My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) hymn. (Tone 1)
O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory to the Emperor Over the barbarians And by the power of Thy Cross Preserve Thy commonwealth.
Kontakion. (Tone 4)
As You were voluntarily raised upon the Cross for our sake, Grant mercy to those who are called by Your Name, O Christ God; Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Your power, Granting them victories over their adversaries, By bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Your weapon of Peace.
Instead of the Trisagion
Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify. (Thrice)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
And Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify. Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.
THE UNIVERSAL EXALTATION OF THE PRECIOUS AND LIFE-GIVING CROSS
The Exaltation or Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord is celebrated always on September 14th. On this day are commemorated two events connected with the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ: the first, the finding of the Holy Cross on Golgotha and the second the returning of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem from Persia.
The holy Empress Helen was commissioned by her son and Roman Emperor, St. Constantine the Great to search and find the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. An old Jew, in Jerusalem, called Judah, was the only person who knew the whereabouts of the Holy Cross and that it was buried under the pagan Temple of Venus which the pagan Roman emperor Hadrian had built on Golgotha. Saint Helen ordered that this idolatrous temple be demolished, and then, digging deep below it, discovered three crosses. While the Empress was in uncertainty about how to recognize which cross was the Lord's, a funeral procession passed by. Then Patriarch Macarius told them to place the crosses one by one on the dead man. When they placed the first and second on him, the dead man's condition remained unchanged, but when they placed the third cross on him, he was restored to life. By this, they all knew that this was the true Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ.
Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off mighty reverently contemplate it. Then the holy Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, chanting "Kyrie eleison" ("Lord have mercy"), reverently prostrated before the Venerable and Holy Wood. This solemn even occurred in the year 326 AD.
During the discovery of the Life-Creating Cross another miracle took place: a grievously sick woman, beneath the shadow of the Holy Cross, was healed instantly. The elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Kyriakos and afterwards was consecrated Bishop of Jerusalem.
During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363 AD) he accepted a martyr's death for Christ (see October 28). Saint Helen journeyed to the holy places connected with the earthly life of our Savior, with the support of her son, St. Constantine, building more than 80 churches, at Bethlehem the birthplace of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where our Savior prayed before His suffering and where the Mother of God, our Theotokos, was buried after her death.
Saint Helen took part of the Life-Giving Cross and nails with her to Constantinople. Saint Constantine the Great gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, also including under its roof the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord and Golgotha. The church was constructed in about ten years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the church, she died in the year 327. The church was consecrated on September 13, 335 AD. On the following day, September 14th, the festal celebration of the Exultation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross was established.
Another event connected to the Cross of the Lord is remembered also on this day: its return to Jerusalem from Persia after a fourteen-year captivity. During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Phocas (602-610 AD) the Persian emperor Khozroes II in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and captured both the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord and holy Patriarch Zachariah (609-633 AD).
The Holy Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years and only under the Emperor Heraclius (610-641 AD), who with the help of God defeated Khozroes and concluded peace with his successor and son Syroes, was the Holy Cross of Christ returned to the Christians.
Entering the holy city, Emperor Heraclius was unable to take another step. Patriarch Zachariah saw an Angel directing the Emperor to take off his imperial robes and walk beneath the Holy Cross along the way that Christ had walked, barefoot and humiliated as He had been. He passed this vision to the Emperor, who stripped himself of his raiment and, in poor clothing and barefoot, took up the Cross, carried it to Golgotha and placed it in the Church of the Resurrection, to the joy and consolation of the whole Christian world.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HOLY CROSS
The Cross is the symbol par excellence of the Triumph of good over evil. By His sufferings on the Cross our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ washed away the sins of mankind, conquered the devil, abolished death and opened the way to eternal life for man. The Cross bears witness to God's Infinite Love for sinful mankind. But the Cross is much more than a symbol; it possesses Divine power.
All the Mysteria (Sacraments) and rites of the Orthodox Church are conducted with the sign of the Cross: the sanctification of the water at Baptism; the conferral of the grace of the Holy Spirit at Chrismation; the consecration of bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Christ at the holy Eucharist, and so on. When Orthodox Christians make the sign of the Cross over themselves, they invited upon themselves the Life-Giving power of the redemptive sufferings of the God-Man. The Cross of Christ sanctifies the air, the waters, and all creation. The evil spirits (demons) fear the Holy Cross and flee from it as insects flee fire.
Christian veneration of the Cross goes back to the first century. By the second and third centuries the veneration of the Cross had become so widespread among Christians that pagans called them "Cross-worshippers." We find representations of the Cross on ancient Christian monuments and in the catacombs.
WHAT CHRIST ACCOMPLISHED ON THE CROSS
"Our redemption by Jesus Christ began with His Incarnation. When He took flesh, He became like us in everything except sin (cf. Hebrews 4:15). In assuming human nature, He deified it. Since human nature is one, this gave us the potential of being deified (theosis) as well: not deified by nature and Sonship, as Christ was, but deified by Grace and adoption.
But with Christ's Incarnation, man was still not able to actualize the potential for theosis (deification). Because of his spiritual corruption, man was an impure vessel. Because of the barrier of sin, man could not conceive and keep the Grace of the Holy Spirit within himself. So Christ, having overcome the barrier of nature at His incarnation, now had to break down the barrier of sin. He would do this through His death. As Saint Nicholas Cavasilas says, Christ broke down the three barriers that separated man from God: the barrier of nature by His Incarnation, the barrier of sin by His death, and the barrier of death by His Resurrection.
As God, Christ, knew He had come to earth to die for man, and in dying rise from the grave. On the day of His crucifixion, He said: "Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour" (St. John 12:27).
Saint Gregory Palamas wrote: "Through his single spiritual death (at the Fall), Adam brought a twofold death into the world--spiritual death and bodily death. Saint Gregory goes on to say, "The Good Lord healed this twofold death of ours through His single bodily death, and through the one Resurrection of His Body He gave us a twofold resurrection. By means of His bodily death He destroyed him who had the power over our souls and bodies in death, and rescued us from his tyranny over both." By His death Christ ransomed man out of servitude to sin, and redeemed man from the eternal consequences of sin which had been incurred at the Fall. Christ Himself, spoke of this. He said of Himself: "The Son of Man came...to give His life as a ransom for many (St. Matthew 20:28). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: " And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). And in the book of Revelation: "Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy Blood" (Rev. 5:9).
Christ paid the debt that man himself could never pay. The holy Apostle John writes in his First Epistle: "He [Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for us only, but also for the sins for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). And Saint Paul the Apostle tells us: "You are bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).
Out of His infinite love for us, Christ died in place of us, so that we can be given life. Saint Paul says: "...That He [Christ] by the Grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9) and elsewhere he says, "God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Saint Athanasius the Great explains this as follows: "Taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to corruption and death, He surrendered His Body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished."
Saint Gregory Palamas writes, "that God could have found other ways of saving man from sin, mortality and servitude to the devil. But He saved man in the way He did--by coming to earth, dying and resurrecting--because this was according to justice and righteousness." As the Psalmist says: "God is righteous and loveth righteousness...and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Psalms 11:7, 92:15). Death was the just penalty for sin, and Christ paid that penalty. But because He was sinless, His death was unjust. Therefore, He justly destroyed death. This was God's economy, completely in accordance with His Righteousness.
Now, having looked at how Christ's death redeemed us through His death on the Cross, let us turn to the saving fruits of Christ's death. What does it mean for mankind to be ransomed from guilt, to be forgiven of sins? It means, in the words of Saint John Damascene, that "the road back to the former blessedness [i.e., before the Fall] has been made smooth, and the gates of Paradise opened." Through Christ's death, we can be forgiven and cleansed of sin so as to receive what we would otherwise not be worthy of receiving: the grace of the Holy Spirit within ourselves, as Adam had it before the Fall. Moreover, we can go where we would not otherwise be worthy to go: Paradise and Heaven. The first to receive this gift was one who was clearly unworthy, but who nevertheless believed in Christ and thus was redeemed through His death. This was the repentant thief on the Cross, to whom Christ said, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" (St. Luke 23:43).
The saving fruits of the Christ's death were made available not only to those who lived after Him, but also to those who lived before Him; for during His three-day burial Jesus Christ harrowed hell and brought to Paradise those righteous ones who had lain in Hades throughout the ages. "Christ's death," writes Saint Symeon the New Theologian, "was an indispensable sacrifice also for the pious who died before His coming in the flesh.
The aim of the Christian life, says Saint Seraphim of Sarov, is to acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit. We receive the seed of that Grace within us at Baptism. And then, through our Sacramental life (Mysteriaki zoe) in the Church, through a life of prayer and virtue, practicing the Commandments of Christ, we are to cultivate and nurture this seed of inward baptismal grace so as to acquire a great measure of Grace. In being ever more filled with God's Grace or Energy, we grow ever more in the likeness of Christ. Then, after our death, Christ will recognize us as His own and will receive us into His Kingdom. Amen.
Please note: After what has been said about our Lord's Cross, His death and His Resurrection in order to save us from sin and death, we need to truly think and act most reverently when we sign the cross upon ourselves, and not to do it, disrespectfully, and without the thought of His Great Sacrifice and unconditional love, to save mankind. On the Sunday of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Christ we practice a strict fast.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God