The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
This festival was instituted in commemoration of the day on which the holy Cross of Christ, was, with great solemnities, brought back to Jerusalem. Chosroes, king of Persia, had invaded Syria with a powerful army, and had conquered Jerusalem, the capital. He caused the massacre of eighty thousand men, and also took many prisoners away with him, among whom was the Patriarch Zachary. But more painful than all this to the Christians was, that he carried away the holy, Cross of our Saviour, which, after great pains, had been discovered by the holy empress, St. Helena. The pagan king carried it with him to Persia, adorned it magnificently with pearls and precious stones, and placed it upon the top of his royal throne of pure gold. Thus was the holy Cross held in higher honor by the heathen king, than Martin Luther would have manifested; for, in one of his sermons, he says of it: “If a piece of the holy Cross were given to me and I had it in my hand, I would soon put it where the sun would never shine on it.”
Heraclius, the pious emperor, was greatly distressed at this misfortune, and as he had not an army sufficiently large to meet so powerful an enemy, he made propositions for peace. Chosroes, inflated by many victories, refused at first to listen to the emperor’s proposal, but at length consented, on condition that Heraclius should forsake the faith of Christ and worship the Sun, the god of the Persians. Indignant at so wicked a request, the emperor, seeing that it was a question of religion, concerning the honor of the Most High, broke off all negotiation with his impious enemy. Taking refuge in prayer, he assembled all the Christian soldiers of his dominions, and commanded all his subjects to appease the wrath of the Almighty, and ask for His assistance, by fasting, praying, giving alms and other good works. He himself gave them the example. After this, he went courageously, with his comparatively small army, to meet the haughty Chosroes, having given strict orders that his soldiers, besides abstaining from other vices, should avoid all plundering and blaspheming, that they might prove themselves worthy of the divine assistance.
Taking a crucifix in his hand, he animated his soldiers by pointing towards it, saying they should consider for whose honor they were fighting, and that there was nothing more glorious than to meet death for the honor of God and His holy religion. Thus strengthened, the Christian army marched against the enemy. Three times were they attacked by three divisions of the Persian army, each one led by an experienced general; and three times they repulsed the enemy, so that Chosroes himself had at last to flee. His eldest son, Siroes, whom he had excluded from the succession to the throne, seized the opportunity, and not only assassinated his own father, but also his brother, Medarses, who had been chosen by Chosroes as his associate and successor. To secure the crown which he had thus forcibly seized, Siroes offered peace to Heraclius, restored to him the conquered provinces, and also sent back the holy Cross, the patriarch Zachary, and all the other prisoners of war. Heraclius, in great joy, hastened with the priceless wood to Jerusalem, to offer due thanks to the Almighty for the victory, and to restore the holy Cross, which the Persians had kept in their possession during fourteen years, to its former place.
All the inhabitants of the city, the clergy and laity, came to meet the pious emperor. The latter had resolved to carry the Cross to Mount Calvary, to the church fitted up for its reception. A solemn procession was formed, in which the Patriarch, the courtiers and an immense multitude of people took part. The clergy preceded, and the emperor, arrayed in sumptuous robes of state, carried the holy Cross upon his shoulder. Having thus passed through the city, they came to the gate that leads to Calvary, when suddenly the emperor stood still and could not move from the spot. At this miracle, all became frightened, not knowing what to think of it. Only to St. Zachary did God reveal the truth. Turning to the emperor the patriarch said: “Christ was not arrayed in splendor when He bore His Cross through this gate. His brow was not adorned with a golden crown, but with one made of thorns. Perhaps, O emperor, your magnificent robe is the cause of your detention.”
The pious Heraclius humbly gave ear to the words of the patriarch, divested himself of his imperial purple, and put on poor apparel, he took the crown from his head and the shoes from his feet. Having done this, the sacred treasure was again laid on his shoulder: when, behold! nothing detained him, and he carried it to the place of its destination. The holy patriarch then deposited the Cross in its former place, and duly venerated it with all who were present. God manifested how much He was pleased with the honor they had paid to the holy Cross of Christ, by many miracles wrought on the same day. A dead man was restored to life by being touched by the sacred wood; four paralytic persons obtained the use of their limbs; fifteen who were blind received sight; many sick recovered their health; and several possessed were freed from the devil by devoutly touching it.
I. The Cross on which Christ had died was raised and greatly honored by all the faithful. I suppose that if you possessed a particle of the true Cross, you would greatly honor and cherish it. But why do you not love and honor that cross, those trials which God sends you? They are, in a spiritual sense, a particle of the Cross of Christ, which will be most beneficial to you, if you bear it patiently. Christ, the Lord, called His crucifixion an exaltation, saying: “The Son of Man must be exalted; “because by it He was exalted in heaven and on earth, as He bore His sufferings and His death out of love for His heavenly Father and for the salvation of men. You also will be exalted in heaven, if, in carrying your cross, you follow the example of Christ. Many carry their crosses, like the thief on the left of Christ, with murmuring and impatience, others, like the one on His right, with patience and resignation, knowing that they deserve them. Jesus carried His Cross not only with patience, but, according to the words of the Apostle, with joy, although He was innocent. With whom do you carry yours? With whom will you carry it in future? If you carry it with the first, you will not be exalted, but precipitated into the depth of hell.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.