When is it celebrated?
On September 14th, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custos, and the innumerable Catholic religious orders which are represented in Jerusalem come together to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. However, it is known by another name by the Orthodox Church, which is the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. The Greek, Russian, Arab and Romanian Orthodox communities celebrate this feast on another day as well, which is September 27th.
Which Christian denominations celebrate it?
While the feast may not be well known in the Catholic Church outside of the Holy Land, it is one of the principal feasts of the Latin Patriarchate, which identifies itself as having apostolic succession to the first bishop of Jerusalem, Saint James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles also known as “The Brother of the Lord.”
How is the feast celebrated in Jerusalem?
Today the feast continues to be celebrated with great enthusiasm and reverence in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. In many ways the feast marks the beginning of the autumn season, when pilgrims from across the world arrive in greater numbers. Masses at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are followed by evening processions throughout the Christian Quarter. It is a powerful, moving testament to the enduring faith of Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land, in both times of struggle and triumph.
* The Christian Quarter where you can see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the scenic Muristan Square from the bell tower of the Lutheran Kirche of the Redeemer.
How important is the actual Holy Cross?
Christian tradition holds great importance to the actual cross that our Lord Jesus was crucified on. First, the cross itself has been considered a holy relic of impassable importance to the Christian faith. Some traditions hold that the cross itself was made of wood hewn from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, thereby connecting the original sin of Adam and Eve with the ultimate sin of crucifixion of Christ the Savior. Whatever its origins, the cross was apparently discarded into a rubbish heap on Golgotha, where it lay for nearly three centuries until being found through divine inspiration with the guidance of Saint Helena. The cross was divided into several portions and sent to different places of the Byzantine Christian world, with the largest segment remaining in the Holy City. From that point on, venerating the cross became a central component of pilgrimage in Jerusalem. Pilgrims entering the Holy Sepuchre, the basilica complex which included Golgotha and the tomb of Christ, would ascend to Golgotha to venerate the cross. Eventually, the cross needed to be concealed as pilgrims became to gnaw off portions of the cross while kissing it, as a means to keep portions of it for themselves!
Why is the feast important?
The importance of the cross was such that when Jerusalem was sacked by Persians in the early 7th century, the cross was carried off as a war trophy along with the Patriarch of Jerusalem. When the Emperor Heraclius was able to deliver a decisive victory and reclaim both Patriarch and cross, he returned in triumph to the city of Jerusalem. So important was this moment of redemption to the devastated city of Jerusalem and its Christians that it was declared a holy day, and was for a time celebrated with as much festivity as Easter and Epiphany. For this reason, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross became an important feast day in the life of not only the Church in the Holy Land, but also that of the universal Church.
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