The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross by Deacon Marty McIndoe

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In the very center of the picture, under the altar, is a hole where you can reach down and touch the rock of Calvary where the Cross of Jesus was placed.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

               On September 14th we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This remembers that St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the True Cross in the year 326.  We must remember that shortly after Jesus was crucified, the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  They wanted to remove all access to the holy sites.  The early Christians venerated the Holy Sites, especially Calvary and the Tomb.  To eradicate the influence of Christianity, Hadrian leveled the top of Mount Calvary and erected a temple to the pagan goddess Venus. He also cut away and leveled the hillside where Jesus tomb stood and built a temple to the pagan god Jupiter Capitolinus.  Ironically, this destruction actually preserved the sacred sites.

               In 312 the Emperor Constantine issued the edict of Milan making Christianity legal.  His mother, Helena was a convert and was given permission to go to the Holy Lands to try to locate the original holy places.  Christian zeal motivated St. Helena.  The historian, Eusebius described her as follows: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds … , she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct” (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV).

               With the help of the local bishop, St. Macarius, and a learned Jew named Judas, they discovered three crosses hidden together in a cistern.  The plaque (titulus) which said, “Jesus Nazaranus Rex Iudaeorum” was found with the three crosses.  Surely one of those three had to be the true cross.  The three crosses and the titulus were removed from the cistern.  A woman, dying from a terminal disease, was brought to the spot by St. Helena.  She touched the crosses, one by one. After she touched the third cross, she was cured, thereby identifying the true cross.  Most importantly, St. Ambrose preached that when St. Helena found the true cross, “she worshiped not the wood, but the King, Him who hung on the wood. She burned with an earnest desire of touching the guarantee of immortality.”

               Constantine then built a large shrine to mark the place of Calvary and the tomb of Jesus.  It has been modified over the ages, but the current structure dates back to the time of the Crusaders.  Thanks to the Romans for building temples over the exact places of Calvary and the Tomb, we today know their actual location.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit leading St. Helena, we have the True Cross.

               St. Paul said “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” 1 Corinthians 1:23.  We continue to preach Christ crucified.  We honor and exalt the cross of Christ because it is through the cross that we have been redeemed.  Jesus was highly exalted upon the cross by God and continues to be by His Church.  Let us all lift high the cross of Jesus.

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