The persecution of the Christians ceased only in the
beginning of the fourth century, under the Roman Emperor Constantine the
The Emperor Constantine himself was conquered by
the power and the glory of the sign of the Cross of Christ. One day, on the eve
of a decisive battle, he and all his soldiers saw a cross of light in the sky
with the inscription, "By this sign you will conquer" (in Greek,
NIKA). The following night the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared with the
Cross in His hand and told him that by this sign he would conquer the enemy and
directed that each soldierís shield be monogrammed with the holy Cross.
Constantine fulfilled the command of God and conquered the enemy. He placed his
empire under the protection of the saving sign of Christ. He took Christianity
under his protection and proclaimed faith in Christ to be the state religion.
He outlawed punishment by crucifixion and issued laws favouring the Church of
Christ. For his merit and zeal in propagating the Christian faith, Constantine
the Great with his mother Helen received the title of Holy Rulers, Equal-of-the-Apostles.
Equal-of-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine desired
to build Godís churches on the Christian holy places in Palestine, the places
of the birth, suffering, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and others,
and to find the Cross on which the Saviour was crucified. His mother, the
Equal-of-the Apostles St. Helen, took upon herself the task of fulfilling the
Emperorís wishes with great joy.
In 326 A.D., Empress Helen journeyed to Jerusalem.
She devoted much labour to finding of the Cross of Christ since the enemies of
Christ had hidden the Cross burying it in the ground. Finally, she was directed
to an elderly Jew by the name of Judas, who knew where the Cross of the Lord
was. After much questioning and conversation, they induced him to reveal its
location. It seemed that the holy Cross had been thrown into a cave and heaped
over with debris and dirt; and above it, there had been built a pagan temple.
Empress Helen ordered the building to be torn down and the cave ó unearthed.
When they uncovered the cave, they found three
crosses in it and apart from them lay a sign with the inscription, "Jesus
of Nazareth, King of the Jews." It was necessary to find out which of the
three crosses was the Cross of the Saviour. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Macarius,
and Empress Helen firmly hoped and believed that God would show them the Cross
of the Saviour.
On the advice of the Patriarch, they brought the
crosses one at a time to a very sick woman. From two of the crosses, nothing
happened; but when they brought the third cross, she immediately became well.
It happened that at this moment a dead man was carried by on the way to his
burial. They brought the crosses one at a time to the dead man; and when they
brought the third cross, the dead man revived. By this means, they found the
Cross of the Lord through which the Lord worked miracles and showed the life-giving
power of His Cross.
The Empress Helen, the Patriarch Macarius, and all
the people with them thankfully venerated the Cross of Christ and kissed it
with great joy. Christians after finding out about this great event gathered in
a crowd of innumerable people at the place where the Cross of the Lord had been
found. Everyone wanted to approach the holy life-giving Cross; but because of
the size of the crowd, that was impossible. Thus, all began to ask at least to
be able to see it. Then, the Patriarch stood on a high place; and in order to
make it visible to all, he lifted it up several times. The crowd seeing the
Cross of the Saviour bowed and exclaimed, "Lord have mercy!"
The holy Equal-of-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine
and Empress Helen built a vast and splendid church in honour of the Resurrection
of Christ. They also built churches on the Mount of Olives,
in Bethlehem, and in Hebron at the Oak of Mamre.
The Empress Helen sent a portion of the Cross of
the Lord to her son, Emperor Constantine; and another portion, she left in Jerusalem. This precious remnant of the Cross of Christ is still
kept at the present day in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ at the Holy
After finding the Life-giving Cross of the Lord,
Judas, who had shown the location of the Cross, became a Christian. Later for
his virtuous life, he was ordained a bishop with the name Cyriacus and was
raised to the position of Patriarch of Jerusalem. He suffered for Christ under
Julian the Apostate. The memory of St. Cyriacus the holy martyr is celebrated October
28th (November 10th NS).
In remembrance of the finding of the Cross of
Christ and Its elevation, the Holy Orthodox Church established the feast of the
Exaltation of the Honourable and Life-giving Cross of the Lord. This
feast is one of the great feast-days and is celebrated on September 14th
(September 27th NS).
During the All-night vigil service, at Matins, the
Cross is carried out for veneration. While singing the great doxology, the
priest dressed in full vestments and carrying on his head the Holy Cross
decorated with flowers carries it during the singing of "Holy God..."
from the altar to the middle of the church and places it on a lectern. During
the thrice-repeated singing of the festal hymn, "Save O Lord, Thy
people...," the priest censes the Holy Cross. Then, during the singing
of, "Before Thy Cross we bow down, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection
we glorify," everyone venerates and kisses the Holy Cross. Decorating
the Holy Cross with greenery and flowers signifies the conviction that through It, through the suffering and death of the Saviour on It,
eternal life is given to us. On this feast day, strict fasting is observed to
deepen reverence for the memory of the Saviourís suffering by crucifixion and
for cleansing us from sins.
Return to the first page