The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross celebrates not one, but two important (but very much related) events in the history of the Church. In this feast, we celebrate both the finding of the Cross by St. Helena in 326 and the return of the Cross to Constantinople (and then on to Jerusalem) in 628. Here is a short synopsis to refresh your memory:
Although the empress Helena was 79 years old, she left on a journey to Jerusalem to find the precious Cross in the year 325. She had never seen a basil plant before this time. Just outside of Jerusalem, she noticed this unusual plant (the basil) that was growing all over the ground. The unfamiliar plant’s appearance and its location caused her to suspect that this was a special place. She decided to have her men dig at that spot in search of the Cross. It turned out that she was right! Three crosses were found in the ground under the growing basil. All three were tested on a sick woman (and/or a dead man – traditions vary), who had no response to the two other crosses, but became immediately well after touching the Cross of Christ. Many, many people came into Jerusalem when they heard that the Cross had been found. The leaders of the Church held the Cross up high for all to see. The people responded by saying, “Lord have mercy!” again and again.
Soon thereafter, St. Helena had a church built at the site, and most of the Cross stayed in that church, with a small piece going back to Constantinople. And so it remained for many years. In 614, however, the Persians conquered Palestine and stole the Cross. A few years later, in 628, Emperor Heraclius and his men were able to recover the Cross after defeating the Persians. At that point, the Cross was returned to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Resurrection.
We celebrate both the initial finding of the Cross and its recovery with this fasting feast. It may seem odd to celebrate a feast day by fasting. But we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross with fasting because of what we are commemorating: the Cross on which our Lord suffered and died. A fast is the most appropriate celebration of that. As we celebrate, we should also be renewing our own determination to follow Him and live our Faith to the best of our ability, even though doing so may cause us to suffer. In this way, our fasting feast can help us to become the kind of Christian we are meant to be.
Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,
Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies.
And by the power of Thy Cross
Preserving Thy Kingdom!
We hope that you had a blessed Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross!
Here are a few ideas of ways to learn about this feast and to teach your Sunday Church School students about it. You can tuck them away for another year!
Very young children (preschool-K) will enjoy these activities related to finding the Holy Cross: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/08/24/elevation-of-the-cross-part-2-activities/
Find a simple lesson, complete with two craft suggestions, to help children learn about the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross here: http://myocn.net/elevation-of-the-cross-prayer-beads/
Find a printable children’s bulletin about the Elevation of the Cross here: http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Childrens-Word-83.pdf
Find thorough lesson plans on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross at this site. (For example, here is the one for 10-12 year olds, http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/elevation-cross; and this one is for high school, http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/elevation-cross)
Older children will benefit from reading the articles about the cross, including its finding and its elevation (there’s also one on the wood that was used to make the cross), complete with color icons and some pictures found in this unique and very thorough bulletin. Reading the articles together can be a very good starting place for discussion! http://stpaulsgreekorthodox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/September2016Bulletin.pdf