The Great and Universal Feast of the Exaltation (Elevation) of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is the only one of the Great Feasts that did not occur during the Biblical time period. It is celebrated on September 14 each year.
Saint Helen, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem about the year 325. Her aim was to find the True Cross on which the Lord was crucified. She was about 75 years old, but her great piety strengthened her to make the journey.
The Empress arrived at Golgotha, which had been a place of Christian pilgrimage ever since the apostolic age.The Emperor Hadrian had constructed a temple to Aphrodite on the site, in order to defile the holy tomb with pagan worship. Helen ordered the destruction of the temple, and when the earth was removed, the entrance to the Lord's tomb was discovered.
Three crosses were found, and Helen believed that one of them must have been the True Cross. In order to discern which of them it was, a dying woman was brought to touch each of the crosses. As soon as she approached the True Cross, she was instantly healed. The Cross was raised up by Saint Macarius, the Archbishop of Jerusalem. Seeing it, the people all fell down and cried out, "Lord, have mercy."
A piece of the Cross was taken to Constantinople, while the rest was left in Jerusalem, housed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built over the Lord's tomb. The church has been expanded over the centuries, but it remains to this day.
Throughout the Christian world, the fragrant herb basil is a symbol of this feast. In the rite of the Orthodox Church, the Cross is lifted to the 100-fold singing of "Lord, have mercy," in remembrance of the first celebration of the Cross's elevation. It is a day of fasting, even if it falls on a Sunday, and the account of the Crucifixion is read at the Divine Liturgy.
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