Lifting Up the Cross
by Archpriest Stephen Rogers
As the church begins its journey through the liturgical year in September, she presents us with the starting point of our salvation — the Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On September 14, we celebrate the great feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. During the service, the priest proceeds through the church lifting up a flower-laden cross. As the service continues, the clergy and all the faithful bow down and venerate the precious instrument of our salvation.
Historically, this feast commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of St. Constantine. Upon its discovery, word spread throughout the Holy City. As huge crowds gathered to venerate the Cross of the Lord, St. Makarios, Patriarch of Jerusalem, carried it up into a pulpit and lifted it up before all the people, who began to cry out repeatedly, “Lord have mercy.” The feast also commemorates a second “lifting up of the Cross” in 629. After having been captured by the Persians upon their conquest of Jerusalem, the Cross was recovered by the Emperor Heraclius, who took the cross to Constantinople where it was exalted in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia.
In both historical events, the Cross was “rediscovered” and then raised up for the faithful to venerate. As we celebrate this great feast the Church calls us to “rediscover” the Cross. Just as the Cross of Christ lay buried beneath the earth until St. Helena uncovered it, so too the Cross often lays buried beneath the rubble of our carelessness, sinfulness and worldly cares. Like St. Helena, we must uncover the Cross. Like St. Makarios, we must lift it up and exalt it in the high place of our hearts. Like Heraclius, we must “recapture” the Cross from the spiritual enemies that would take the joy of the Cross from us and carry it into a foreign land far from our hearts.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross opened to us the way of life. In His giving his life for us, we have the promise of eternal life. By taking up that cross, we are not only promised eternal life, but a life in this world that is full of the riches and mercies of God’s Kingdom. What is that cross that we take up? It is to live as Christ lived, making our lives a living sacrifice for Him and His Kingdom. This is eternal life.
In our pursuit of life, we place many things on the altar of our heart — human relationships, wealth, status and power . . . but here at the beginning of our journey through the liturgical year, the Church reminds us that true life can come only when the Cross of Christ is at the center of all we do. As the Cross is venerated in the festal service, we sing: “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify.” Let us all determine, as we embark on this journey through the church year, to make the Cross the center of our lives, raising it up on the altar of our hearts. In so doing, we will find true joy, true happiness and eternal life.
Fr. Steven is the Pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Franklin, Tennessee.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America