The Exaltation of the Cross

   The Exaltation of the Cross is one of the twelve great feasts in the yearly Church cycle. It commemorates two historical events: first, the finding of the Life-giving Cross in the year 326, and second, its recovery from Persia in 628.
In the first centuries of Christianity, during the years of persecution, the pagans wished to destroy all evidence of the life of Jesus Christ, and the Cross on which He was crucified disappeared. With the conversion of Emperor Constantine the Great, Christians were at liberty to worship openly and build churches. The emperor's mother, St. Helen, longed to find the True Cross of Christ. She traveled to Jerusalem and was told by a very old Jew that the Cross was buried beneath the temple of the pagan goddess Venus, built in 119 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The temple was torn down, and digging in the earth below uncovered three wooden crosses. The small board which had hung over Christ with the inscription ' Jesus King of the Jews,' had long since fallen off, and -there was no way of telling which was the True Cross and which were the crosses of the two thieves crucified on either side of Christ. A sick woman was brought and likewise a dead man who was being carried to burial. The three crosses were laid in turn one by one upon the sick woman and upon the dead man. Two of the crosses had no effect, but through contact with the third cross, the sick woman was healed of her infirmity and the dead man came to life. These miracles clearly indicated which of the three was Christ's Cross.
Hearing of this discovery, all the faithful desired to see the Cross of the Lord and to venerate it. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Makarios, took the Cross onto a raised platform and lifted it on high, 'exalting' it, for all to see. The people fell to their knees, bowing down before the Cross and crying out repeatedly: "Lord, have mercy!"
To house the relic of the True Cross, St. Helen had s church built over the Holy Sepulchre. The church was consecrated on Sept. 13, 335, an event also commemorated in the service hymns of the Feast. The finding and exaltation of the Cross was appointed to be celebrated annually on the following day.
The Life-giving Cross was kept in Jerusalem until the year 614 when the Holy City fell to the Persians who looted the Church of the Resurrection and took the True Cross back with them to Persia. Fourteen years later Emperor Heraclius concluded a peace with the Persians, and the Holy Cross was brought to the imperial capital of Constantinople. The Emperor, taking off his shoes and his imperial robes, carried the Cross into the Church of Holy Wisdom (Agia Sophia) where it was once again triumphantly exalted. It was then resolved that the Feast be celebrated by the Church in all parts of the world, for which reason it is called the Universal Exaltation.
The power of the Cross is given to each and every Christian. But just as a soldier must learn to properly wield his weapons in battle, so a warrior of Christ must learn how correctly to make the sign of the cross. A shield has no effect if carelessly waved about in the air. Likewise, there are many who receive no benefit from the sign of the Cross because they make it mechanically. Man thereby inverts the Cross of Christ "to which only the demons rejoice." The Holy Fathers taught that the sign of the cross should be made by touching first the brow (the forehead), marking the upper part of the cross, secondly the womb (the stomach), marking the lower part of the cross, thirdly the right frame (shoulder) and fourthly the left frame, representing from end to end the horizontal bar of the cross.
This is not to say that the correct external formation of the sign of the cross of itself carries the power to wound demons, it must be made with faith. St. John of Kronstadt caution s: "In order that the unbelieving heart should not think that the sign of the cross and the name of Christ act miraculously by themselves, apart from, and independently of Christ Himself, this same cross and name perform no miracles until I see Jesus Christ with the eyes of my heart...and believe with my whole heart all that lie has accomplished for our salvation."
The cross, once a tool of death, has become a means to life, an instrument of our salvation; it gives strength to resist temptation, to refrain from gossip or harsh words; it dispels fear. If we learn to use the cross effectively, we shall come through experience to understand the Apostle's words:
But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.


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