Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the Finding and the the Exaltation of the Cross of Christ. Both events occured three centuries apart. The Mediaeval tale of the Golden Legend tells of the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, Empress and mother of the Emperor Constantine, in 326, and of the return of the Cross by the Christian Emperor Heraclius in 629 after it had been stolen by the Persian King Chosroes in 613.
PRE-HISTORY LEGEND OF THE CROSS:
Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Cast out of Garden of Paradise. After Cain killed Abel, Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, who placed some seeds from the Tree of Life into the mouth of his father Adam when he died and was buried.
A sapling grew from the grave and a great tree formed. From the branch of that tree, Moses got his staff which he used to part the waters of the Red Sea.
After his death, the staff was taken by Aaron and buried with him. It grew into another tree which King David used in his royal garden.
Cut down for Solomon’s Temple, it would not fit and was cast aside and thrown into a lake. The wood floated to the top and became a natural bridge.
The Queen of Sheba was unable to cross the bridge and had to take off her shoes and wade through the stream. She convinced King Solomon to take the wood and use it as a lintel over the doorway to the Temple. He did this and covered the wood with gold and silver.
His wicked grandson, Abijah, stripped the gold and silver and jewels from the wood and cast it into the water again. This time the wood transformed the waters into the healing pool of Bethesda.
At the time of the Crucifixion, it floated to the top and was washed ashore where a Roman soldier fashioned it into the Cross upon which Christ would be crucified.
It is said that the cross was made out of four kinds of wood, namely, palmwood, cedar, cypress, and olivewood. Hence the verse:
Ligna crucis palma, cedrus, cypressus, oliva.
There were four wooden parts to the cross-the upright shaft, the crossbeam, the tablet above, and the block into which the cross was fixed, or, as Gregory of Tours says, the crosspiece that supported Christ's feet. Hence each of these parts might be made of any of the kinds of wood enumerated above.
FINDING THE CROSS LEGEND:
Roman soldiers found three crosses buried and took them forthwith to the queen (St. Helena). Since they had no way of distinguishing Christ's cross from those of the thieves, they placed them in the centre of the city and waited for the Lord to manifest his glory; and behold! At about the ninth hour the body of a young man was being carried past, and Judas halted the cortege. He held the first cross and the second over the body, but nothing happened. Then he extended the third cross, and the dead man immediately came back to life. In the histories of the Church we also read that when one of the leading women in the city lay close to death, Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, brought in first one and then another of the crosses, to no effect; but when he placed the third beside the lady, she opened her eyes at once and rose up cured.
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is solemnly celebrated by the Church because on that day the Christian faith itself was exalted to the heights. In the year A.D. 615, the Lord allowing his people to be scourged by the savagery of the pagans, Chosroes, king of the Persians, subjected all the earth's kingdoms to his rule. When he came to Jerusalem, however, he withdrew in fear from the sepulchre of the Lord but took away a piece of the holy cross that Saint Helena had left there. Chosroes wanted to be worshiped as God. He built a gold and silver tower studded with jewels, and placed in it images of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Bringing water to the top of the tower through hidden pipes, he poured down water as God pours rain, and in an underground cave he had horses pulling chariots around in a circle to shake the tower and produce a noise like thunder. Then he abdicated his kingdom in favour of his son and, profane as he was, settled himself in the tower as in a fane, put the Lord's cross at his side, and decreed that all should call him God. Indeed, we read in the book On the Mitral Office that he sat on a throne in the shrine as the Father, put the wood of the cross on his right in place of the Son, and a cock on his left in place of the Holy Spirit. He commanded that he be called the Father.
RESTORATION OF THE CROSS
Emperor Heraclius now marshalled a large army and marched against the son of Chosroes to confront him at the Danube River. Finally the two princes agreed to meet in single combat on the bridge that crossed the river, the victor to take over the empire, both armies being spared any damage. It was also decreed that anyone who came to the assistance of his prince would have his legs and arms cut off and be thrown into the river.
Heraclius offered himself totally to God and commended himself to the holy cross with all the devotion of which he was capable. The two princes fought for a long time, and the Lord granted victory to Heraclius, who thus made the opposing army subject to his command, with the result that all Chosroes's people acknowledged the Christian faith and received holy baptism. Chosroes himself knew nothing of the outcome of the war, because he was hated by all and no one told him about it.
Heraclius journeyed to Chosroes and found him seated on his golden throne. He said to him: "Because you have honoured the wood of the holy cross in your own way, you will be spared your life and your reign on condition that you accept the Christian faith and receive baptism, a few hostages being taken as guarantee. If on the other hand, you consider this beneath you, I will kill you with my sword and cut off your head." Chosroes refused the offer and Heraclius promptly decapitated him; but, since he had been a king, he was given suitable burial. Heraclius found the king's son, a child ten years of age, with him. He had the boy baptised and with his own hands lifted him from the font, then left his father's kingdom to him. But he demolished the tower and allotted the silver to his army as spoils of war, reserving the gold and the jewels for the rebuilding of the churches the tyrant had destroyed.
Now Heraclius carried the sacred cross back to Jerusalem. He rode down the Mount of Olives, mounted on his royal palfrey and arrayed in imperial regalia, intending to enter the city by the gate through which Christ had passed on his way to crucifixion. But suddenly the stones of the gateway fell down and locked together, forming an unbroken wall. To the amazement of everyone, an angel of the Lord, carrying a cross in his hands, appeared above the wall and said: "When the King of heaven passed through this gate to suffer death, there was no royal pomp. He rode a lowly ass, to leave an example of humility to his worshipers." With those words the angel vanished.
The emperor shed tears, took off his boots and stripped down to his shirt, received the cross of the Lord into his hands, and humbly carried it toward the gate. The hardness of the stones felt the force of a command from heaven, and the gateway raised itself from the ground and opened wide to allow passage to those entering. And a most sweet odour, which, from the day and moment when the sacred cross was taken out of Chosroes's tower, had glided across the far reaches of land from Persia to Jerusalem, now made itself felt, and refreshed with the wonder of its perfume all who sensed it. Then the truly devout emperor burst forth in praise of the cross: "O cross, more splendid than all the heavenly bodies, renowned throughout the world, deserving of all men's love, holier than all things else! O cross, you were worthy to carry the ransom of the world! O sweet wood, sweet nails, sweet sword, sweet lance, you were the bearer of sweet burdens! Save the host gathered today in praise of you and signed with your banner!"
Thus it was that the precious cross was brought back to its place, and the miracles of old began again: dead men were raised to life, four paralytics were cured, ten lepers were made clean, fifteen blind people received their sight, demons were driven out, and great numbers were delivered of various infirmities. Heraclius also repaired the churches and endowed them richly. Then he went back to his own land.
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