On today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we commemorate with a strict fast two events related to the Holy Cross. First, we prayerfully and liturgically remember its discovery in Jerusalem by the empress Helen. Once it was found her son, the emperor Constantine, ordered that a church be built on the spot it was discovered. On the following day, September 14 (27 according to the Old Calendar) a festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross established. Secondly, we remember today the Cross’s return to Jerusalem after being captured by the Persians. It was held in captivity for fourteen years until the emperor Heraclius defeated the Persian emperor Khozroes II and concluded peace with this son Syroes and the Cross was returned to the Christians.
The empress Helen was declining in years at the time she was sent by her son to find the True Cross. And finding it was no easy task. For a long time her search was very unsuccessful. But then she was directed to a certain elderly Hebrew named Jude who told her that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. The pagan temple was demolished at once and after some search they discovered the Tomb of the Lord and not far from it three crosses. The board with the inscription ordered by Pilate was also found but not attached so they had to discern on which of the three crosses was was the Savior crucified. And in order to be certain which one was the True Cross the patriarch alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.
You know, the Cross was hidden under a pagan temple for quite some time. About 300 years. And when someone finally set out to search for it God didn’t reward them with a quick find – St. Helen had quite a search. Ironically, even though this feast owes a great amount to her she didn’t survive until the consecration of the new church in honor of Christ’s Resurrection and that first Exaltation in 335, she died in 327.
The message of the Cross is victory but not our victory. Yet, paradoxically it is only when we accept it as God’s victory that we see just how much it is not only ours but our only true victory.