The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14th
When Constantine the Great became emperor of the Roman world in 307 A.D., his rule was challenged by Maxentius. On the eve of their great battle at the Tiber River, a miraculous sign appeared in the sky in the form of the cross. It said: “By this, conquer.”
Constantine prepared a banner bearing the cross and overcame the forces of Maxentius the next day.
This marked the beginning of the end of Christian persecutions in the Roman Empire. Prior to that time, Christianity was illegal, and Christians were a minority group living in fear of torture and death at the hands of the authorities.
The first Ecumenical Council was convened near the end of Constantine’s life, and we are told that he was baptized on his deathbed.
The mother of Constantine, Saint Helen, went to Jerusalem in an effort to uncover the true cross upon which Jesus was crucified. The Queen was led to the site of the crucifixion at Golgotha. There she found the three crosses on which Christ and the two thieves had been crucified. Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, identified the true Cross of Christ, tradition tells us, when its touch alone restored a dying woman to perfect health. The true Cross was then raised, that is, elevated or exalted, so that all might see and revere it. This is the event we celebrate on Friday, September 14.
The Holy Cross was preserved in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem until May 4, 614, when the Persians conquered the city and burned down the church after taking the Cross. In 628, Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians and returned the Holy Cross to Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that the Emperor carried the Cross to the door of the church when an invisible hand stopped him. Zachary, then Bishop of Jerusalem, told him that he should not bear the Cross while dressed in all his fine raiment and jewels as Byzantine emperor. Heraclius thereupon stripped off his costly clothing and jewels and borrowed a simple cloak and, humbly, walked barefoot with the Cross to Golgotha. The faithful followed, singing the hymn we still sing today in commemoration of this event:
Your Cross we revere, O Master, and Your holy resurrection we glorify!
Τον Σταυρόν σου προσκυνούμεν Δέσποτα, και
την αγίαν σου Ανάστασιν δοξάζομεν.