Lately we have been hearing ISIS use terms like “worshippers of the Cross” to refer to Christians. This assumption has ancient roots going through the ages not only used by Muslims but also by pagans. Tertullian mentions how the pagans in the Roman Empire also accused Christians of worshipping the Cross.
“Then, if any of you think we render superstitious adoration to the cross, in that adoration he is sharer with us. If you offer homage to a piece of wood at all, it matters little what it is like when the substance is the same: it is of no consequence the form, if you have the very body of the god. And yet how far does the Athenian Pallas differ from the stock of the cross, or the Pharian Ceres as she is put up uncarved to sale, a mere rough stake and piece of shapeless wood? Every stake fixed in an upright position is a portion of the cross; we render our adoration, if you will have it so, to a god entire and complete.” (The Apology 16)
The Talmud, the central rabbinical Jewish religious text, says, “The image of a cross, before which they bow down, is to be treated as an idol, and it is not to be used until it is destroyed” and yet “a ‘warp and woof’ if hung around the neck as a souvenir is not to be regarded as an idol and can be used” (cf. Iore Dea 141:1).
There is something similar in the actions of some Jews, many Muslims and pagan Romans; they aggressively presumed that Christians worshipped the Cross of Christ and wished to subvert this “cult” as they called it. The Jewish authorities sought to put an end to the Nazarenes, an early term for Christians, and they put to death early Christian saints like Stephen and James. The pagan Romans sought to end the Church and many Christian saints were put to death such as Peter, Paul, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Clement I and Polycarp. For 1400 years Muslims have sought to put an end to Christianity and put to death many Christian saints like Eulogius of Cordova, Laura of Cordova, Roderick and Perfectus.
Saint Paul reminds us that “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). It is a scandal to those who do not believe because they do not understand. Scripture says that “these men blaspheme whatever things they know not” (cf. Jude 1:10). For us through the Cross came the remission of sins; we receive this in the Sacraments namely Baptism, Confession and Eucharist. As Saint Cyril of Jerusalem said, “Let us then not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it” (Catachetical Lecture 13:3).
The Coptic cross