Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings to you all, as we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.
Yesterday, we celebrated the forefeast in Cardiff, hence the red vestments of the clergy, and Sunday also marked the Dedication of the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem, within whose sacred complex the topography of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection have been enshrined – though much altered by excavation and the clearance of rock and earth.
As on other feasts of the Cross, we combine celebration and fasting, as we contemplate the Saviour’s transformation of the wood of execution and shame into the Tree of Life, shattering the gates of death and hell and opening the doors of Paradise to all believers through His obedience to the way of the Cross, embracing it in love.
The Church Fathers contemplated and hymned this wonder with awe, as Christ’s humility, obedience, selflessness and love overturned the curse of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and the disobedience of the first-parents, and the Cross became not only the Tree of Life, but the key to the Gates of Paradise.
St John of Damascus wrote that, “For by nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, has death been brought low, the sin of our first parents destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God.”
Let us all celebrate this wonder, and though I have to work throughout the coming nights and am unable to celebrate the feast with parishioners, I look forward to us celebrating the afterfeast before the Precious Cross this coming Sunday, and remind you that in our homes we should all be celebrating the Exaltation.
In every Christian home, the Cross may be honoured and adorned with flowers, as we offer our prayers and celebrate the feast.
May God bless you on this feast, and may the Cross, as the Invincible Trophy and the Tree of Life be at the centre of your homes and families, and the axis of your spiritual life.
With love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark
Synaxarion for the Exaltation
Of the Honorable and Life-Creating Cross1
Constantine the Great and Equal to the Apostles, first among the emperors of ancient Rome, accepted Christianity. While in the midst of battle, according to some against Magnentius in Rome, or according to others against the Scythians at the Danube River,2 he saw that the armies of the enemy were greater in number than his own, and this caused distress and fear. Finding himself in this situation, there appeared in the afternoon the form of the Cross in the sky, marked by stars. And encircling the Cross were letters, also inscribed by stars in Roman, namely Latin letters,3 which said the following: “Conquer by this.”
Straightway there was fashioned a Cross,4 like the one that appeared in the sky, and he ordered for it to go before the army. Engaging the enemy, they mightily conquered, to the point that most of them were killed. The others left in fear. The power of the Crucified One was therefore understood by this miracle, and he believed that He was the true God, and he was baptized with his mother.5
He then sent his mother Helen to Jerusalem, first of all, to venerate and honour with more brilliance the life-giving Tomb of the Lord, and the rest of the Holy Land. Also, to hastily seek and find the honourable Cross of the God-man Savior. For this she investigated with fervent longing, and she found it hidden. Likewise, she found the two crosses on which the thieves were crucified. She also found the nails.6 The empress was confused, however, as to which of three was the Cross of the Lord. She discovered which it was by a miracle, when it raised a dead widow woman after the Cross of the Lord touched her. The other two crosses of the thieves did not perform the miracle.7
Then she kissed and venerated the honourable Cross with great reverence and faith, not only the empress Helen, but also all the officials with her. Because all the Christians sought to kiss and venerate it, it was not possible to fulfil their desire due to the large crowd, so they sought alternatively to merely see the sweet vision of the honourable Cross, and so by this vision their longing would be satisfied. Wherefore the then blessed Patriarch of Jerusalem Makarios went up onto the ambon, and lifted high with his two hands the honourable Cross, showing it to all the Christians found below. Straightway when they saw it, together they cried out from their heart: “Lord have mercy.” From then on it was established by the most divine and God-inspired Fathers of the Church, for all Christians to celebrate on this day, this honourable and universal Exaltation of the divine Cross, to the glory of Christ our true God for Whom they gather.
1. This synaxarion is from the 10th century Synaxarion of Constantinople. Translation and notes by John Sanidopoulos.
2. The most reliable research indicates that this battle was neither against Magnentius or the Scythians, but against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Also, sources indicate that Constantine became a Christian before this battle through his son Crispus, who was a Christian, after presenting him with certain books of his father who was a Christian.
3. Some sources say the letters were in Latin, while others, like Emperor Leo the Wise and Paisios of Gaza, say they were in Greek.
4. After the vision of the Cross in the sky, that night Constantine saw Christ in a vision, Who told him to place the form of the Cross he saw on his spear.
5. There used to be a false opinion that Pope Sylvester of Rome catechized and baptized Constantine, but these documents were proved to be papal forgeries. Rather, it is believed Helen was already a Christian, while Constantine put off his baptism in order to be baptized in the Jordan River, which he was never able to accomplish, therefore he was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia before his repose in Constantinople.
6. These nails were brought by Helen to Constantinople, as a gift to her son. One was placed in the bridle of his horse, to fulfil the prophecy of Zachariah 14:20, “On that day Holy to the Lord Almighty will be inscribed on the bridle of the horses.” The second was placed in his battle helmet. The third, according to Ambrose, was thrown by Helen into the Adriatic Sea in order to calm a storm, though Dositheos of Jerusalem does not believe this story. Socrates says that the Cross and Nails were placed in the pillar of the statue of Constantine in Constantinople, to protect the City. Some say there were only three nails, while others say they were four, with two nails used for each foot rather than one nail for both feet.
7. Euthymios Zygabenos says that the true Cross of the Lord was distinguished by the inscription of Pilate over one of the crosses that said Christ was King of the Jews. Also, some say that the woman was near death and immediately healed, while others say fragrant basil grew over the location of the actual Cross of Christ. The finding of the Cross is celebrated on March 6th. The two crosses of the thieves were brought to Constantinople and placed in a porphyry pillar in the forum, with other relics.