My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
ON THE 14TH OF SEPTEMBER, OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH COMMEMORATES
THE EXALTATION OF THE HONORABLE AND LIFE GIVING CROSS.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. First Tone
SAVE, O Lord, Thy people and bless Thine inheritance; grant Thou
unto the faithful victory over adversaries. And by the power of Thy
Cross do Thou preserve Thy commonwealth.
Kontakion Hymn. Fourth Tone
THOU Who wast raised up on the Cross of Thine own will, O
Christ our God, do Thou bestow Thy compassions upon this, Thy
new commonwealth named after Thee. Gladden with Thy sovereign
might our most Orthodox hierarchs, and vouchsafe them victory
over every false teaching; and as Thy help in war they possess the
weapon of peace, the trophy invincible.
Saint Helen, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, when she was already advanced in years, undertook, in her great piety, the hardships of a journey to Jerusalem in search of the Cross, about the year 325. A temple of Aphrodite had been raised up by the Emperor Hadrian upon Golgotha, to defile and cover with oblivion the place where the saving Passion had been suffered. The Venerable Helen had the statue of Aphrodite destroyed, and the earth removed, revealing the Tomb of our Lord, and THE THREE CROSSES. Of these, it was believed that one must be that of the Lord, the other two of the thieves crucified with Him; but Saint Helen was at a loss which one might be the Wood of our salvation. At the inspiration of Saint Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem, a lady of Jerusalem, who was already at the point of death from a certain disease, was brought to touch the crosses, and as soon as she came near to the Cross of our Lord, she was made perfectly whole. Consequently, the Precious Cross was lifted on high by Archbishop Macarius of Jerusalem; as he stood on the ambo, and when the people beheld it, they cried out, “Kyrie Eleison” (”Lord, have mercy”). It should be noted that after its discovery, a portion of the Most Honorable and Life-Giving Cross was taken to Constantinople as a blessing. The rest was left in Jerusalem in the magnificent Church built by Saint Helen, until the year 614. At that time, the Persians plundered Palestine and took the Cross to their own country. Later, in the year 628, Emperor Heraclius set out on a military campaign, retrieved the Holy Cross, and after bringing it to Constantinople, himself escorted it back to Jerusalem, where he restored it to its place.
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MORE ON FINDING THE HONORABLE AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS
Now it was no easy matter to discover either this holy relic or even the Lord’s sepulcher. “The pagans,” records the 5th century Historian Sozomen, “who in former times persecuted the Christian Church, took every measure to exterminate it. The pagans concealed that spot under much heaped-up earth, and elevated what before was quite depressed, as it looks now; and, the more effectually to conceal them, had enclosed the entire place of the Resurrection and Mount Calvary within a wall, and had moreover ornamented the whole locality and paved it with stone who went to worship Christ would appear to bow the knee to the goddess Aphrodite.” The biographer and Historian Sulpitius Severus (360-420) in his Sacred History says that “the consecration of the Cross, owing to the opposition of the Jews, HAD BEEN COVERED OVER BY THE RUBBISH OF THE RUINED CITY.” Blessed Jerome (347-420) adds, “From the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine–a period of about one hundred and eighty years–the spot which had witnessed the Resurrection was occupied by a figure of Jupiter; while on the rock where the Cross had stood, a marble statue of Venus (Aphrodite) was set up by the heathen and became an object of worship. The original persecutors, indeed, supposed that by polluting our holy places they would deprive us of our faith in the Passion and in the Resurrection. Even my own Bethlehem, as it now is, that most sprung out of the earth, was overshadowed by a grove of Tammuz, that is, of Adonis; and in the very cave where the Infant Christ had uttered His earliest cry, lamentation was made for the paramour of Venus, Adonis.
The pagan Roman emperor Hadrian (76-138) thought that he would destroy the Christian Faith by insult to the place of Crucifixion, and so he dedicated on the site of the Passion a satrue of Jupiter. Bethlehem was also polluted with a shrine to Adonis. The intention was that what is in a sense the root and foundation of the Church might be destroyed if idols were worshipped in the places where Christ was born and suffered…Now the wickedness of an earlier age continued to the time of Constantine the Great, shortly before our day. He deserved to be prince of the princes of Christ as much through the faith of his mother Helen as through his own. The outcome proved that she was inspired by God’s plan when she set eyes on Jerusalem. As co-regent with the title Augusta, she asked her son to give her a free hand in clearing all the sites there on which our Lord’s feet had trodden,and which were stamped with remembrances of God’s work for us. She sought to cleanse them of all infection of profane wickedness by pulling down pagan temples and statues, and to restore them to their rightful allegiance so that the Church might at last be famed in the land of its beginnings.
The Augusta secured the help of a certain Jew named Judah, who preserved the ancient legacy of the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and who pointed out the East side of the burial cave to the Augusta. According to Sozomen, Judah dwelt in the East and derived his information from some documents which has come to him by paternal inheritance. Together with Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem–who previously took the Augusta on a tour of the principal shrines–and his entourage made their way to the site of Golgotha. Bishop Makarius conducted a prayer service.
Now after many weeks of excavating, a beautiful and fragrant flower was found growing in an area that was lonely and abandoned. The Augusta noticed that no other plants were growing in the vicinity. Enlightened by God, she ordered her soldiers to concentrate digging at the exact spot where the unusual flower, now called in English “Sweet Basil” (Vasilikos), had taken root. The name, signifying ROYALTY, also came to be the official flower of the Orthodox Church. Also, the tradition developed that the basil flower was used by clergymen when blessing homes or during Church services whenever the blessing of the waters takes place.
As the diggers went deeper into the earth, they began to detect a fragrant scent emitting froom underground. The Augusta gae orders for the digging to continue. To general astonishment, but precisely as the Queen alone had believed, deep digging opened up cavities in the earth and revealed the secret of the hidden Holy Cross. The earth yielded up THREE CROSSES, THE PLACARD AND THE NAILS. The tradition at that time was to bury the implement of torture close to the site of suffering. The inscription, however, had been wrenched from the True Cross and cast aside. The Cross of Jesus had been cast aside with the others, without any distinction.
Bishop Makarius observed a funeral procession passing by. Here Sulpitius Severus writes: “Just as if by the appointment of God, the funeral of a dead man was then being conducted with the usual ceremonies.” She was so inspired,” explains Saint Paulinus, “that she (Saint Helen) ordered that the newly deceased man be brought to her. Her command was instantly obeyed.” Suplitius Severus says, “All rushed up to take the body from the bier.” Saint Paulinus continues, “The corpse was carried in and set down. As the body lay there, the first and then the second cross was placed on him, but death spurned the wood which had supported the guilty. Finally the Lord’s Cross was revealed by A RESURRECTION; FOR, AT THE TOUCH OF THE WOOD OF SALVATION, MORTALITY FLED, DEATH WAS SHAKEN OFF, AND THE CORPSE WAS BROUGHT UPRIGHT. While living men trembled, the dead man stood up. As was Lazarus of old, he was freed from the bonds of death, and there and then joined the group of spectators watching him, a man brought to life.”
After the Holy Cross was located, Judah the Jew asked for holy Baptism, which he received with the name Kyriakos. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (360) he succeeded Bishop Makarios as Patriarch of Jerusalem. He suffered and was martyred with his mother Anna. Both are commemorated by the Holy Orthodox Church on the 28th of October.
But let us return to the site of Golgotha, Saint Helen was the first to Venerate the Holy Cross and kiss it. Saint Ambrose writes: “The woman eagerly hastened to touch the medicine of immortality, but she feared to trample underfoot the Mystery of Salvation. Joyful at heart, yet with anxious step, she knew not what she should do. She proceeded, however, to the resting place of truth. The Wood shone and grace flashed forth. And, as previously, Christ had visited a woman in Mary, so the Spirit visited a woman in Helen. He taught her what as a woman she did not know, and led her upon a way which no mortal could know.”
The crowd grew and pressed closer to see the Holy Wood. When the Christians of Jerusalem and the neighboring parts heard that the Cross of Christ had been discovered, men, women, and children hastened to the site. Numberless crowds thronged the Augusta, beseeching her for a piece of the Cross. Saint Helen, viewing the sea of restless people before her, began to fear that the multitude might, out of unrestrained zeal, seize the Cross, for it was not possible to have all draw to see it. She also would not allow them to break it in pieces for distribution. The people then cried out, “If it is not possible to break it, we implore thy majesty to allow us to behold it from afar.”
Then, on account of the entreaty and faith of the faithful, they made a high throne, which Bishop Markarius ascended, taking hold of the Precious and Honorable Cross. He raised it aloft in all four directions, even as are Orthodox priests do on this solemn day of the Exaltation of the Cross in their churches. When the people beheld the Holy Cross raised on high, they wept and cried aloud with a great voice the utterance: “KYRIE, ELEISON.” This was the First Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, in 326 A.D. To the present day, the feast day is celebrated by the Holy Church.” (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
(To be continued)
“Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Divine and Glorious Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God