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September 14, 2023

Homily on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (St. John Maximovitch)

 By St. John Maximovitch

The Cross, which before Christ was an instrument of execution and caused fear and disgust towards it, after Christ’s death on the Cross became an instrument and banner of our salvation.

With it, Christ crushed the devil, from it He descended into hades and, freeing those who languished there, led them into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The image of the Cross is frightening for demons and, as a sign of Christ, is revered by Christians.

The Lord revealed it in heaven to Emperor Constantine, who was marching on Rome to fight the persecutor who had seized power, and, having built a banner in the form of a Cross, Emperor Constantine won complete victory. Having received help through the Cross of the Lord, Emperor Constantine begged his mother, Queen Helen, to find the most life-giving Cross, and the pious Helen, going to Jerusalem, after many searches, found it.

Many healings and other miracles have been and are being done, both from the Cross of Christ itself and from its image. With this the Lord protects His people from all enemies, visible and invisible.

Orthodox Christians solemnly celebrate the finding of the Cross of the Lord, remembering at the same time the appearance of the Cross in heaven to Emperor Constantine. On these and other days dedicated to the Holy Cross, we pray to God that God would grant His mercies not only to individual people, but to all of Christianity, to the entire Church. The troparion of the Cross of the Lord, compiled in the 8th century, speaks expressively about this, when a friend of Saint John of Damascus, Saint Kosmas the Bishop of Maium, wrote the entire rite of the service of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

"Save, O Lord, Your people and bless Your inheritance; grant victory to the king (faithful) over their adversaries. And protect Your commonwealth, by the power of Your Cross."

The beginning of this prayer is taken from Psalm 27. In the Old Testament, the word “people” meant only those who professed the true faith, people faithful to God. “Property” or “inheritance” was everything that actually belonged to God, God’s property, which in the New Testament is the Church of Christ. Praying for the salvation of the people of God (Christians), both from eternal torment and earthly disasters, we pray to the Lord that He would “bless”, send down grace, His good gifts to the whole Church, and strengthen it internally.

The prayer for the granting of “victory to the king,” the bearers of Supreme Power, is based on Psalm 143:10 , and recalls the victories, by the power of God, of King David, as well as the granting of victories through the Cross of the Lord to Emperor Constantine. This appearance of the Cross made the kings, who until then were persecutors of Christians, defenders of the Church from external enemies, “external bishops,” in the words of the Holy Emperor Constantine.

The Church, internally strong by the grace of God and fenced externally, is for Orthodox Christians the “city of God,” “God’s residence,” from which the path to the Heavenly Jerusalem goes. Various disasters shook the world, nations disappeared, cities and states perished, but the persecuted and even internally torn Church stands unshakable; for the “gates of hades” will not prevail against it. Now, when the efforts of the world rulers to establish order on earth are fruitless, the only true weapon of the world remains the One about whom the Church sings:

"The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church; the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful; the Cross is the glory of angels and the ruining of demons."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


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