Holy Cross Day was yesterday. As an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, I would like to share some thoughts about it with you. The date, September 14, derives from the date in 335 AD when the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was dedicated. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was caused to be constructed by Helena, the mother of the Emperor, Constantine. Helena had gone to Israel to search for sites of significance to Christians. A site was discovered over which the Romans had build a pagan shrine; a site many believed to have been the location of the the crucifixion of Jesus. Excavation of the site uncovered three crosses, which came to be regarded as the crosses on which Jesus and the two thieves were crucified.
Here are links to a couple of sites, one short and to the point but with a couple of points that were new to me; and the other with a wealth of commentary about ‘making the sign of the cross.’
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I don’t have any trouble believing that those who took the body of Jesus down from the cross would have kept the crown of thorns as an object of veneration, even to revering the dried blood of Jesus on the tips of the thorns. I note that my wife believes to the contrary, that they would have discarded it in horror; destroyed it even, as an ugly, evil, hateful thing. I suppose it could have gone either way.
I am, however, much more of a skeptic about the finding of the true cross. After all, there were not just three of them, or even just a few, but dozen, hundreds, perhaps even thousands. It was no big deal to the Romans to crucify people for any number of reasons, including just refusing to offer sacrifice to the emperor. But lets let it go at that; not having wood from the actual cross doesn’t negate that there actually was one or detract from the cross as the symbol of Christianity.
In the second of the sites referenced above, in all the commentary it contains about how to make the sign of the cross and when it is done, I don’t see mentioned something I heard or read a few years ago about how it originated; as a way that Christians who had been condemned to be killed in the Colosseum signaled to the jeering crowds the offense for which they were being killed. Learning that has made it a solemn thing to me, and made me ambivalent about doing so. Mindful of that as its original purpose, I sometimes think that I should never do it again unless I’m in a situation where I am about to be killed for being a Christian and need to profess that to bystanders.
We adore you, O Christ and we bless you,
Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 15-September-2015.