Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Dedication of the Holy Sepulchre

In the Byzantine Rite, there are three observances on the calendar today. The first is a very ancient feast adopted from the liturgical tradition of the city of Jerusalem, the annual commemoration of the dedication of the basilica of the Anastasis, which is now generally called in English “the church of the Holy Sepulchre.” This dedication was performed in the year 335 by the bishop of Jerusalem, St Macarius, in the presence of the Emperor Constantine, who had financed the building project. This church was completely destroyed in 1009 at the orders of the Muslim caliph; the building which stands on the site today is a replacement first completed about 40 years later, and has, of course, subsequently undergone innumerable modifications and renovations. (Photos of the Holy Sepulcher from a distance, on the left in the 1st photo, and of the Edicule and Rotunda, both by Fr Lawrence Lew, from this post of 2019: https://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2019/05/photos-of-holy-land-from-fr-lew.html).
In the Byzantine liturgical ranking of feasts, Easter stands in a class by itself, followed by Twelve Great Feasts, eight of Our Lord and four of Our Lady. Most of these are preceded by a day of preparation called a Fore-feast, the equivalent of the vigils of the Roman Rite, and followed by an After-feast, the equivalent of a Roman octave, although they vary in length. Today is therefore also the Forefeast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
Many major feasts in the Byzantine Rite are followed immediately by a “synaxis” (“σύναξις” in Greek, “собóръ” in Church Slavonic), a commemoration of a sacred person who figures prominently in the feast, but who is, as it were, overshadowed by its principal subject. (Scholars of the Eastern rites also call them “concomitant feasts.”) This past Friday, for example, was the Synaxis of Ss Joachim and Anne, which is kept the day after the Birth of the Virgin Mary. Another is kept in honor of the Virgin Herself on the day after Christmas, another of St Gabriel on the day after the Annunciation, etc.
The Dedication of the Anastasis was one of the most important feasts in Jerusalem itself, and according to the oldest sources of the city’s native liturgical rite, was kept with an octave. (This rite is also known as the “Hagiopolite Rite”, from the Greek “Hagia polis – the Holy City.”) The Exaltation of the Cross began as a kind of synaxis or concomitant feast for this dedication, since the complex of the Anastasis also contained the site where the True Cross was found, and the Cross itself was long kept within it. In Byzantium, however, the Exaltation supplanted the dedication in importance, since the latter celebration was closely tied to the Holy City, but obviously less important outside it.
The chapel of the Finding of the Cross within the Holy Sepulcher, served by the Armenian Apostolic Church; from this post of photos by Nicola dei Grandi, also from 2019:
The third feast of today is that of the centurion Cornelius who receives the Apostle Peter in his house in Acts 10. This makes for a very subtle and cleverly thought-out connection with the other two feasts. The liturgical texts of the dedication and the fore-feast refer several times to the conversion of the nations, as for example in the very first hymn of Vespers. (The text is taken from a sermon of St Gregory of Nazianzus, 44 “On the new Sunday”; P.G. XXXVI, col. 608.) 
“It was the old law that dedications be honored, and rightly so; all the more should the new things be honored through dedications, for ‘the islands are made new unto God’, as Isaiah saith, by which we should understand the churches now established from among the nations, which receive a firm foundation from God; wherefore, let us spiritually celebrate this present dedication.” (From 0:27 to 2:21 in this video: Ἐγκαίνια τιμᾶσθαι, παλαιὸς νόμος, καὶ καλῶς ἔχων· μᾶλλον δὲ τὰ νέα τιμᾶσθαι δι᾿ Ἐγκαινίων· ἐγκαινίζονται γὰρ νῆσοι πρὸς Θεόν, ὥς φησιν Ἡσαΐας· ἅς τινας ὑποληπτέον τὰς ἐξ ἐθνῶν Ἐκκλησίας, ἄρτι καθισταμένας, καὶ πῆξιν λαμβανούσας βάσιμον τῷ Θεῷ· διὸ καὶ ἡμεῖς τὰ παρόντα Ἐγκαίνια πνευματικῶς πανηγυρίσωμεν.)
Cornelius, an official representative of the Roman Empire, sends his men to fetch the Apostle Peter, the future bishop of Rome, and they find him praying in the house of Simon the Tanner at Joppe. There Peter receives the vision of the winding sheet, and learns from God Himself that the gentile nations are not required to keep the dietary restriction of the old law. The episode concludes with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the members of the house, and “the faithful of the circumcision, who came with Peter, were astonished, for that the grace of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the gentiles also.” The conjunction of Cornelius’ feast with the other two therefore represents the Cross of Christ as the source of grace from which the nations are converted, the Church as the place of that conversion, and the church building as the visible sign of God’s enduring presence among them.
There is another important historical detail that ties into this theme. September 13th was the date on which the ancient Romans commemorated the dedication of one of their city’s most important temples, that of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill, where he was called “Jupiter Capitolinus.” This massive edifice and the complex that surrounded it were clearly visible from the heart of Rome’s public life, the Forum, but also from the foreigners’ quarter on the other side of the Tiber, where the Jews resided, and many of the earliest Christians among them. The historian Tacitus describes it by saying that “the enormous wealth of the Roman people acquired thereafter adorned rather than increased its splendor.” (Histories 3, 72)
The Roman Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, more or less as it would have been seen from an elevated point on the opposite side of the Tiber, with various other buildings. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)
In 70 A.D., the Romans put down a great rebellion of the Jews that had broken out in Judaea four years earlier, and destroyed a considerable part of Jerusalem, including, most importantly, the temple. Sixty years later, the Emperor Hadrian decided to found a Roman colony on the site, which he called “Aelia Capitolina”, from his family name “Aelius”, and from a large temple to Jupiter Capitolinus which he built on or very near the site of the former Jewish temple. This may have been what provoked another rebellion in 132, which the Romans also put down with great violence, and after which, Jews were forbidden from entering the city except on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, to mourn the destruction of the temple on its anniversary. The memory of “Jerusalem” as such was erased so completely that the Romans themselves even forgot the name. In 310, Firmilian, the governor of the Roman province of Palestine, arrested a large number of Christians, and when they were asked what city they were from, they replied “Jerusalem”, meaning the heavenly Jerusalem, which they said was “in the East” and belonged to Christians only. Firmilian, having never heard of this place before, took this to mean that the Christians had founded a new city, which enraged him to persecute them all the more fiercely. (Eusebius of Caesarea, The Martyrs of Palestine, 11, 8 sqq.)
Jerusalem in a mosaic map in the floor of the church of St George in Madaba, Jordan, ca. 570 A.D., discovered in 1884. The main street of the Roman city of Aelia is clearly visible running through the middle of it. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
With the coming of Constantine, however, and the liberation of the Church, there also began first era of major church constructions. After building six great basilicas in Rome, Constantine moved East to Byzantium, and built several more major churches on important Christian sites, including the Anastasis. This project would have entailed destroying Hadrian’s temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
It seems very likely, therefore, that September 13th, the date of the dedication of the original Roman temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, was deliberately chosen for the dedication of the Anastasis, as a sign that Jerusalem was now definitively cleansed of the profanation inflicted on it by the Romans, and beginning a new life as a Christian city. This is also strongly suggested by the Greek word for dedication, “enkainia”, which derives from “kainos – new.” In John 10, 22, this word refers to a festival that commemorated the “renewal” of the temple under Judas Maccabee after it was profaned by the Greeks. In the same way, the “enkainia” of the Holy Sepulcher refers to the renewal of the specific site of the Anastasis, and by extension, of the entire Holy City, after its profanation by the Romans.

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