"The whole trouble is that -- literally -- we do not know what is good for us; and what makes the trouble still worse is that we think we do. We have our own plans for our happiness, and too often we merely regard God as somebody who will help us to accomplish them. The true state of affairs is just the opposite. God has His plans for our happiness, and He is waiting for us to help Him to accomplish them. And let us be quite clear about it: We cannot improve on God's plans." This Tremendous Lover, M. Eugene Boylan, O.C.R.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

This week, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is also our first week of Sunday school, so my actual lesson on the Feast is rather short so that I can focus on getting everyone back in the swing of things! I've made a few notes for you here though, to inform you on the feast, as well as offer some simple suggestions to help your family celebrate at home!

First, we learn about the icon for the Feast (check it out above). In this icon, there are two important people: St. Macarius, who was the archbishop of Jerusalem a long time ago, and St. Helena, who was Emperor Constantine’s mom. The other people in the picture represent other bishops, priests, and hymnographers (songwriters).

This icon tells one of the stories that we celebrate on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. In the year 326, Christianity was still new and life was hard for the Christians. St. Helena went looking for the cross that Jesus had died on. She found three crosses which were surrounded by basil plants, but she didn’t know which one had belonged to Jesus. St. Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem at the time, took all three crosses and touched each one to a dying, sick woman. When the true cross touched her, she was immediately healed. They took the true cross and built a church to keep it in. This is also why we have basil, or other fresh flowers and herbs, blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

The Holy Cross remained in Jerusalem until almost 300 years later. In the year 614, Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians and they stole the true cross. The Persians kept the cross away from the people for fifteen years. In 628, the new Emperor of Jerusalem, Heraclius, defeated the Persian King and brought the Holy cross back to Jerusalem. This is the second event that we celebrate on this Feast Day.

There is an interesting story about Emperor Heraclius bringing the Holy Cross back to Jerusalem. After he conquered Persia, he decided to carry the cross back to Jerusalem himself. As he tried to carry the Cross back into town, an invisible hand stopped him from walking any further. He felt as though he couldn’t take another step and he didn’t know what to do. The bishop at the time advised him that he should remove all his fancy clothes and royal jewels so he could carry the cross humbly, as Jesus did. The emperor changed into a simple tunic and walked barefoot with the cross to take it back to Golgotha, where Jesus had died in Jerusalem.

The cross is an important sign for us as Christians. The cross was used to try to get rid of Jesus and stop his message, yet He rose from the dead, conquered death and opened Heaven to all of us. Now, the cross is a sign of our victory with Christ. We wear it on our jewelry, clothes, and we make the sign of the cross with our bodies when we pray. These are all ways that we can remind ourselves that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us and rise again to free us of our sins.

Now that you know about the Feast itself, here are two simple suggestions to help you celebrate!

1. Attend the Divine Liturgy this week as a family to celebrate this feast. Don’t forget to bring basil, flowers, or other fresh herbs to be blessed! Fresh basil is SO fragrant, the kids enjoy experiencing this plant up close!

2. Cook foods with basil in them for dinner! (Even better...use the basil you had blessed at Liturgy!) Check out this cheesy basil stuffed chicken recipe that I made tonight at Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It was so good!

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