My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True Lord, God, and Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE EXALTATION OF THE VENERABLE AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS
OF OUR LORD, GOD, AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. (Part II)
The wood of Thy Cross was merely planted, O Christ,
and the foundations of death were shaken, O Lord.
Hades had swallowed Thee eagerly, but with trembling
it disgorged Thee. Thou have shown us Thy salvation,
O Holy One, and we glorify Thee, Son of God.
Have mercy on us. [Matins. Kathisma II]
O Cross of Christ, the hope of Christians, the guide of
the wayward, the haven of the storm-tossed, the victory
in wartime, the security of the civilized world, for the
sick a Physician, for the dead resurrection, have mercy
on us. (Matins. Idiomelon)
Thou Who were lifted on the Cross, O Christ our God,
bestow Thy tender compassion upon Thy new
community to which Thou gave Thy name. Cause
our faithful emperors to be glad in Thy power, granting
them victories against their adversaries. And for an
ally, Lord, may they have Thee. peace as their armor,
and the trophy invincible. (Matins. Kontakion)
The Holy Cross was placed in worthy surroundings by the foundation of a basilica on the site of the Passion. The basilica, named “New Jerusalem” by the Augusta, Saint Helen, gleamed with gilded ceilings and rich golden altars, and preserved the Holy Cross, which is placed in a hidden sanctuary. Every year during the Lord’s Pascha the bishop of that city brings it out to be Venerated by the people. He leads them in the show of respect. Only on the day when we celebrate the mystery of the Cross itself is that source of mysteries brought out to mark the holy and solemn occasion…Saint Paulinus closes his account with these interesting facts: “Indeed the Holy Cross of inanimate wood has LIVING POWER, and ever since its discovery it has lent its wood to the countless, almost daily, prayers of the people. Yet is suffers no diminution…Saint Kyril of Jerusalem, Patriarch from 349, informs us that only twenty-five years later “THE WHOLE WORLD HAS SINCE BEEN FILLED WITH PIECES OF THE WOOD OF THE CROSS.”
Saint Helen brought a holy relic of the Cross to Byzantium as a gift for her son. According to Saint Ambrose, she sought the nails with which the Lord was Crucified, and found them. “From one nail,” says he, “she ordered a bridle to be made; from the other she wove a diadem. She turned the one to an ornamental, the other to a devotional, use. So she sent to her son Emperor Constantine a Diadem adorned with jewels interwoven with the iron of the Cross, which also enclosed the more precious jewel of divine redemption. Constantine, thus, used both and transmitted his faith to later kings. And so the beginning of the faith of the emperors is the holy relic which is upon the bridle, in accordance with the prophecy of Zacharias: “In that day there shall be upon the bridle of every horse holiness to the Lord Almighty” (Zacharias 14:20). Therefrom came the faith whereby persecution ended and devotion to God took its place.
The Augusta Saint Helen visited many cities of the East, she bestowed befitting gifts on the churches of every town, embraced those individuals who had been deprived of their possessions, supplied the necessities to the poor, and restored their freedom to those who had been long imprisoned or condemned to exile or the mines. But especially noteworthy were the gifts bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing…She was also far from neglecting personal piety toward God. This admirable woman was to be seen in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers. Saint Helen was loved across the empire.
Upon returning home she was exhausted from her labors, and met with grief and mourning her slain grandson Crispus. Saint Helen reposed in the arms of her son Saint Constantine at Nikomedia in 327. She is commemorated by our Holy Church, AS EQUAL-TO-THE-APOSTLES, on the 21st of May. The Crusaders took her precious relics to Rome.
Emperor Herakleios Recovers the Holy Cross
The Veneration of the Holy Cross was further intensified by the Byzantine Emperor Herakleios (575-641) and his recovery of the True Cross and its restoration to Jerusalem in 629. In the Life of Saint Athanasius the Persian, commemorated by the Holy Church on the 22nd of January, we read: “In 614, when the Persians had taken and plundered Jerusalem, the wood of the Cross of Christ, together with many other holy and precious vessels, was taken as spoil into Persia.”
On the 14th of September, 628, Herakleios finally entered his Capital of Constantinople. It had been six years since his return, and his son Constantine, Patriarch Sergios (610-638), the clergy, the senate and the people received hi on the coast of Asia Minor with olive branches and lighted candles, with hymns and acclamations of joy. Before him went the Holy Cross, and behind, four elephants. These were the first seen in Constantinople. The emperor, though only in his mid-fifties, appeared old, worn out, and ill. But by the grace of God, through his efforts, the victorious Byzantine Empire dealt the death blow to its constant enemy, leaving the Persian army prostrate.
During the service of thanksgiving, the True Cross of Christ was slowly raised up by Patriarch Sergios, until it stood, vertically, before the altar. It was a deeply moving episode in the history of the Church. Also, when Herakleios defeated the Persians, he also rescued Patriarch Zacharias from captivity and had him restored in Jerusalem.
Now the Holy Cross had to be returned to Jerusalem. On the 21st of March, 629, Herakleios left with his wife Martina and his eldest son Constantine for Jerusalem. Upon their entrance into the Holy City, there was much joy: sounds of weeping, and signs, the burning of flaming hearts, the exaltation of the emperors, the princes, soldiers and inhabitants. The Emperor himself carried the Holy Cross to the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or, as it is also known, as the Church of the Holy Resurrection (Anastasis), where the Patriarch was waiting to receive it. As the Cross reached the Church, hardly anyone could chant due to great emotion. Together with Patriarch Zacharias, the Emperor then restored the Holy Cross, to the joy of all Christendom, to its place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Herakleios then returned all the church objects, each to its place. There was great rejoicing by the faithful, and again they pressed forward to VENERATE THE WOOD OF THE CROSS. Once more it was ELEVATED BY THE HOLY SUFFERER PATRIARCH ZACHARIAS, on the 14 of September, 629 A.D. After the days of the recovery, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross received new emphasis in the Orthodox Church.
This Great Event of the recovery of the Holy Cross was linked with the Feast Day of the “Finding of the Cross and Nails” by Saint Helen, which took place on the 6th of March. And together with that occasion on the 14th of September, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. We also celebrate and Venerate the Cross especially on the Third Sunday of the Great Fast (Lent).
Later, when the Holy Fathers realized the dangers of invading infidels in the Holy Land, IT WAS RESOLVED TO CUT THE CROSS INTO PIECES AND DISTRIBUTE THEM TO THE GREAT SPIRITUAL CENTERS. Many portions were taken to Constantinople, Mount Athos, Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch. [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