A Homily on the Exaltation and Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

A Homily on the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

Saint Constantine the Great (21 May) was preparing to march on Rome to confront his rival Maxentius when the sign of the Life-Giving Cross appeared to him in the midday sky, surrounded with the inscription: by this sign you shall conquer (Gk. En Touto Nika).

All of his soldiers also saw the sign, including the commander Artemius, who was later put to death for Christ's sake by the Emperor Julian, and they marveled. The greater part of them, because among the pagan, the image of a cross signified misfortune and death, inasmuch as thieves and evildoers were punished by execution on the cross. Even the Emperor Constantine doubted. As he slept that night, however, Christ the Lord Himself appeared to him and again revealed the sign of the precious Cross which has appeared the day before, and He said to Constantine, "Make an image of this sign, and command that it be carried in front of the army, and not only Maxentius but all your enemies will be overcome."

When the Emperor awoke, he related the vision to his nobles. He summoned expert goldsmiths and commanded them to fashion of gold, pearls, and precious stones a copy of the precious Cross, like the one which had appeared to him. Moreover, he ordered all his troops to make the sing of the Cross on all their weapons, helmets, and shields.

When the impious Maxentius learned that Constantine had entered Italy and was descending upon Rome, he most impudently led the Roman Army out against him. Constantine ordered that the precious Cross be carried before his army, and when his forces engaged Maxentius' army, Maxentius was defeated by the power of the precious Cross, and a multitude of his soldiers were cut down. Maxentius himself was forced to flee across a bridge he himself had built, pursued by the Emperor Constantine. By the power of God, however, the bridge collapsed, and the wretch was drowned in the river with his soldiers like Pharaoh of old. Constantine then entered Rome in triumph, and the people greeted him with honor and great rejoicing. Constantine gave thanks to God, Who had granted him victory over the persecutor by the power of the precious and Life-Creating Cross. In commemoration of that most glorious victory, he set up a cross in the center of the city of Rome on a tall pillar of stone, upon which was inscribed: "This city was delivered from the yoke of the tormentor by this saving sign."

In the twentieth year of his reign (326 A.D.), Constantine sent his mother Saint Helen with great riches to search for the Precious and Holy Cross of Christ. At that time the Patriarch was Macarius. He received the Empress with fitting honor. The blessed Empress Helen, hoping to find the Life-creating Cross of the Lord, which had been hidden the Jews, summoned the Jews of the city and demanded that they show her the place where the precious Cross of the Lord was hidden. When they began to protest that they knew nothing, the Empress Helen threatened them. They then pointed out an old man name Judas and said, "This man is able to show you that for which you seek. He is the son of a respected prophet."

Questioned for a long time, Judas finally directed them to a place where there was a great mound covered over with dirt and stones, upon which the Roman Emperor Hadrian had built a temple to the goddess Venus, setting up her image there. Judas affirmed that the Cross of the Lord was hidden in this place.

The Empress Helen commanded that the temple of the idols be destroyed and that the dirt and stones be dug up and scattered. As her orders were being carried out, Patriarch Macarius went to pray at the spot, when to his amazement a fragrant odor filled the air. Just then, the Lord's Sepulchre and the Place of the Skull were found toward the east, and near them three crosses were uncovered, and later the precious nails were found as well. All were uncertain as to which of the crosses was the true Cross of the Lord. At that moment a corpse was being carried by to be buried. Patriarch Macarius commanded those who bore the dead to halt, and he had the crosses placed one after the other on the corpse. When the Cross of Christ was placed on him, the dead man immediately arose, resurrected by the divine power of the Cross of the Lord.

Then the Queen and her whole court worshipped the Holy Cross and kissed it with great devotion. The people, who had gathered in large numbers at the place, also wanted to share in this grace, or at least--so ardent was their love for Christ--to see from afar the instrument of our Redemption. So the Patriarch mounted the ambo, and taking the Cross in both hands, raised (elevated) it on high so that all could see it, while the crowd exclaimed: Kyrie Eleison! (Lord have mercy!) This was the occasion of the institution in all the Orthodox Churches of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, not only in memory of the event but also to show forth this instrument of shame as having become our pride and our joy. By recalling the action of the Patriarch and by elevating the Holy Cross at the four points of the compass to the chant Kyrie Eleison, Orthodox Christians show today that, in mounting the Cross, Christ desired to reconcile all things to Himself, uniting creation in all its height and depth and to its farthest bounds in His body, so that we may have access through Him to the Father.

The holy Empress Helen kept a portion of the precious Wood and the holy nails for herself. Placing the remaining portion of the Cross in a silver reliquary, she committed it to Patriarch Macarius to be preserved for future generations.

(Source: The Synaxarion and the Lives of the Saints)


An Orthodox Christian perspective on the Cross of Christ

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes of "Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the Throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). A text such as this could be behind the hymn we sing at every Divine Liturgy after receiving the Holy Eucharist: "For through the Cross, joy has come into the world." Jesus Himself said "that the Son of Man must suffer many things...and be killed and after three days rise again" (St. Mark 8:31). Of the Greek word translated as "must" from these words of Christ, Archbishop Demitrios Trakatellis wrote: "This expresses the necessity (dei) of the Messiah's terrible affliction. Judging from the meaning of the verb (dei) in Mark, this necessity touches upon God's great plan for the salvation of the world" (Authority and Passion, p. 51-52).

Many such texts can be multiplied, but the point is clear; The Cross and the empty tomb - redemption and resurrection - are inseparably united in the one paschal mystery that is nothing less than "Good News."

As something of an aside, part of this misunderstanding of the Orthodox Church's supposed neglect of the Cross in the drama of human redemption could stem from a one-sided emphasis on the Cross in other Christian traditions at the expense of the Resurrection. The redemptive significance of the Cross somehow overwhelms the Resurrection so that it is strangely reduced to something of a glorified appendix to the salvific meaning of the Cross. As Vladimir Lossky wrote: "This redemptionist theology, placing all the emphasis on the passion, seems to take no interest in the triumph of Christ over death." Since the "triumph of Christ over death" is so integral to the very existence of the Church -- and since it is the ultimate paschal proclamation, as in "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!" --then the Orthodox Church will never concentrate on a "theology of the Cross" at the expense of the Resurrection. Rather, the one paschal mystery will always embrace both Cross and Resurrection in a balanced manner. Within the Church during the week of the Cross, (beginning on the third Sunday of Great Lent), we sing and prostrate ourselves before the Cross while chanting, "Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify."

The Orthodox Church can make a huge contribution toward a more holistic and integrated understanding of the role of both Cross and Resurrection, so that the full integrity of the role of both the Cross and Resurrection, so that the full integrity of the paschal mystery is joyfully proclaimed to the world. From the patristic tradition of the Church, the voice of Saint Athanasius the Great can speak to us today of this holistic approach. "Here, then is the...reason why the Logos (Word) dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man's account with death and free him from the primal transgression. In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruit of the resurrection." (On the Incarnation 20). (Source: Orthodox Church in America).


Making the Sign of the Cross

What is the significance of the sign of the cross? Well, in the first place, we often place our initials or other personal mark on something to show it belongs to us. The Cross is the personal mark of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we mark it on ourselves as a sign that we belong to Him, just as in the book of Revelation, the servants of God are sealed or marked on their foreheads as a sign that they are His.



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.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George