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Holy Cross Day - Coptic Wiki

HOLY CROSS DAY

The Coptic Church annually commemorates two events related to the Holy Cross on which Jesus was crucified: the finding of the cross at Jerusalem by the empress Helena, mother of Constantine, in A.D. 326, the feast day being 17 Tut; and the restoration of the cross in 628 from the hands of the Persians, whose King Chosroes II had carried it off fifteen years earlier. Emperor Heraclius (575-642) brought it back to Jerusalem where Patriarch Zechariah recognized his own unbroken seals on the case containing the greatest and most sacred relic of Christianity. This event is commemorated on 10 Baramhat.

As 10 invariably falls during the Great Lent, the celebration of Holy Cross Day takes place on 17 Tut, which is the day that follows the consecration day of the church on the sites of the Holy Sepulcher and Calvary.

The earliest mention of the glorious event of the finding of the Holy Cross in patristic writings is in the Catechetical Lectures of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386). In a sermon based on 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 and delivered in the Church of in 348, that is, twenty-two years after the discovery of the Holy Cross, Saint Cyril speaks about the witnesses and testimonies concerning Christ, and adds, “The holy wood of the Cross bears witness, seen among us to this day, and from this place now almost filling the whole world, by means of those who in faith take portions from it” (Catechetical Lectures 10.19).

In another sermon on the theme of the crucifixion (based on Is. 53:17), Saint Cyril declares, “He was crucified, and we deny it not, nay, I rather glory to speak of it. For though I should now deny it, here is to confute me, near which we are now assembled; the wood of the Cross confutes me, which was afterwards distributed piecemeal from hence to all the world” (Lecture 13.4).

Saint JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (c. 347-407) testifies to the manifestation of the Holy Cross in the following words, “For since the wood of the cross was buried, because no one was careful to take it up, inasmuch as fear was pressing, and the believers were hurrying to their urgent matters; and since it was in after times to be sought for, and it was likely that three crosses would lie together, in order that the Lord’s might not be unknown, it was made manifest to all, first by its lying in the middle, and then by the title” (Homily on Saint John 85).

Ambrose, bishop of Milan (c. 339-397), refers to the discovery of the Holy Cross in the course of a sermon delivered at a memorial service in 395 for Emperor Theodosius, in the presence of Emperor Honorius.

Socrates (c. 380-450) kept a record of relevant reports he heard from various sources of how the empress Helena was directed by a divine dream to go to Jerusalem and start searching for the cross. She found that a temple to Venus had been erected on the site of the Holy Sepulcher to mislead pilgrims. She had the ground cleared and searched until three crosses were eventually found, as well as the tablet of Pilate. The doubt as to which of the three was the Holy Cross was dispelled by applying each cross in turn to the body of a dying woman in the neighborhood. When the third, which was the true cross, touched her, she was immediately healed. Thus the genuine cross was discovered.

The story of the discovery of the Cross was also mentioned by the historian Theodoret (c. 393-c. 458).

There are also three notable apparitions of the sign of the cross. The first was to Constantine the Great, as he prepared to fight Maxentius. This was recorded by various historians, such as Socrates, Lactantius, and Sozomen. The details are given in full by of Caesarea. . . . while he [Constantine] was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person.

But since the victorious Emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honoured with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, “Conquer By This.” At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.

(The Life of Constantine 1.27) The second was to Gallus Caesar. According to Socrates, “the having created Gallus his kinsman Caesar and given him his own name, sent him to Antioch in Syria, providing thus for the guarding of the eastern parts. When Gallus was entering this city, the Saviour’s sign appeared in the East: for a in the form of a cross seen in the heavens gave occasion of great amazement to the spectators” (Ecclesiastical History 2.28).

Third, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem was an eyewitness to the apparition of the sign of the cross in the sky at Jerusalem on 7 May 351, particulars of which he sent in a letter to Emperor Constantius: “During the blessed days of Pentecost, and, to be precise, on 7 May 351 A.D., about 3 o’clock [in the afternoon] a huge cross appeared in the sky over Golgotha, reaching as far as the Mount of Olives. It was seen, not by one or two people, but by all the inhabitants of the city, with the utmost clarity.

Rather than fade away as we expected it would soon do, it continued to shine for many hours, in a most resplendent brightness, more brilliant than the sun itself . . . . All the city hurried to a man in awe and wonder, but also in joy to see this celestial sight. They flocked, young and old, men and women of all ages, and all praising our Lord” (From the Latin text in PG 33, col. 1165).

This apparition was also chronicled by various other historians, such as and Philostorgius. It is commemorated by the Coptic church on 12 Bashans.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Butcher, E. L. The Story of the Church of Egypt. London, 1897. Butler, A. J. The of Egypt, and the Last Thirty Years of the Dominion. Oxford, 1902.

ARCHBISHOP BASILIOS