Feast of the Holy Cross 17-19 Tout/September 27-29

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates two feasts dedicated to the Cross. The first is on 17 Thout and the second on 10 Paramhat.

The feast on 17 Thout (September 27th) is three days long where the Church commemorates the discovery of the Holy Cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified, by Queen Helen – the mother of Emperor Constantine. It was on this day that she ordered the Cross to be dug from under the rubble of Golgotha in the year 326 A.D.

The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulchre of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) in the year 312 A.D.

In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire. In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. He was in his early 40s that Constantine officially proclaimed his faith.

Desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, St Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen (May 21), to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to St Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Although Empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues Jerusalem. Searching for the holy Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful. Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from I were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body. In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Holy Cross was found.

Empress Helen journeyed to the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Savior, building more than 80 churches, at Bethlehem the birthplace of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Savior prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after her death. St Helen took part of the wood and nails with her to Constantinople. The holy emperor Constantine gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, also including under its roof the tomb of the Lord and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about ten years.

On this day, the church was consecrated and on the following day, was the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross.

The celebration on 10 Paramhat (March 19th), commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross in the seventh century during the reign of Emperor Heraclius, its return to Jerusalem from Persia after a fourteen year captivity.

During the reign of the Byzantine emperor (602-610) the Persian emperor in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and captured both the Life- Creating Cross of the Lord and the Holy Patriarch Zachariah (609-633).

The Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years and only under the emperor Heraclius (610-641), who with the help of God defeated the Persian emperor and the Cross of the Lord was returned to the Christians and transferred to Jerusalem.