The Feast of the Holy Cross is celebrated on 14 September each year. It was established to commemorate how, in 628, the Emperor Heraclius recaptured the Cross which the Persians had stolen in 614.
On this day, Maronite Catholics also commemorate the finding of the Cross by St Helena in 326, and the subsequent dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For us, this Feast initiates the final Season of our Maronite Liturgical Year, the Season of the Holy Cross.
This period focuses on the four last things – death, judgment, heaven, hell – that they may always be remembered by us as we live and make our journey to eternity. This period reminds us of the inevitability of our death, and therefore the preciousness of our lives, and it fosters in us a spirit of repentance.
The Cross, a ladder
One of the liturgical prayers in the Maronite Antiochene tradition for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, goes on parsing the Holy Cross as a ladder from this earth to eternal life: “Blessed be Your Cross, O Saviour. It is a ladder for Your Church, and by it both the deceased and those who share in Your Holy Eucharist ascend with spiritual beings.”
The Holy Cross is the passport ordained by God and, just like a passport, proves our identity and gives us a right to the journey.
The Holy Cross is the passport ordained by God and, just like a passport, proves our identity and gives us a right to the journey
It identifies us as Christians, as “children of God … those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). This passport is ours as we travel to our final destination: the Kingdom of Heaven.
A sign that conquers
The Holy Cross is the ultimate sign of victory and salvation. The story of Emperor Constantine’s vision in the fourth century, of whether or not it is a historic fact, has a great impact on the Christian tradition and further highlights the Cross as a powerful sign.
Bishop Eusebius of Caesarai, a historian, states that before his conversion to Christianity, Constantine was marching with his army when he looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the words, “In this sign, you will conquer”.
Today, we do believe that we will conquer our fear, our anxiety and the uncertainty in our lives and our society, when we look up to the cross and we see in It a sign of reconciliation and peace.
A sign of death, a source of life
The Holy Cross is the flag of Christ which we bear above our heads. We carry it before us to give witness to the true faith as death has been overcome by the victory of eternal life, so that for we who are seeking salvation, the Cross is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 55).
However, on this Feast, we are invited to contemplate the Cross and the death of Jesus, not as a source of suffering like we do on Good Friday, but as a source of life and a source of healing for each one of us.
Additionally, and to accept Our Lord in our life we must also submit to the Cross, because we cannot and should not dare to, try to remake Jesus in our own images or according to our own desires. It is, rather, we who must be conformed to the image and likeness of God.
we cannot and should not dare to, try to remake Jesus in our own images or according to our own desires
A responsibility – and a great privilege
Veneration of the Holy Cross is found in the New Testament, and was especially important in ancient Jerusalem and Antioch, from where relics of the Cross were sent throughout the Christian world. The priest holds a Hand Cross throughout the celebration of the Divine Sacrifice. But even more than that, we must hold the Cross closer to us when we suffer hardship and pain, especially when we do so for the sake of God.
This is a fact that Maronites have always known and have always accepted as a serious responsibility to bear, but also a privilege which shall mark us out as Catholics. Over twelve hundred years ago, our ancestors fled persecution to find freedom to practise their faith on the heights of Mount Lebanon.
Since the 19th Century the Maronite Catholic community in Australia has striven to live this faith and to have the Cross of our Lord our only shield and refuge. Since that time, their descendants, whom we are fortunate to count ourselves, have proudly carried the deposit of faith, and our churches have flourished and continue to bear spiritual fruits.
A place of refuge
Let us, on the occasion of this great feast, reflect.
“Now, O Christ Our Saviour, we ask You … to make the celebration of the Feast of your Holy Cross a sign of security and peace. … May we find refuge in the shadow of Your Cross on the great day of Your Second Coming …” Amen. (Prayer of Forgiveness, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross)