The story of the feast
Equal to Apostles emperor Constantine and empress Helen
Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is one of twelve great Christian holidays. The feast is set in honour of the event when Empress Helen found and exalt the real cross on which the Lord our Jesus Christ was crucified. First, the feast was celebrated in Jerusalem Church at the beginning of IV century, when the cross was found. Different sources name different dates of this event - 313, 326 year... Most reliable is the evidence of the Alexandria chronicle of VI century, that names the date - September 14, 320.
The memorable event of finding and exalting the cross of Lord took place under the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great who was the first Roman emperor, who stopped persecution of the Christians.
Equal to the apostles emperor Constantine won over enemies with an assistance of God in three wars, he saw the sign of God on the sky - the Cross with message "By this you win". Constantine wanted to find the cross where Jesus Christ was crucified, so he directed to Jerusalem his mother, empress Helen. Although the empress Helen was 80-years-old, she inspiredly began to execute the commission.
Roman emperors-pagans tried to destroy the remembrances about saint places, where Jesus Christ suffered for people and resurrected.
Emperor Adrian ordered to fill up Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher and put the pagan temple of heathen goddess of Venus and statue of Jupiter on an artificial hill. Pagans came to this place and offered sacrifices. While searching the Cross, empress Helen asked Christians and Israelites, but for a long time her searches remained unsuccessful.
Finally, somebody said her about one old Jew by name Judas, who reported that Cross is earthed, where the pagan temple of Venus stands.
A pagan temple was demolished and, after the prayer, they began to dig the earth. Later, three crosses, small plank with inscription "Jesus Nazarene, King of Hebrew", made on the order of Pilate, and four nails that pierced Body of Lord, were found.
To know, on which from three crosses the Rescuer was crucified, Patriarch Macarius began to bring crosses after each other to a seriously sick woman. No miracle took place from two crosses, but when he put the third cross she cured immediately.
Having seen the miracle, all were sure, that the Life-giving cross is found. Christians, in a numberless amount came to worship to the saint cross, asked Macarius to exalt the cross, that all could to contemplate and worship it. Then Patriarch and other clergy began to exalt the Holy Cross, and people, yelling: "God forgive us", bowed to the cross of Christ.
The particles of wood of life-giving cross were sent across the empire. In different places people began to build temples in its honour. One of them was established by Helen in place where they found the cross - in Jerusalem. Its building was completed in 335, sanctifying of it took place on September 13, and the next day, September 14, became the Feast of the Cross.
The return of the Lord's Cross to Jerusalem became another important event that did this holiday general on the East and West since in 614 the Persian tsar Khozroy, having conquered Jerusalem, took away the cross to the Persian capital in Ctesiphon. Emperor Heraclius returned the cross of Lord to Jerusalem in 628 after the victory over the Persians. Second solemn exaltation of the Lord's cross in Jerusalem also took place on September 14.
The traditions of the feast
The celebration of the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross lasted for 9 days: from the evening of September 27 till October 5 (the old calendar - evening September 13 till September21). Religious people keep fast on this day. It is allowed to eat food with vegetative oil and it is not allowed to eat milk products, eggs and fish.
"He, who does not keep fast on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, will be punished by seven sins!" The curators of the Churches notice the importance and strictness of this one-day fast.
The Feast of the Exaltation of God's Cross is the last day of the Indian summer. After September 27 autumn shows its inalienable rights.
In the Kyiv-Rus times religious people built little temples in honor of this feast. It was considered to be very good before the God's eyes.
Also, on September 27, in the villages people put wayside crosses showing gratitude for protection from the evil, disaster, epidemic diseases and bad circumstances. During this day very old tradition was made, it was called cross tradition. The sign of cross was the symbol of the sun in the prehistoric period. It was considered that the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross gives protection power. Peasants made the crosses from wood, put the branches of rowan trees crosswise, drew crosses in the places, which they wanted to protect from the evil power; that were corn bins, cow houses.
The Day of the Exaltation of the Cross in different areas was the day of ending of garden works, for example: sowing of winter crops, gathering of corn, gathering of fruits and planting of trees. In some areas on the feast of Exaltation people gathered and sanctified different plants honoring their curative abilities.
The Divine nature of the feast
When Lord was taken off the Cross, Cross was left at the place of crucifixion, and later it was whipped off in the pit, where all instruments of executing together with other garbage were thrown to. Soon Jerusalem was destroyed and all the buildings were leveled to the ground. The pit, where the Cross was abandoned, was covered as well.
When a city was renewed by pagans, it happened so, that on that place, where the Cross was, they put the temple of idols of heathen gods.
In that distant time, when they found the cross of the Rescuer, it was exalted and set, that all people were able to see it. Having the remembrance about this event till now in churches and monasteries they set the crosses, decorating it with gold and jewels, but it is an external celebration, that can not be understood by many people. Coming to the temple we show respect not to the cross, but to That Person, who gave Himself on a crucifixion to rescue each soul. However, people forget sometimes, that celebration in honour of the Cross should be done from the heart, from the soul. We need to destroy idols which our heart worship, which fill our souls - idols of pride, pomposity, envy and other sinful feelings. Having destroyed them, we will be able to free the place for Light and Love, which were brought to us by our Rescuer, paying the large cost of our redemption from sins.
The peculiarities of its celebration in the Orthodox Church
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross is one of the Twelve Great Feasts. According to the statutes people should keep one-day fast on the day of this feast.
The Feast of the Exaltation is one of many solemnities of the Universal Orthodox Church and is not connected with time of Earth life of the Savior; but nevertheless it is very important for every Christian.
From old times in the Roman Empire the cross was the instrument of the execution - the symbol of shame. It was extremely shameful to be executed on the cross. Only the most dangerous offenders were crucified: killers, insurgents and all others bottom of the society.
And now every Christian wears the image of this instrument of the abasement and execution, the sign of awful and shameful death on his chest.
The God's Son came in this world not in His power and glory like very powerful Master of the Universe. He embodied in the image of man, like the person, who grew and was brought up in the family of an ordinary carpenter, who preached on the roads and hills of Judea and Galilee; He was not accepted by his nation and in the end of His not long life was crucified on the cross. For that people it was one more shameful execution of the man, who preached the faith in the Creator from new angle, in defiance of traditions and dogmas of the Church and the style of life of those people, giving sense new and life to those people, who were considered to be rubbish of society. The fear and jealousy filled the hearts of the state authorities and pushed them to what they did; they blamed with slander and destroyed That One, Who brought true knowledge, opened the true meaning of life with God to people.
The cross for the Christian is a sign of redemption and the proof of the great God's Love, because of which Savior gave Himself for the crucifixion for every soul, which wants to save. We worship not the cross, but the image, the essence of the saving of all people. We honor great sacrifice, which God made in front of God's Justice. He gave to people one more chance to come to God. He established New Covenant, the Covenant of the God's Love to people.