Significance of the Elevation of the Holy Cross

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Significance of the Elevation of the Holy Cross

On September 14th we celebrate the Elevation or Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This is the only feast out of the 12 major feasts that we are not celebrating a significant event in the life of Christ or His mother, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.  The Cross, the instrument of the Lord’s Sacrifice, is one of the most important and holy relics of the Church, and this is why it belongs amongst the 12 Great Feasts.  On this feast we are commemorating two events, the finding of the Cross in 326AD and the recovery of the Cross in 627AD.

The Roman Empire was so against Christians prior to making Christianity legal in 313AD that the Emperor Hadrian had a temple to the goddess Venus built over the site of the tomb of Christ and the ground of Golgotha to be over covered.  In 326AD, a mere 13 years after Rome had made Christianity legal, the Roman Emperor’s mother, the Empress Helen went to Jerusalem in search of the Cross.  St. Helen found the cross buried under ground that had basil plant growing (for this reason, Basil is blessed and distributed to the faithful on this day).  When they were excavating, three crosses were found, the cross of Christ and the crosses of the two thieves crucified on both sides of Him.  The title-bar of the Cross, the one that the gospels describe as reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” was found alongside the crosses, but not on one cross in particular.  To determine which cross was of Christ a dead man, being taken for burial, was placed on all three crosses, on the third cross; the man was revived, showing this cross to be the true Cross of Christ.  Once discovered, Christians came from all over to see and reverence the Holy Cross.  The bishop of the area, St. Macarios lifted it up for all to see, and this is why it is called the Elevation.

The Persian stole the Cross during a war in which they capture and plundered Jerusalem.  The Cross remained with the Persians for 14 years before the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Heraclius was able to recapture the Cross and returned it to Jerusalem.  While Heraclius, dressed in his imperial garb, was carrying the Cross into the Church of the Resurrection he was stopped by an angel, which the accompanying patriarch could see.  The Patriarch explained that he must enter simply, since Christ went to Golgotha in extreme humility.  So the emperor, wearing only a simple garment and no shoes, was able to enter into the Church.

This feast, though extremely festive, is a strict-fast day, due to the nature of what is being celebrated, the Cross.  We commemorate the Cross every Wednesday and Friday each week, which is why we fast on those days too, which is why September 14th is a fast day.  The hymns and readings for this feast focus a lot on Moses, who we recognize as a “type” or prefigurement of Christ, who is able to free God’s people from slavery, as Christ is able to free us from our slavery to sin.

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This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.