The Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life Giving Cross

September 14

Icon courtesy of Dmitry Shkolnik

“We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection: through him we are saved and made free.”

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is celebrated each year on September 14, commemorating the finding of the True Cross of our Lord by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. This Feast is celebrated not only in memory of the event of the finding of the Cross, but also to celebrate how an instrument of shame was used to overcome death, bringing salvation and eternal life.

The cross is at the very center of our Christian faith. It is something which non-Christians often find difficult to understand. Superficially, it points to the utter failure of Jesus’ mission. Crucifixion was one of the most barbaric and painful forms of execution. It was also one of the most shameful types of punishment. The convicted person hung stark naked in a public place, the object of all kinds of abuse and mockery. It was the ultimate stripping of all decency and human dignity. The same Cross manifests to all men God’s love for the world, for this world that God calls to serve him and to praise him. Hence John tells us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Adoration of the Cross is the adoration of Jesus Christ, the God Man, who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture to save us from sin and death. The cross represents the One Sacrifice by which Jesus, obedient even unto death, accomplished our salvation. The cross is a symbolic summary of the Passion, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.  This Cross today is the best-known religious symbol of Christianity.   It reminds Christians of God’s act of love in Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary, where he gave his life for us, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The cross also reminds Christians of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, since it is through His death and resurrection; Jesus conquered death and gave us new life. The cross symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ through which he saved our humanity and today it is presented as an instrument of Christ’s triumph.  Our faith tells us that the Cross is an instrument of our God’s saving Love.

On this day, the Cross is lifted up to the four corners of the earth, and descends even into hell, that the world may be saved.  It is raised five times, facing East, South, West, North and East again.  The whole world is encompassed.

The Cross is the guardian of the whole earth.
The Cross is the beauty of the Church.
The Cross is the strength of Kings.
The Cross is the support of the faithful.
The Cross is the glory of angels and wonder of demons.

“When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross.”  Bishop Sheehan

Adapted from these sources:
Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Sign of the Cross

The symbol of Christian faith has ever been and always will be the Cross, for it is the sign of our redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth to suffer for us and was crucified upon the Cross. When we wish to show that something is dedicated to Christ, we mark it with a Cross.  When we join the three fingers of our right hand together, it is as if we want­ed to say: “I believe in God, One in the Trinity; in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; not in one person, but Three Persons; not in three gods, but One God.” When we bend the other two fingers of our right hand down to the palm it is as if we were saying: “I believe that our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is at the same time Real God and Real man – the God-man – came down to earth for our salvation.

As we make the sign of the Cross, we say the following prayer:

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.  Doing so, we clearly indicate that we belong to God and serve Him alone. God is always near us, because He is everywhere. He always sees us, just as He sees everything. But during prayer, we are especially close to God: we stand before Him, speak to Him and He listens to us. Because of this, while praying, we sign ourselves with the Cross more often, especially before and after each prayer. We also make the Cross upon ourselves when we enter church, approach a sacred object or kiss an icon, and many times during church services. We should make the sign of the Cross in the morning to obtain God’s blessing on the day; in the evening to ask for His protection during the night; at all the important moments of our life: when in danger, in sorrow, in joy; before all important undertakings that they may turn out well; at mealtime to invoke God’s blessing and to give Him thanks.

We must never make the sign of the Cross hurriedly and carelessly. To those who cross themselves in a hurry, without due deliberation, or who simply wave their hand fanning their breast, St John Chrysostom says: “the demons rejoice in this frantic waving.” On the other hand, the Cross traced correctly, with faith and reverence, dispels demons, calms sinful passions, attracts Divine Grace and gives us the strength to do good. We must never be ashamed of the sign of the Cross lest Christ be ashamed of us. We are assured by Christians of all ages, but especially by those of the first centuries, that we have at our command a very powerful weapon: the sign of the Cross. Therefore, it is much to be regretted that we do not make better use of it in our times. Never did the world array before the children of God enemies so numerous or as insidious as at the present time. They assail us on every side, not only with sword and fire, but with false philosophies, with pride of intellect, with religious indifference, with materialism, with commodity. It is more difficult for us to combat these enemies for a lifetime, than it was for early Christians to gain a martyr’s glory in a momentary struggle in the amphitheater. If, for the first Christians, trained in the school of apostles and their immediate successors, the frequent use of the sign of the Cross was so necessary, is it not also indispensable to us? Let us then follow the pious custom of our fathers in the Faith and make the sign of the Cross more frequently.

Adapted for use here with the permission of Saint Luke Serbian Orthodox Church, Washington, DC