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Holy Cross Day
14 September AD 335
During the reign of Constantine the Great
, the first Roman Emperor to profess the Christian faith, his mother Helena
went to Israel, hoping to find the places especially significant to Christians. Having located, close together, what she believed to be the sites of the Crucifixion and of the Burial (at locations that many modern archaeologists think may be correct), she then had built over them the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
, which was dedicated on 13 September 335. On the next day, the purported section of the cross was brought outside the church for others to view. Thus began a day for recognizing the cross of Christ in a festal atmosphere that would be inappropriate on Good Friday. It stands as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ's victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)"
The day is known by different names in various parts of Christendom. The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches know it as "Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross" while the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church calls it the "Triumph of the Cross." Most other liturgical churches simply call it "Holy Cross Day."
The Christian custom of tracing the sign of the cross on people and things as a sign of blessing is very old. Some think that it goes back to the very origins of Christianity and earlier. In Ezekiel 9
, we read that Ezekiel had a vision of the throne-room of God, in which an angel was sent to go through Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the faithful few who mourned for the sins of the city. Afterwards, other angels were sent through the city to destroy all those who had not the mark.
We find similar visionary material in Revelation 7:2-4
; and 14:1
, where the mark on the forehead again protects the faithful few in the day of wrath. There, it is said to be the name of the Lamb and of His Father.
What is the significance of the sign of the cross? In the first place, we often place our initials or other personal mark on something to show that it belongs to us. The cross is the personal mark of Our Lord Jesus Christ, often traced upon our foreheads and hearts at our baptisms. We mark it on ourselves as a sign that we belong to Him, just as in the book of Revelation, as noted above, the servants of God are sealed or marked on their foreheads as a sign that they are His.
As one preacher said, if you were telling someone how to make a cross, you might say, "Draw an 'I' and then cross it out." As we make the sign, we first draw a vertical stroke, as if to say to God, "Lord, here am I." Then we cancel it with a horizontal stroke, as if to say, "Help me, Lord, to abandon my self-centeredness and self-will; make Yourself the center of my life instead. Fix all my attention and all my desire on You, Lord, that I may forget my self, cancel my self, abandon myself completely to Your love and service."LectionPsalm 98:1-5Isaiah 45:21-251 Corinthians 1:18-24John 12:20-33Collect of the Day
Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all that He might bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we may not fear the power of any adversaries; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
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