As we have seen, the apostles taught that all the blessings of this life and in the life to come are the direct result of the suffering on the Cross of the incarnate Son of God. These blessings extend not only to mankind but also to all of nature and even the entire universe, which will be renewed on the day of the general resurrection.
For us the most important blessing of the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ is the gift of a new life in Christ — the ability to live spiritually, to perfect oneself and become likened to God. All this is referred to in the Scriptures as becoming a new man or new creation. Before Christ, man was unable to lead a true spiritual life and was a prisoner of his corporal, often sinful desires. The blessings of redemption inspire new thoughts, a new outlook on life. Redemption exposes the emptiness and vanity of our earthly existence and reveals how joyful and wonderful is the life to come. The grace of the Holy Spirit constantly helps us on the way to our ultimate goal. It replaces the feeling of oppression and bitterness with lightness and inner peace; the thirst for vile pleasures with the sweetness of a relationship with God; sickly self-love with a noble desire to do good.
Of course, any kind of growth and perfection demands personal effort as well. God leads and helps us and gives us all the tools to succeed, but constancy and struggle are necessary ingredients to become virtuous. These difficulties, both outer and inner, are called personal “crosses.” Every Christian has to carry his personal cross if he wants to participate in his victory over evil. Salvation consists of two parts: the objective part already accomplished by Jesus Christ on the Cross, and the subjective part which consists of a personal effort to become a true Christian. About this second aspect of salvation, Jesus says: “He who follows after Me [wants to be My disciple] but does not take his cross, is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38). There is nothing bleak in this carrying of one’s personal cross. The Apostles, in talking about a Christian’s struggle, comforted themselves and others with the words: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17). And the more a Christian shares in Christ’s sufferings, the more he will share in His glory.
A few words about the sign of the cross. Before Christ, the cross was an instrument of the cruellest punishment, and a symbol of horror. After His sufferings, it became the sign of the victory of good over evil and of life over death; it became the reminder of the limitless love of God and a source of happiness. The incarnate Son of God sanctified the cross with His blood and made it the carrier of His blessings and holiness. Because of these properties, the sign of the cross became an essential component of Christian life since apostolic times, used in all Church services and private prayers. For instance, water is blessed and becomes holy with the sign of the cross, and bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ; in summary, all Sacraments acquire their spiritual power through the sign of the cross. As flies cannot tolerate flame, so demons cannot stand the presence of the cross. The sign of the cross protects a Christian from accidents and misfortunes and attracts God’s help to him. That is why Orthodox Christians revere the cross so much, bless themselves with the sign of the cross, wear a cross on their chest and adorn their homes and churches with crosses.