By Archimandrite Vasilios Bakoyannis
In the early 20th century, when Theoklitos I (+ 1931) was Archbishop of Athens, there appeared in our homeland certain people who saw things through Protestant eyes, and they created a problem in the Church, especially in the local Church of Athens.
Archbishop Theoklitos commissioned the scholar Saint Nektarios, Metropolitan of Pentapolis (+ 1920), to undo their heretical beliefs. And the Saint, having investigated the matter from a historical and theological perspective, wrote the study titled Historical Study of the Honorable Cross.
In this study, the Saint occupied himself with the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross (September 14). He says that this festival is related to that of the Inauguration of the Church of the Resurrection, which took place on 13 September 335. Thus it was not established by Emperor Heraclius, but under Heraclius it was reestablished.
In summary, Saint Helen, with the "blessing" of the emperor and her son, Constantine, went to Jerusalem in 326 to find the Honorable Cross. They found the Cross, and the three nails that pierced Christ.
It was 6 March 326. As the Synaxarion for March 6th reads: "On this day, we commemorate the Finding of the Honorable Cross by the blessed Helen," and, "On this day, we commemorate the Finding of the Honorable Nails."
This event, namely the finding of the Cross, is celebrated by the Church on the Third Sunday of Great Lent. "Today there is joy in heaven and on earth, for the sign of the Cross, has appeared in the world" (Triodion, Ode 3, Canon from Matins of the Third Sunday of Great Lent).
The horizontal part of the wood of the Cross was left behind by Saint Helen in the local Church of Jerusalem; the vertical was delivered to her son, Emperor Constantine. She also gave him two of the three nails which crucified the Lord (the third fell into the sea on the way to Constantinople).
One nail the emperor placed in his crown, the other in the bridle of his horse, according to the prophecy of Zechariah: "On that day holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bridles of the horses." As the iambic verses for March 6th read: "The Nails can be seen in the crown of the Emperor, stored in the statue, and in the bridle of sovereignty."
Saint Helen returned to Jerusalem and built the famous Church of the Resurrection. The inauguration took place on 13 September 335, when the wood of the Cross was deposited. The day after the inauguration, September 14, they again raised up the Cross for the faithful to venerate it.
Since then, along with the Inauguration of the Church of the Resurrection on September 13, the next day on September 14 was the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross.
This entire day was dedicated to the Cross. For which reason when Saint John Chrysostom reposed on 14 September 407, his commemoration was transferred to November 13th.
In 615 the Persians invaded Jerusalem; among the evils they committed (such as the massacres and captivity of Christians), they took the Cross. This is when the festival of the Cross ceased on September 14th.
Eleven years later, in 626, Emperor Heraclius went on a campaign against the Persians and retrieved the Cross. In late autumn of 628 he returned to Constantinople with the Cross.
There was a warm welcome when he entered the city; and a doxological celebration began in Hagia Sophia. The Cross led the procession on a special carriage, followed by the emperor on his carriage, to the applause and cheers of thousands of fellow citizens.
On 14 September 629 the emperor delivered the Cross to Jerusalem to Patriarch Zacharias, who had been captured by the Persians and rescued by the emperor.
The emperor with the Cross, the patriarch, and all the clergy and laity together went up to Golgotha. The emperor lifted the Cross high up. Everyone knelt, with their foreheads to the floor, chanting once again and many times: "Lord have mercy."
They applauded the emperor, chanted the National Anthem, "Save O Lord Your people...," and they departed. From then on (14 September 629) the festival was reestablished, and it is still celebrated today. "Cross of Christ, save us by Your power." Amen.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.