A HOMILY FOR THE GREAT FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
About the Finding of the Holy Cross and Keeping the Image of the Cross Ever in Sight
Brothers and sisters!
Today is the great feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross of the Lord, so I will briefly recount the events it commemorates and say a word about their significance for us.
Early in the fourth century, the holy Emperor Constantine the Great, the Equal-to-the-Apostles, was engaged in civil war against the tyrant Maxentius. In broad daylight Constantine beheld in the sky a cross formed of stars and below it the words “By this sign conquer.” Although his army was outnumbered by the enemy, Constantine was encouraged by the vision and boldly advanced. At the Battle of the Milvian Bridge he routed Maxentius’ forces, then took Rome. Saint Constantine’s mother, Helen, who was a Christian, ascribed the victory to the power of Christ and decided to initiate a search for the actual Cross of the Lord. She betook herself to Jerusalem and began making inquiries, but no one seemed to know anything about where the Cross was to be found. Finally, an old Jew, Judas by name, told her that the Cross was buried beneath a pagan temple. Without delay, Saint Helen had the temple demolished and its foundations excavated. Not one, but three crosses were found deep in the earth.
Which was the Cross of the Lord? Providence quickly resolved the uncertainty. A funeral procession was passing by, and Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who was present during the excavation, ordered the pallbearers to stop. One by one, he laid each cross upon the corpse. Nothing happened when the first and the second crosses touched the body, but when the third did, the dead man came to life. From this it was obvious which cross was the Lord’s. Saint Helen, the clergy, the nobility, and the Empress’ troops made prostrations before the Cross and kissed it, but the crowd that gathered was so large that not all the people could see the Cross, much less kiss it. To remedy the problem, Bishop Macarius ascended a knoll and lifted up the Cross, so that everyone could at least catch a glimpse of it. When he did so, the crowd shouted, “Lord, have mercy!” and fell to the ground.
From this account, it is, I think, very easy to understand how the beautiful rite of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, which we performed a little earlier this morning, came into existence.
Dear Christians, in a moment we shall once again approach, gaze upon, pray before, and kiss the image of the Lifegiving Cross of the Lord. May we always behold the Holy Cross with our inner eyes, and may our inner man ever pray before and kiss the Holy Cross with fervor, gratitude, and love! The image of the Cross which Saint Constantine beheld in the sky gave him victory over the tyrant Maxentius, and the true Cross unearthed by Saint Helen raised the dead. If we keep the holy Cross and everything it means close to our heart, we shall likewise enjoy victory over a most tyrannous adversary, the devil, and our moribund souls will come to life. May the metal cross we always wear upon our breast remind us of this, so that we never lose sight of the Cross with the eyes of faith, nor allow our souls to forget the wondrous things the Saviour accomplished and continues to accomplish for us by the Cross.
O all-honored Cross of the Lord! Be the guardian of my soul and body, lay low the demons, cut down my passions, and impart to me blessing, life, strength, and salvation, through the grace of the All-Holy Spirit and the intercessions of the all-pure Mother of God. Amen.