Today marks the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which is a special tribute to the cross of Jesus Christ. The importance of the cross doesn't need to be stated - we see it worn or displayed in every corner of the earth as a symbol of faith and victory. For nearly three hundred years after Christ's crucifixion, the Cross was buried in obscurity, eventually to be salvaged through the efforts of a devout Byzantine emperor and his mother.
The Cross was discovered by the Empress Helen (the mother of Saint Constantine the Great) on Golgotha in 326 AD, the place where Christ was crucified. First, Saint Helen found a flower of rare beauty and fragrance, which was named "Vasiliko," or Basil, meaning the flower of royalty. Note that the word "Vasiliko" means "of the King" in Greek. Underneath the Basil, three crosses were found along with a sign that read "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." One of the crosses must have belonged to Christ, and the others belonged to the two thieves crucified on either side of Christ.
In order to determine which one was the true cross, a sick woman was told to kiss each of the three crosses. The woman kissed the first cross with no result. She kissed the second cross and again nothing happened. However, when the ailing woman kissed the True Cross, she was immediately made well. It so happened that a funeral procession was passing that way, and so the body of the dead man was placed on each of the crosses, and when it was placed on the True Cross, the dead man came to life — thus the name the “Life-Giving” Cross, which gives life not only to that man, but to each person who believes in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His all-glorious three day Resurrection. When the true Cross was identified, it was lifted on high for all the people to see, who then continually sang Kyrie eleison, a practice which is still enacted at current celebrations of this feast.
With great solemnity the Life-creating Cross was transferred to Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius in imperial crown and royal purple carried the Cross of Christ into the temple of the Resurrection. With the emperor went Patriarch Zacharios. At the gates by which they ascended Golgotha, the emperor suddenly stopped and was not able to proceed farther. The holy Patriarch explained to the emperor that an angel of the Lord was blocking his way. The emperor was told to remove his royal trappings and to walk barefoot, since He Who bore the Cross for the salvation of the world from sin had made His way to Golgotha in all humility. Then Heraclius donned plain garb, and without further hindrance, carried the Cross of Christ into the church.
Saint John Maximovitch tells us that a tool designed to torture and kill was transformed into an instrument of salvation and eternal life. He explains in his words:
By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (Phil 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Saviour with them, as it were, embraced the world, and by His blood shed on it, like a king with red ink, He signed the forgiveness of the human race. The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him. By the Cross, Christ opened the doors of paradise which had been closed after our first ancestors had been banished from it. The Cross was sanctified by the Body of Christ which was nailed to it when He gave Himself over to torments and death for the salvation of the world, and it itself was then filled with life-giving power. By the Cross on Golgotha, the prince of this world was cast out (Jn 12:31) and an end was put to his authority. The weapon by which he was crushed became the sign of Christ’s victory.
Today on this joyous feast, ask yourself what the Cross means to you in your own life? How is this instrument of salvation working through your words and actions?