The Feast of the Holy Cross

By Father Anthony J. Salim, Pastor of St. Theresa's in Brockton MA

That the saving Cross of Jesus Christ is at the centre of the Christian experience is beyond doubt. The most traditional of Christian theology from the time of St Paul on says that without the great sacrifice of his life for the taking away of sins we would not be able to reach eternal happiness with the Blessed Trinity.
If pushed, when thinking of the Cross of Christ, most Christians would probably think of Great Friday before Easter. However, since the 4th century, with the story of St Helena's finding the true Cross, this great feast, celebrated on 14 September, tells us of the "other side" of the Cross: glory after suffering, and God's power to save.

This feast marks the last season of the Maronite liturgical year. The Exaltation of the Cross commemorates the finding of the relics of the Cross by St Helen. Before 337 A.D., this event was attributed to the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, who built basilicas at Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher. His mother, St. Helen, who built churches on the sites of the Nativity and of the Ascension, earned so great an admiration of our ancestors that, by the latter part of the century, they gave her credit for finding the Cross.

Helena (or simply Helen) was born of lower class in the Roman Empire in the city of Drepanum in the middle of the third Christian century. This low social standing caused a certain amount of criticism; and sad to say some even compared her to prostitutes. She married into the wealthy class, but her husband divorced her in 292. Nevertheless, when her son Constantine became the Emperor of Rome, she moved there in 312 and attitudes toward her changed. She was given the title given to some Roman emperors: Augusta.

Because Constantine made some important imperial changes protecting Christians in the Empire, the Augusta Helen too accepted the Christian Faith and was baptized. Helen had a great desire to visit the places where Jesus walked and decided to journey to the Holy Land. One of her goals, it is said, was to find the True Cross of Christ. Thus, in 327 to 328 she made a pilgrimage there. The Christian historian Eusebius remembers her trip in a kindly way, telling his readers that not only did Helen visit the holy places but helped the poor and needy, as she believed that is what Jesus asks of his followers in every age. She and her son the emperor dis- cussed that fact that the holy places needed somehow to be remembered in some concrete way. He suggested that churches be built at these places. Some of these magnificent churches - or at least their ruins - and their fine architecture and design remain today.

St Helena's pilgrimage to the Holy Land gave birth to the creation of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is universally celebrated on 14 September in the whole Church.
Christian Tradition has always seen two sides of this Cross: death and shame, yes, on Great Friday of the Crucifixion; but glory and power as well. It is not always easy to speak about this paradox of the Christian life. Paul indicates this in his First Letter to the Corinthians, verses 18 to 25. Who could imagine then that a criminal's death could be the standard of a religion?
We are, in the words of Paul, "on the way to salvation"; thus, we believe this talk of the Cross.

As always, our Liturgy teaches us about our Faith. Pray these words found in the Divine Liturgy of the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:
Jesus Christ our Lord, accept our prayer and incense which we have offered in commemoration of the exaltation of your Holy Cross. May your Cross always be before our ryes, so that with you, we may go to death and rise in glory at your right side to celebrate the feast of your eternal victory. We glorify you, with your Father and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen!