Friday, July 30, 2010

August 1st and the Procession of the Wood of the Life-Giving Cross

Guest article by John Vernoski
Webmaster of

August can be a dangerous month! In times of old Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the whole Byzantine world the summer was far more dangerous than the winter. Homes were small and cramped. The days and even the nights were often hot and stifling. Food spoiled quickly. People became ill. The best practice and medicine of the day were not enough to prevent people from becoming sick, let alone heal them. Something more was needed: prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the healing power of the Wood of the Cross.

August is also the time in which the Church celebrates two great feasts: The Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 6th) and the Dormition (Falling Asleep) [or Assumption in the West - SRT] of the Mother of God (August 15th). What a wonderful opportunity to call the world back to Christ! This call to re-dedication developed into a two week lent that Byzantines now call the “Dormition Fast”. In Constantinople, from the eve of July 31st to August 15th the Wood of the Cross was brought out from the imperial treasury and placed on the holy table in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). From the Great Church it was carried in procession each day throughout the city of Constantinople, calling all people back to Christ and for the healing of sickness, both physical and spiritual. Everywhere the Tree of Life went the people fell down in veneration of the Savior and His Cross.

To this feast the Slavs also add the celebration of the memory of the Baptism of Rus, as the Chronicles of the sixteenth century record that it was on August 1st that the Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev and All Rus received Baptism and Christianity took root in the Slavic lands. In remembrance of this Baptism the Slavic Churches sanctify water and bless the faithful in re-dedication and healing.

Today the Cross of the Lord is carried forth, and the faithful welcome it with love. They receive healing of soul and body, and of every weakness. Come! Let us venerate the Cross with fear and joy! With fear, because in our sin we are unworthy. With joy, because upon it Christ the Lord was – in His great mercy – crucified and granted salvation to the world. (from Matins)

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