My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE EXALTATION/ELEVATION OF THE HOLY AND
LIFE-GIVING CROSS [Part II]
Let us return to the site of Golgotha. Saint Helen was the first to venerate the Holy Cross and kiss it…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 near to see it. She also would not allow them to break it into 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 Makarios ascended, taking hold of the Precious and Honorable Cross. He raised it aloft IN ALL FOUR DIRECTIONS, even as the priests to this day. When the people beheld the Cross raised on high, they wept and cried aloud with a great voice the utterance, "Kyrie Eleison" ("Lord have mercy.") This was the FIRST EXALTATION/ELEVATION of the Cross of the Lord, in A.D. 326. To the present day, this Feast Day is celebrated by the Holy Church.
The Holy Cross was then placed in worthy surroundings by the foundation of a Basilica on the site of the Passion. The Basilica, named "New Jerusalem" by the Augusta, gleamed with gilded ceilings and rich golden altars and preserved the 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 a 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. But on occasion, devout pilgrims, who have come there merely for that purpose, beg that it be shown them as a reward for their long journeying. It is said that this request is granted only by the kindness of the Bishop. And it is likewise by his gift alone that these tiny fragments of sacred wood from the same Cross are made available to win great gifts of faith and blessings.
Saint Helen brought a holy relic of the Cross to Byzantium as a gift for her son Emperor Constantine. 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. Mary was visited to liberate Eve; Helen was visited so that Emperors might be redeemed. So she sent to her son Constantine A DIADEM ADORNED WITH JEWELS INTERWOVEN WITH THE IRON OF THE Cross, which also enclosed THE MORE PRECIOUS JEWEL OF DIVINE REDEMPTION. She sent the bridle also. 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, n 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. Wisely did Helen act who placed the Cross on the head of sovereigns, that THE CROSS OF CHRIST MIGHT BE ADORNED AMONG KINGS. That was not a presumption but piety, since honor was given to our holy redemption… On the head, a crown; in the hands, reins. A crown made from the Cross, that faith might shine forth; reins likewise from the Cross, THAT AUTHORITY MIGHT GOVERN, AND THAT THERE MIGHT BE JUST RULE, NOT UNJUST LEGISLATION. MAY THE PRINCES ALSO CONSIDER THAT THIS HAS BEEN GRANTED TO THEM BY CHRIST’S GENEROSITY, THAT IN IMITATION OF THE LORD IT MAY BE SAID OF THE ROMAN EMPEROR, "Thou hast set upon his head a crown of precious stones" (Psalm 20:3).
According to Sozomen "Constantine indeed KEPT A PORTION, but most of it was given a silver cover and preserved in the church that was soon erected on the site of its discovery. The Emperor, in fact, had a headpiece and bit made for his horse, according to the prophecy of Zacharias [14:20], who referred to this period.
In the TWO YEARS that the Augusta spent in Palestine, she built churches at the Holy Sepulchre. Later a chapel was dedicated to Helen at the site of the excavation, on the very place of the finding of the True Cross. She was also responsible for the building of the church over THE CAVE OF THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST IN BETHLEHEM, and on the Mount of Olives at the site of our Lord’s Ascension. Some accounts have associated her with the construction of the Dormition (Koimisis) Church near Gethsemane, Hebron at the Oak of Mambree, and even Mount Sinai. She also spent her time in the Holy Land helping the poor and needy. The Augusta furnished food, and even served the tables herself, always dressed in simple garb.
Upon returning home, she was exhausted from her labors and met with grief and mourning for her slain grandson Crispus. Saint Helen reposed in the arms of her son Constantine at Nicomedia in A.D. 327. She is commemorated by the Holy Church, as EQUAL-TO-THE-APOSTLES, on the 21st of May. The Crusaders took her precious and holy relics to Rome. Later, Saint Ambrose comments upon the repose of her son, saying, "Although Constantine was in his last hours freed by the grace of Baptism from all sins, yet, since HE WAS THE FIRST OF THE EMPERORS TO BELIEVE, he left after him A HERITAGE OF FAITH TO PRINCES AND FOUND A PLACE OF GREAT MERIT. In his time, the prophecy of Zacharias had been fulfilled. This was revealed by the Great Helen of holy memory, who was inspired by the Spirit of God."
The Veneration of the Holy Cross was further intensified by the Byzantine Emperor Herakleios (A.D. 575-641) and his recovery of the True Cross and its restoration to Jerusalem in A.D. 629. In the Life of Saint Anastasios the Persian, commemorated by the Holy Church on the 22nd of January, we read: "In A.D. 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 spoils into Persia." Emperor Herakleios, who had personally taken the field, after many brilliant successes against the Persians was given back the True Cross and the other holy relics that had been stolen. Herakleios then prepared to return to the capital in great triumph with the true Cross.
On the 14th of September, A.D. 628, Herakleios finally entered his Capital of Constantinople. It had been six years since his return, and his son Constantine, Patriarch Sergios (A.D. 610-638), the Clergy, the Senate, and the people received him on the coast of Asia Minor with olive branches and lighted candles, with hymns and acclamations of joy. Before him went the True Cross, and behind, four elephants. These were the first ever 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 Holy Cross was slowly raised up by Patriarch Sergios, until it stood, vertical, before the altar. It was a deeply moving episode in the history of the Church.
Now the Holy Cross had to be returned to Jerusalem. On the 21st of March, 628 A.D. Herakleios left 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 sighs, 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 Sepulchre, or, as it is also known, 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 Christians, to its place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Herakleios then returned all the church objects, each to its place. He next distributed gifts to all the churches and to the inhabitants of the Holy City. 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 14th of September, A.D. 629. After the days of the recovery, the Feast of the EXALTATION/ELEVATION of the Cross received new emphasis in the Church.
This great event of the recovery of the Holy Cross was linked with the Feast Day of the "Finding of the Cross and Nail14ths" by Saint Helen, which took place on the 6th of March. And together with the occasion on the 14th of September, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. We also celebrate and venerate the Holy Cross, especially on the Third Sunday of the Great Fast.
Later, when the Holy Fathers realized the dangers of invading infidels in the Holy Land, it was resolved TO CUT THE HOLY CROSS OF JESUS 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)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George