The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates three historical events
The discovery of Vera Crux by St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.
The dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulcher and Mount Calvary.
And the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem by the Emperor Heraclius II.
But in a deeper sense, the feast celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of our salvation.
This instrument of torture, designed to degrade the worst of criminals, became the tree that gives life.
It reverses the original sin of Adam and Eve when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.
We remember with great affection and veneration the Holy Cross because in it our Redeemer Jesus Christ died and with the five wounds that he suffered Christ paid our immense debts with God and obtained salvation.
SUPERNATURAL EVENTS FOR THE DISCOVERY OF THE HOLY CROSS
After the death and resurrection of Christ, the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem made efforts to obscure the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb of Christ in the garden near the place of his crucifixion. The earth had been piled up along the site, and pagan temples had been built on top of it. The cross on which Christ had died had been hidden (tradition says) by the Jewish authorities somewhere in the vicinity. According to tradition, first mentioned by St. Cyril of Jerusalem in 348, St. Helena, arriving at the end of her life, decided under divine inspiration to travel to Jerusalem to excavate the Holy Sepulcher and try to locate the True Cross. A Jew named Judas, aware of the tradition concerning the clandestinity of the Cross, led them to excavate the place where the Holy Sepulcher was hidden. Three crosses were found at the site. According to a tradition, the inscription Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum ("Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews") remained united to the True Cross. But according to a more common tradition, however, inscription was missing, and St. Helena and St. Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, supposing that it was the True Cross and those belonging to the thieves crucified with Christ, devised a experiment to determine what the Vera Crux was.
In one version of this last tradition, the three crosses were taken to a woman who was near death; when she touched the Vera Crux, she was healed. . In another, the body of a dead man was taken to the place where the three crosses were found, and placed it on each cross. . The Vera Crux restored the dead to life.
RECOVERY OF THE HOLY CROSS
As we said, around 320 the Empress Helena of Constantinople found the True Cross, the cross on which Our Lord Jesus Christ died.
The Empress and her son Constantine had the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher built at the site of discovery, where they kept the relic.
They named it the basilica of the "Resurrection". They consecrated it on September 14. As a consequence, this day was chosen to celebrate the feast that is called the "Exaltation of the precious and vivifying Cross". King Crosos II of Persia in 614 invaded and conquered Jerusalem and took the Cross by placing it under the feet of his throne as a sign of his contempt for Christianity.
But in 628 the emperor Heraclius managed to defeat it, recovered the Cross and took it back to Jerusalem on September 14, that same year. . Since then, that day was marked in the liturgical calendars as the one of the Exaltation of the True Cross.
When the Holy Cross returned to Jerusalem, the emperor arranged to accompany her in solemn procession, but dressed in all the luxurious royal ornaments, and suddenly realized that she was not able to advance. Then the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Zechariah, said to him,
"It is that all that luxury of dresses that it carries, they are in disagreement with the humble and painful aspect of Christ, when carrying the cross by these streets".
Then the emperor took off his luxury cloak and gold crown, and barefoot, began to walk the streets thus and could continue in the pious procession. The fragments of the holy Cross were found in the silver casket into which the Persians had been taken, and when the patriarch and the clerics opened the chest, all the faithful revered the relics with much fervor, and even produced many miracles . The Holy Cross (to avoid new robberies) was broken into several pieces. . One was taken to Rome, another to Constantinople, a third was left in a beautiful silver casket in Jerusalem. . Another one was split in tiny splinters to be distributed in different churches of the whole world, that were called "Vera Crux" (true cross).
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is of Palestinian origin and has remnants of that local origin. . On September 14, the Holy Cross was exposed and venerated so that the faithful could satisfy their devotion.
A bishop climbed a richly decorated tribune, and after he had venerated the holy tree, he raised it (exalted) and showed it to the kneeling people. This ceremony was called "Exaltation of the Holy Cross". This feast was already celebrated in Constantinople in the time of St. John Chrysostom († 407), the first testimony of a relic of the cross venerated in Jerusalem which is preserved from St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his first mystagogical catechesis pronounced towards the year 348 . This feast is rooted in the day of Atonement: "On the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the day of the Atonement, wherein ye shall offer the feast of tents for the Lord for seven days. For seven days you shall dwell in huts "(Leviticus 23).
In Spain the greatest part of the cross of Christ is preserved in the sanctuary of Santo Toribio de Liébana, in full Picos de Europa, brought in the days of Don Alonso I the Catholic, King of Asturias and son-in-law of King Don Pelayo, for the same Saint Toribio, bishop of Astorga, from Jerusalem and who was greatly venerated by pilgrims from all over in the Holy Years. In the eleventh century and according to the places had the same consideration as the privileged parties of some Apostles, that of St. Michael or that of Circumcision. The Galican churches did not know this feast, but celebrated another one in honor of The Holy Cross, with identical aim, day 3 of May. At the beginning this feast was not fixed, since it fell in the spring between the octave of Easter and the days of the Rogativas and that was known with the name of "Invention of the Holy Cross". One of the earliest testimonies of this feast, with the name of Dies Sanctae Crucis, is the Lectionary of Silos, written around 650. In Spain is celebrated from immemorial time, on May 3, the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, with the denomination of La Cruz de Mayo. It is popular, celebrated in different regions with special rites in which the main element are flowers. In the Mozarabic liturgical calendars only the feast of May 3 appears with the title of "Inventio Sanctae Crucis".
Byzantine Icon of St. Helena and the Emperor Constantine
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