Tuesday, September 07, 2021

In Anticipation of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: A Response to Current Events

One week from today, September 14th, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which derives from the discovery by Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, of the Lord’s cross in Jerusalem on Sept. 14, 320. Churches that had a major relic of the cross, for example, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Rome, developed a custom of showing this relic to the faithful on Sept. 14 in a solemn ceremony called the “Exaltation - lifting up,” of the Cross.

The Mathilde Cross, 11th century, German
By Sir Gawain - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Consideration of the symbol of the Cross leads us into the Passion, of course, and so touches perhaps every aspect of the Christian faith in some way. I am moved to write about them by international events that are hitting the headlines, and within this week, the 20th anniversary of 9/11. These events brought to mind three short troparia (hymns) of the Holy Cross sung in the Eastern Church, which are also regularly said at morning prayer throughout the year. They establish, from a Christian point of view, the validity of the existence of the nation as an entity, and hence its preservation by force of arms if necessary. For those who feel that there is a ring of unsavory jingoism in them in calling for victory over our enemies, I would note that we are told that the measure of such a victory over our enemies that comes from God is peace.
O Lord save your people and bless Your inheritance, grant victory to our country over its enemies, and preserve Your community by the power of your Cross.

Audio recording of the Troparion

O Christ our God, who chose by your free volition to be elevated upon the holy Cross, grant Your mercies to your new people who are called by Your name: in Your power gladden the hearts of our civil authorities; strengthen them in every good deed, so that Your true alliance may be for them a weapon of peace and a standard of victory.
O dread Champion, who cannot be put to confusion, despise not our petitions. O Good One, all-lauded Theotokos, establish the way of those who hold the Orthodox faith; save those you have called to rule over us; bestow upon them victory from heaven; for you gave birth to God, O only blessed one.
The image above is of the “Mathilda Cross”, commissioned by Mathilda, Abbess of Essen from 973 to her death in 1011, now in the treasury of Essen Minster (along with other items given by her). She is shown with the Virgin and Child in the enamel plaque at the base of the front. The cross was probably made in Cologne or Essen in the years just before her death. Mathilda was a member of the Ottonian imperial family, the granddaughter of Otto the Great and sister of Otto, Duke of Bavaria and Swabia (d. 982). The corpus (body) is a replacement from later in the century. The cross re-uses classical engraved gems and cameos, while enamel roundels at the ends of the arms show Sol and Luna (personifications of the Sun and Moon). The back is a plain gold plate engraved with an Agnus Dei in the center and the symbols of the Evangelists at the ends of the members, all in roundels amid decoration of dots and foliage motifs.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: