The Elevation of
the Cross, celebrated on the fourteenth of September, commemorates the finding of Christ's Cross by Saint Helen, the mother
of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century; and, after it was taken by the Persians, of its recovery by the Emperor
Heraclius in the seventh century at which time it was "elevated" in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.
From this latter event the "universal elevation" of the Cross was celebrated annually in all of the churches
of the Christian Empire.
The day of the Elevation of the Cross became, as it were, the national holiday of the Eastern
Christian Empire similar to the Fourth of July in the United States. The Cross, the official symbol of the Empire which
was placed on all public buildings and uniforms, was officially elevated on this day by the bishops and priests. They
blessed the four directions of the universe with the Cross, while the faithful repeated the chanting of "Lord, have mercy."
This ritual is still done in the churches today after the solemn procession and elevation of the Cross at the end of
the Vigil Service of the Feast following the Great Doxology of Matins.
The Troparion of the Feast which was, one
might say, the "national anthem" sung on all public occasions in the Christian Empires of Byzantium and Russia,
originally petitioned God to save the people, to grant victories in war and to preserve the empire "by the virtue of
the Cross." Today the Troparion, and all hymns of the day, are "spiritualized" as the "adversaries"
became the spiritually wicked and sinful, including the devil and his armies, and "Orthodox Christians" replace
the names of rulling officials of the Empire.
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.
victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaires:
and by the virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.
of the Feast]
As Thou was mercifully crucified
for our sake,
grant mercy to those who are called by Thy name;
Make all Orthodox
Christians glad by Thy power,
granting victories over their adversaries,
bestowing on them the invincible trophy,
Thy weapon of peace.
[Kontakion of the Feast]
The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross although it has an obviously "political" origin, has a place of
great significance in the Church today. It remains with us a day of fasting and prayer, a day when we recall that the
Cross is the only sign worthy of our total allegiance, and that our salvation comes not by "victories" of any earthly
sort but by the only true and lasting victory of the Crucifixion of Christ and our co-crucifixion with him.
When we elevate the Cross and bow down before it in veneration and worship to
God, we proclaim that we belong to the Kingdom "not of this world," and that our only true and enduring citizenship
is with the saints in the "city of God" [Ephesians 2.19; Hebrews 11.10; Revelation 21-22].
The first Old Testament reading at Vespers of the Feast tells of the "tree"
which changes the bitter waters into sweetness -- the symbol of the Tree of the Cross [Exodus 15.22-16.1].
The second reading reminds us that the Lord chastens and corrects those whom
he loves and that Divine Wisdom is "a Tree of life to those who lay hold upon her and trust in her, as in the Lord"
[Proverbs 3.11-18]. Again, the reference is to the Cross which is, as the Epistle reading of the day proclaims, "to
those who are called.....the power of God and the wisdom of God" [1Corinthians 18.25].
The third Old Testamanet reading is from the Prophecy of Isaish which tells of the "city of the Lord" where
both Jews and Gentiles will live together and "shall bow themselves down" at the place of God's feet and "shall
know that I the Lord am Thy Savior and Thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Israel" [Isaiah 60.11-16]. Here we
have the direct reference to God's city where men shall worship at his feet; and together with the psalm line repeated constantly
during the services which calls us to "bow before his footstool," we have once again the reference to the Holy Cross
Before Thy Cross,
we bow down in worship, O Master,
and Thy holy resurrection, we glorify
[Hymn of Veneration before the Cross]
This central hymn of the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross which lasts for eight days in the Church is sung many
times. It replaces the Thrice-Holy hymn of the Divine Liturgy. The normal antiphons are also replaced by special
verses from the psalms which have direct reference to Christ's Crucifixion on the Cross [Psalms 22, 27, 74, 99].
At Matins, in the Gospel reading from Saint John, Christ says that when he is
elevated on the Cross he will draw all men to himself. [John 12.28-36]. The long Gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy
[John 19.6-11; 13-21; 30-35] is the Passion account from John.
the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross Christians make their official rededication to the Crucified Lord and pledge their
undivided allegiance to him by their veneration of the Cross. This is the meaning of this Holy Day of fasting and repentance
in the Church today.