us in advance His scepter, the royal symbol - the Life-Giving Cross - and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet .... the King Himself, and to render glory to His victory ...." While the cross is the universal symbol of Christians everywhere, it is perceived in the Eastern Church not as a symbol of terror and punishment, or of lamentation and guilt, but as an object of glory, a herald of the triumph of Christ over death in the Glorious Resurrection. Thus in the kontakion of the Divine Liturgy of the day, we sing: "No longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden; for on them one finds the most glorious seal, the Tree of the Cross. By it the sorrow of death and the victory of the Abyss have been conquered". When we chant the words: "We bow to Your Cross, O Lord, and we praise Your Holy Resurrection", we reassert the faith of Eastern Christians in the Holy Cross as Life-Giver and joyous prologue to the Resurrection of Christ and through Him the resurrection of mankind.

There is a much legend and folk custom among Slavs which associates the willow as presage of the Resurrection with the Life-Giving Cross. Crosses are made from the branches of willows and used for many quasi-sacramental purposes in the sanctification of daily life. Many of these customs or practices will be illustrated in the texts contained in the Appendix. The practice of making three-bar crosses out of willow branches has been largely lost in North America. The material below is designed to assist in the recovery of this custom.

Icon - The Resurrection of Christ

Among the many willow customs of the Eastern Slavs is the crafting of three-bar crosses out of willow branches to decorate the home and for personal devotions. Pussy willows produce many upward growing branches during the period of rapid growth in the summer. These may be cut with a sharp pruning shears in mid-winter before the buds begin to swell, and cut into appropriate segments to serve as the verticle beam and the three bars which characterize the three-bar cross. For best results branches with a diameter greater than that of a pencil should be taken. Green wood is soft and easily worked. With a swope saw, cut halfway into the segment serving as the verticle beam to create the grooves which will hold each of the bars and remove the soft wood with a sharp knife. The sides and bottom of the grooves should be flat. Do the same with the segments which will serve as the bars, being careful to cut the lowest bar which serves as the footrest at an angle so that the footrest will dip downward from left to right. The grooves of all pieces should be filed smooth. Allow the pieces to dry out for a few days. To secure the bars to the beam, apply Probond Professional Strength Wood Glue to the grooves and fit the pieces together to form the three-bar cross. In five minutes the glue will harden enough to permit turning it over so that the three bars rest directly on the table. At this point, check the beam and bars to see that all are properly aligned. Place a heavy book or other weight on the cross to hold the pieces tightly together while the glue hardens. In a few hours the glue will harden enough to allow trimming the bars and the verticle beam so that they appear properly. Then drill a small hole through the top of the beam. Through the hole push a segment of clear nylon fishing line and tie the ends into a knot. The cross may then be hung on a small nail in the wall. Practice makes perfect and after a few of such crosses are made, the maker may want to experiment with making crosses of other sizes, large and small.

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Copyright 2001-2003 by Robert L. Schwind. All rights reserved.