On 14 September, the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the Elevation (Exaltation) of the Life-giving Holy Cross; a feast related to a series of historical events linked to the search for The Holy Cross, eventually found in Jerusalem in the fourth century by two equals to the Apostles Sts. Constantine and Helena. Patriarch Macarius went on to Elevate the Holy Cross and bless the people with it.
The Cross has central significance in the spiritual and liturgical life of Christians; and because of the importance of this Feast, the Orthodox Church allocated the Sunday which falls before the Feast day and the Sunday after (September 14) to the Memory of the Holy Cross. The significance of this holy day is further highlighted through the Typicon; if the feast falls on Sunday, the usual Resurrection chants are omitted, and instead, all are reserved for the Holy Cross!
The Old Testament is a keeper of many prefigures and symbols related to the Cross. We see that Joshua, the son of Nun, in ancient times foreshadowed the Cross mystically as he stretched forth his arms in the form of a cross, and the sun stood still until he destroyed the enemies opposed to God.
Moses was also a reflector of the holy symbol; he inscribed the sign of the cross with an upright stroke of his rod, dividing the Red Sea for the Hebrews, and leading them across the dry seabed to escape from the slavery of the Pharaoh to the promised land. He also lifted up a snake on a stick horizontally to form a cross, and anyone who had been bitten could look at this snake wound in the shape of a cross and recover from its deadly poison. The power of the Cross was the antidote. Now when we raise our sight to Christ lifted on the Cross, we are healed from the deadly poison of sin.
Let us also look to Jonah who, when in the belly of the sea monster, stretched forth his hands in the form of a cross, and prefigured the saving Passion. And when he came out of the belly of the creature on the third day, he indicated the supernal Resurrection of Christ.
In this Feast’s Scriptural readings, a comparison between the wood in the Old Testament and the new wood (the wooden Cross) is made. In the Old Testament, eating from the old wood (that is, the tree of knowledge of good and evil) caused Adam and Eve to become aware of their nakedness and transgressions, causing them to be expelled from paradise, but the life-giving wooden Holy Cross of the New Testament opened for us the doors of paradise. Essentially, Adam was tempted to fall and eat of the tree, but we are saved by the life-giving tree (The Holy Cross). We read in this feast’s prayer: “Today the death that came to man through the eating of the tree (that is, the tree of knowledge of good and evil) is abolished through the Cross.”
Christ foretold his disciples that He would be raised up on the Cross and will suffer on the Cross voluntarily. We sing: “Do Thou, Who of Your own good will was lifted up upon the Cross, O Christ our God, bestow your bounties upon the new Nation which is called by your Name; make glad in your might those who lawfully govern, that with them we may be led to victory over our adversaries, having in Thine aid a weapon of peace and a trophy invincible.”
The Holy Cross has a central place in the Church and in Christian worship; it was the first Christian symbol to be carved on the graves of the martyrs in the catacombs. It also the main symbol to be placed atop Church buildings as a beacon to guide believers to the port of salvation. The Cross also stands on the top of the Iconostasis; He is “the Icon of Icons.” The priest also blesses the believers with the sign of the cross and all Church utilities are sanctified by the sign of the cross, as well as homes and places of worship.
The sign of the cross accompanies our lives from beginning to end, we do the sign of the cross before sleep and after we rise up, before and after eating, before travelling, during sickness, before surgery. In short, all Christians bless their every deed with the sign of the Blessed Holy Cross.
In the Church, we offer veneration and prostrations honouring the Holy Cross as we do to all holy icons. When we do this, we are honouring and worshipping our crucified Lord on the Cross, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Holy Cross has become a symbol of our victory over the power (and weakness) of the enemy (Satan). The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; it is the support and staff of the faithful; the Cross is the beauty of the Church of Christ, and the mighty strength of kings; the Cross is the glory of Angels, it is the wounding of demons.
In ancient times, the cross was used as a tool of torture and death, which turned out to be a tool for salvation and a bridge to cross over from death to life. It is a symbol of our pride and our joy. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: “But God forbid, that I should glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” on which He killed our passions by His Passion.
The Cross has become a symbol of Divine love, a sign of joy and a conqueror of enemies. It is the stick of power, that of which when drawn, saves us from adversity and calamities.
We venerate Your Cross, O Master and we glorify Your holy Resurrection.