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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Feastday: September 14
Timeline of Events:
326 A.D.: St. Helena discovers the True Cross in Jerusalem on May 3rd.
335 A.D.: Constantine dedicates the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on September 14th.
614 A.D.: Jerusalem is invaded by the Persians who steal the True Cross.
629 A.D.: The True Cross is recovered and brought back to Jerusalem on September 14th.
The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross is celebrated on 14 September. This is the day on which, in 335 AD, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was dedicated.
Saint Helen was the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine. It was Constantine who legalised Christianity in 313 AD. Helen was a convert to Christianity late in life and she used her influence to build churches and spread the faith throughout the Roman Empire.
When Helen was in her 80s, she had a dream about finding the real cross of Christ in Jerusalem. She travelled there with a small group of people, and the search began.
By talking to local Christians and Jews, she discovered that the place they believed Jesus was crucified was buried under the Temple of Venus.
Helen had the temple demolished in order to excavate the ground below. A tomb, three crosses, a board with Pilate’s inscription and nails were found.
To discover if one of the crosses was the actual cross of Christ, a bishop called St Macarius took a corpse and touched each of the crosses to the body. Being touched by one of the crosses caused the dead man to come back to life.
The same test was also carried out with a woman with an incurable illness. The woman was instantly healed when she was touched by the same cross.
St Helen then sent pieces of the cross to Rome and Constantinople and had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the site of the crucifixion.
In 614 AD, when Syria and Palestine were invaded by the Persians, the cross was taken from Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople was the one to restore it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 630 AD - amazingly on 14 September.
The feast day is therefore celebrated as the day the church was dedicated and the day the cross was restored to Jerusalem years later.
On the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross in 2013, Pope Francis devoted his homily to the mystery of the Cross.
“Today we look upon the Cross, the story of mankind and the story of God. We look upon this Cross, where you can try that honey of aloe, that bitter honey, that bitter sweetness of the sacrifice of Jesus,” said Pope Francis to the congregation at Domus Sancta Marta.
Despite the fact that humanity sinned, God chose to “take up the story” of mankind, “to journey with us.”
According to the Genesis narrative, the first man and woman allowed sin into the world by eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The incarnation of the Son of God brought salvation through a different kind of tree: the wood of the Cross.
“This tree of the Cross saves us, all of us, from the consequences of that other tree, where self-sufficiency, arrogance, the pride of us wanting to know all things according to our own mentality, according to our own criteria, and also according to that presumption of being and becoming the only judges of the world," Pope Francis explained.
"This is the story of mankind: from one tree to the other.”
The only possible explanation for our salvation is Divine love, said the Pope.
This day is also called the Exaltation of the Cross, Elevation of the Cross, Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day, or Roodmas. The liturgy of the Cross is a triumphant liturgy. When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Mother Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross.
We made the Sign of the Cross before prayer which helps to fix our minds and hearts to God. After prayer we make the Sign of the Cross to keep close to God. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross. At Baptism we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, signifying the fullness of redemption and that we belong to Christ. Let us look to the cross frequently, and realize that when we make the Sign of the Cross we give our entire self to God — mind, soul, heart, body, will, thoughts.
O cross, you are the glorious sign of victory.
Through your power may we share in the triumph of Christ Jesus.
Symbol: The cross of triumph is usually pictured as a globe with the cross on top, symbolic of the triumph of our Savior over the sin of the world, and world conquest of His Gospel through the means of a grace (cross and orb).
The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14 marks one of the Ember Days of the Church.
This feast was observed in Rome before the end of the seventh century. It commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross, which had been placed on Mt. Calvary by St. Helena and preserved in Jerusalem, but then had fallen into the hands of Chosroas, King of the Persians. The precious relic was recovered and returned to Jerusalem by Emperor Heralius in 629.
The lessons from the Breviary tell us that Emperor Heraclius carried the Cross back to Jerusalem on his shoulders. He was clothed with costly garments and with ornaments of precious stones. But at the entrance to Mt. Calvary a strange incident occurred. Try as hard as he would, he could not go forward. Zacharias, the Bishop of Jerusalem, then said to the astonished monarch: "Consider, O Emperor, that with these triumphal ornaments you are far from resembling Jesus carrying His Cross." The Emperor then put on a penitential garb and continued the journey.