The Exaltation of the Cross celebrated on September 14 is one of the twelve great feasts
in the yearly Church cycle. It commemorates two historical events: first, the finding of the
Life-giving Cross in the year 326, and second, its recovery from Persia in 628.
History of the Feast
In the first centuries of Christianity, during the years of persecution, the pagans wished to
destroy all evidence of the life of Jesus Christ, and the Cross on which He was crucified
disappeared. With the conversion of Emperor Constantine the Great, Christians were at
liberty to worship openly and build churches. The emperor’s mother, St. Helen, longed to
find the True Cross of Christ. She traveled to Jerusalem and was told by a very old Jew
that the Cross was buried beneath the temple of the pagan goddess Venus, built in 119
AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The temple was torn down, and digging in the earth below uncovered three wooden
crosses. The small board which had hung over Christ with the inscription "Jesus King of
the Jews," had long since fallen off, and there was no way of telling which was the True
Cross and which were the crosses of the two thieves crucified on either side of Christ. A
sick woman was brought and likewise a dead man who was being carried to burial. The
three crosses were laid in turn one by one upon the sick woman and upon the dead man.
Two of the crosses had no effect, but through contact with the third cross, the sick woman
was healed of her infirmity and the dead man came to life. These miracles clearly
indicated which of the three was Christ’s Cross.
Hearing of this discovery, all the faithful desired to see the Cross of the Lord and to
venerate it. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Makarios, took the Cross onto a raised platform
and lifted it on high, "exalting" it, for all to see. The people fell to their knees, bowing down
before the Cross and crying out repeatedly: “Lord, have mercy!”
To house the relic of the True Cross, St. Helen had s church built over the Holy
Sepulchre. The church was consecrated on Sept. 13, 335, an event also commemorated
In the Synaxarium, on the 3rd day of September, St Basil, among other things, says, “Make no mistake thinking that everyone is saved in monasteries. Many people are attracted to a virtuous life, but only a few accept its yoke”. What do these words mean? They mean that those who do nothing for their salvation, are mistaken, thinking that they would be saved living in a monastery. They are indeed wrong, for it is obvious that if a lazy person is burdened by living in the world just as well as he would be by living in a monastery. What should he do? First of all, he should give up his laziness and his thoughts about joining a monastery. He who withdraws from his laziness will be saved even in the world; he who adheres to it will perish in a monastery or in the most remote desert.
On the day after every Great Feast, the Orthodox Church honors the one through whom the Feast is made possible. On the day following the Nativity of the Lord, for example, we celebrate the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos (December 26). On the day after Theophany, we commemorate Saint John the Baptist (January 7), and so on.
Today we honor the all-Holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, Who descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost in the form of fiery tongues in fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to send the Comforter to His disciples (JN 14:16). That same Holy Spirit remains within the Church throughout the ages, guiding it “into all truth” (JN 16:13).