On September 14, we will be celebrating the Elevation of the Cross, and by celebrating I mean fasting. For this is one of two feast days which we actually commemorate with fasting. Just what are we commemorating with this feast?
In 326 AD, St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While at the site of Golgotha, St. Helen found the cross on which Christ was crucified. Near the cross was also a beautiful and unknown flower, which we now call basil (from Greek, “Vasiliko”) meaning “of the King,” and named for the King of Glory.
How did St. Helen know she had found the cross of Christ the King? It is said that
Underneath the Basil, the Cross of Christ was found, but with it were the other two crosses, those used to crucify the two thieves on either side of Christ. The sign with the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”, also lay among the three crosses. 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 identity of the cross was known, it was then lifted up (elevated) for all to see.
That is the first part of our commemoration, but there is more. In 614 AD, the Persians attacked Jerusalem and captured the Cross. But in 627 AD, Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians at the Battle of Nineveh and reclaimed the Cross. When the Emperor returned with the Cross to Jerusalem in 630 AD, it was placed in the Temple of the Resurrection and again lifted up for all to see and venerate.
In addition to a special Troparion and Kontakion, there is a special hymn that replaces the Trisagion on this feast day.
O Lord, save Thy people, / And bless Thine inheritance. / Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians / Over their adversaries / And by the virtue of Thy Cross / Preserve Thy habitation
As You were voluntarily raised upon the cross for our sake, / Grant mercy to those who are called by Your Name, O Christ God; / Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Your power, / Granting them victories over their adversaries, / By bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Your weapon of Peace.
Instead of the Trisagion we sing:
Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify. (Three times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
And Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.
Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify.
Lesson for Children:
Show your children an icon of the Elevation of the Cross, and tell them the stories of the finding and recapturing of it.
As the feast falls on a Saturday this year, make an effort to attend Vigil (or Vespers) Friday night (what a great excuse to let them stay up late!), and the Liturgy Saturday morning. They’ll be able to see the cross decorated with flowers or basil branches, and hear the hymns venerating it.
Color an icon
Plan a craft. Below are two ideas. The first is for preschoolers, and the second for slightly older children.
Elevation of the Cross Bookmark
Icon of the Elevation of the Cross
Fine tip marker
Stickers or crayons (optional)
Laminating pouch (optional)
1. Use the template to print a cross on cardstock paper, and cut it out.
2. On one side, glue a small icon of the Elevation of the Cross (you can let your child choose one online and print out a thumbnail print).
3. On the other side, write one of the hymns above.
4. Decorate around the icon as desired. Laminate it to make it sturdier if desired, and cut around the edges. Although you’ll need to do the writing (or print out the hymn and let your child glue it on), let your child do as much of the work as possible, even if it isn’t perfect.
Beaded Prayer Rope
30 medium sized beads
29-31 tiny beads (for spacers)
a length of jewelry string
small wooden cross
paint & paint brush
1. Paint the cross in any color.
2. While the cross dries, string the beads on, alternating large and small. You can choose whether to have the large beads or the smaller beads flush with the cross.
3. For symmetry’s sake, add the cross and put the string through in both directions (an adult may need to do the finishing off).
4. Tie two small knots on either side. To help it stay tied and hide the knots, paint them to match the cross.
Alternately, string the cross just like the beads and tie a single knot to one side. Also, if you use large beads and yarn or a shoestring, younger children may be able to do it. In this case, use only 9 large beads plus spacers.
* From Orthodoxwiki