The Exaltation of the True Cross by an anonymous Russian Orthodox icon painter (link)
Letter #125, 2023, Thursday, September 14: Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
I just received this letter from a reader, Joe Cahill. (Thank you, Joe.) I found it fascinating and wished to share it with you, since today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:
“The Cross of Our Blessed Saviour was found by St Helena on the 3rd May 326. The actual feast day is 14th September 334 on the completion of a cathedral to honour the event. What is not mentioned in this summary is that within half an hour of finding the cross, Emperor Constantine was made aware of the find. A series of bonfires set up throughout the mountain ranges between Jerusalem and Rome alerted him to the find. Fascinating.” —Joe Cahill
I cannot confirm from my own knowledge that this claim, that the news was sent across the empire in half an hour, is true, and do I have some doubts about it. (I would imagine that the lighting of each of the dozens of fires that would have been required might have taken up some minutes before the signal flame blazed up, taking several hours, so perhaps the claim that the emperor was made aware of the news of the finding of the Cross “within half an hour” is an exaggeration. Moreover, I assume that it all needed to occur during the night, so the flames could be seen in the blackness, so perhaps there was a passage of some time between the finding of the Cross during the day and the sending of the night-time signal that it had been found.)
In any case, the question of the “half-hour” claim is not my interest here.
Rather, whatever the precise facts about the length of time the news took to reach the Emperor Constantine from Jerusalem, what most strikes me is that the emperor wished to receive word as quickly as possible of the success of his mother’s mission to find the true cross.
The mental world, the spiritual world, of the emperor was such that the finding of Christ’s cross was of profound importance to him.
We might ask: why would it have been so important?
And the answer must be: that Constanine considered the death of Jesus on the cross, on that very cross that his mother Helena found in Jesuralem, to be of central importance, for him, and for the whole world of which he was the supreme ruler.
Which of our political leaders today would regard the cross upon which Christ was crucified to be of such central importance?
Any of them?
In reflecting upon the answer to this question, we may begin to understand the type of political culture which rules our world today.
So let us celebrate today the finding of the true cross upon which Our Lord was crucified almost 2,000 years ago, and let us keep in mind that what was accomplished in that death, upon that wooden cross, changed the very structure of reality itself, defeating death and opening a way to eternal life, the first glimpses of which were seen by Jesus’ followers just after dawn on the first Easter Sunday morning, when they saw the empty tomb…
We who live in 2023 have not received word of this resurrection after crucifixion on a wooden cross by a long series of bonfires spread across an empire, but by the eyewitness testimonies of many witnesses.
Let us reflect on that.—RM
(Below is a more complete account of the meaning of this feast day.)
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