Today we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on which our saviour and Lord Jesus Christ died.
The journey of this exaltation of the Holy Cross was started by St. Helen, (Helena of Constantinople – 250–330 AD), the mother of Emperor Constantine I and wife of the Roman Emperor Constantius (250-306).
After the death of her husband, Emperor Constantius, her Christian and God-fearing son, Emperor Constantine I, rose to power. This was the beginning of the peaceful growth of Christianity because Emperor Constantine I was the first Christian emperor. He gave orders that Christians should be given the freedom to believe whatever they wanted to believe. He converted the empire to a Christian state.
Due to this new freedom of worship, St. Helen, the emperor’s mother, with a great desire to visit the holy places in Israel and Palestine, undertook a journey in 326 AD, despite being around eighty years of age.
With so much desire to find the exact cross on which Jesus Christ had suffered and died for our sins, St. Helen arrived in Jerusalem but it proved very difficult to find that exact cross. There was no mark or tradition, even amongst the Christians at that time, to show where it lay.
This was because, The non-believers, out of their hatred for Christianity, had done everything possible to conceal the place where Our Saviour was buried. They had heaped stones, boulders and rubbish and to make matters worse, built a temple to Venus on top of that place. On top of that, they erected a statue of Jupiter in the same place where Our Saviour rose from the dead.
In her pious nature, St. Helen began the task of consulting everyone in Jerusalem and near it about who would have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the cross. Luck was on her side when she was told that if she could find the tomb where Jesus lay for three days then she could as well find the cross. This was due to the Jewish tradition that the executioners would dig a hole near where a criminal was buried and throw in all instruments of punishment and all whatever belonged to his execution.
St. Helen ordered all those monuments, buildings and statues that were built on top of Jesus grave to be pulled down and broken into pieces, rubbish removed and digging to start.
After digging and removing all the waste, the tomb, the three crosses, the nails which had pierced Jesus’ body, and the title which had been fixed to His cross, were found. The task now was to find, out of the three crosses, which one belonged to Jesus, because the ‘INRI’ title was found separate from the crosses.
In this perplexing situation, the holy Bishop of Jerusalem, St. Macarius, through divine inspiration, gave a suggestion to St. Helen that they can plead to God to come to their aid. He knew of one renowned lady in the city who was extremely ill and suggested to St. Helen to take the three crosses to the sick lady. St. Macarius had no doubt in his heart and mind that God would show them which cross Jesus Christ had died on.
He prayed that God would have regard to their faith, and, after his prayer, he took the crosses to the sick patient one by one. When the sick lady touched the cross of Jesus Christ she got instant healing, the other two having been tried without effect.
St. Helen was full of joy for having found the treasure which she had so earnestly sought and so highly esteemed. She built a church on the spot, and lodged the cross there with great veneration, having provided an extraordinarily rich case for it.
She afterwards carried part of the cross to her son, Emperor Constantine back home in Constantinople. The emperor received that part of the cross with great veneration. She carried another part of the cross to Rome, to be placed in the church which she had built there. She called it The Holy Cross of Jerusalem, where it remains to this day.
St. Helen also took to The Holy Cross of Jerusalem church the title that had been put on Jesus’ cross and placed on the top of an arch, where it was found in a case of lead in 1492. The inscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is in red letters, and the wood was whitened. Thus it was in 1492, but these colors are since faded. Also the words Jesus and Judaeorum are eaten away.
The board is nine but must have been twelve, inches long. St. Helen enclosed the main part of the cross in a silver shrine and committed it to the care of St. Macarius, that it might be delivered down to posterity, as an object of veneration. It was accordingly kept with singular care and respect in the magnificent church which she and her son built in Jerusalem.
St. Paulinus relates that, though chips were almost daily cut off from it and given to devout persons, yet the sacred wood suffered thereby no diminution. It is affirmed by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, twenty-five years after the discovery, that pieces of the cross were spread all over the earth; he compares this wonder to the miraculous feeding of five thousand men, as recorded in the Gospel.
The discovery of the cross must have happened about the month of May, or early in the spring; for St. Helen went the same year to Constantinople, and from thence to Rome, where she died in the arms of her son on the 18th of August, 326.
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