The exaltation of the cross: the historical meaning of the Orthodox holiday

Воздвижение Креста Господня: исторический смысл православного праздника

Alexander Rudakov, head of the Expert center ARNS

On 27 September, the Russian Church celebrates an unusual feast — the Exaltation of the cross. Unlike the other great feasts dedicated to the life of Jesus Christ and mother of God, he is associated with the episode, almost three centuries distant from events of the gospel.

According to Church tradition, the mother of Emperor Constantine, St. Helen, in 326 organized archaeological expedition to find the Cross on which Christ was crucified.

Long before, by the Emperor Hadrian (II century), the Roman authorities had covered Calvary with earth and erected in its place a temple of Venus, defiling the Holy place for Christians. Elena believed that the Cross should be somewhere near, and ordered to begin excavations, in which were found three crosses.

Near one of them began to be a wonderful event in which the faithful saw a sign pointing to the Cross they were looking for. Then the Saint Macarius of Jerusalem at the request of the faithful have raised, “raised up” – found the Cross to worship.

Later on this place was built the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, includes the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary. The Church was consecrated on the 13th (26th) of September 335. The next day, 14 (27) September was established to celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy cross.

In order to understand the meaning of exaltation in the context of Christian philosophy of history, it is necessary to recall the events that had preceded this celebration.

By the early fourth century, Christians made up a significant part of the population of the Roman Empire, which was dominated by religious pluralism. However, the Emperor Diocletian and his co-ruler Galerius, who was under the influence of archaic cults, Christians considered disloyal religious group and made the decision to destroy the Church. As a result, 24 February 303, was issued the first edict against the Christians, followed by three more.

The beginning of persecution was preceded by an event reminiscent of the Nazis perpetrated the Reichstag fire in 1934: in February of the year 303 blazed the Imperial Palace, the perpetrators were declared Christians.

“A great persecution” had all the hallmarks of genocide, distinguishing itself with the consistency and purposefulness that brings to mind the actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The Emperor Galerius ordered to burn alive all who remain faithful to Christ. To identify Christians, the authorities conducted a new census of the population, holding the guards to the gate and the baths.

The organizers of persecution on the ground up with all new types of brutal executions, just as there is today-the militant group ISIS (banned in Russia). “If I had a hundred mouths, and an iron tongue, and then I could count all the families of the two evils and penalties which were held for the Christians,” – wrote about these events in the Church historian Lactantius.

The brutality of the authorities against the open and peace-loving religious community angered many. Originally sympathized with the Christians Flavius Valerius Constantine, the son of the co-Regent Constantius Chlorus, in 306 established control over Britain (then a Roman province), which immediately stopped the persecution and returned it to the Christians taken away from temples and Holy books.

Gathering around himself the most capable legions, he took a 312 on the offensive on Rome. The campaign was accompanied by a series of mystical events in the life of Constantine, who before the decisive battle ordered the soldiers to draw on the shields with the Christian symbol of the Labarum. Entering the town, he pointedly refused to offer sacrifice to Jupiter. But Diocletian, who lived at that time in Italy, after the victory of Constantine committed suicide.

Soon Constantine along with another Emperor — Lizine took the edict of Milan (312), which proclaimed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire.

But then Licinius came under the influence of Christianophobia, thinking that if Constantine openly supported Christianity, he needs to rely on pagan cults. The measures taken litsiniy would call today the “discrimination” he forbade Christians to convoke councils, to do charity work finally demanded separate visiting temples men and women that actually meant their closure. In 324 Licinius decided to oppose Constantine and lost, and then the whole Roman Empire came under the rule of the Emperor-a Christian. After that, in fact, began excavations in Jerusalem, during which was found the tree of honor of the cross.

The memories of the tragic events of the early fourth century are of particular relevance in our days, when around the world there are processes of de-Christianization.

Today Christian communities are once again the subject of persecution in the middle East and in the West. In this situation, history, which ended in the Exaltation of the cross, becomes a formidable reminder for all who in our time wants to try on a toga of Diocletian.

Placing as its goal the destruction of Christianity, the power of the Roman Empire faced an unexpected response to the challenge. In the Christian consciousness actualized “dormant” old Testament archetypes, mobilizing people for the organization of the political-military resistance, whose speakers were Konstantin and his associates.

Abolishing the cruel and despotic orders, and Constantine and his followers laid the Foundation of a new civilization, created on the basis of the Roman infrastructure of the Byzantine state.

Founded by Constantine “New Rome” — Constantinople became the center of a new society that was spreading around the world a new ethic, Dating back to biblical commandments. This society went down in history as a much more humane and culturally developed than the surrounding despotism “of the dark and middle ages.

The Orthodox Church, unlike other Christian denominations, and still keep the grateful memory of Constantine the Great, revering it as the “Holy Tsar”.

To the Christian sacrifice, which is different from perkristian saints of Ancient Rome and of Byzantium, Russia added a gift to resist evil, which has repeatedly said, in particular, an outstanding Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin.