This week we will celebrate one of the 12 major feasts of the Church year!
The feast of the Elevation of the Life-Giving Cross is celebrated very early in the Church year on September 14. In this feast we celebrate both the power of the Cross and Christ’s crucifixion in our salvation and the finding of the Cross by Saint Helen in the 300s.
In the fourth century, the first Christian emperor, St. Constantine, and his mother, St. Helen, wanted to find important relics from the life of Christ in the Holy Land. Because Jerusalem had been utterly destroyed in 70 A.D. by Titus, the search was difficult. While Saint Helen was searching for the cross, she smelled a sweet plant on a hill outside of Jerusalem. She then asked those with her to dig underneath this herb and discovered the Cross. Because of this, the herb was named “basil” from the Greek vasiliko or “of the King.”
According to tradition, Saint Helen had found three crosses on Golgotha and needed to determine which was the true Cross of Christ. She spoke with Makarios, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who concluded that the true cross would heal the sick. They brought the sick (or the dead according to another account) to touch the three crosses. Much joy abounded when a person was healed (or raised from the dead) after being touched by the Cross.
The church celebrated with a procession of the true Cross. Patriarch Makarios held up, or elevated, the Cross for the faithful to venerate. The people repeatedly chanted, “Lord have mercy” as they were filled with reverence, awe, and joy at being in the presence of the Cross of Christ.
On this feast we celebrate the Cross as the meeting of heaven and earth–the very means of our salvation through Christ’s death
Ways to Celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross
1. Have a Cross Scavenger Hunt
Young children love to find things. For this feast you can ask the children to search the house to find all of the crosses that they can. These may include crosses in icons, on the wall, as necklaces, etc. Or, you can buy some cheap small plastic crosses and actually hide them around the house. Give each child a bag, set a timer, and see how many they can find in five minutes. When the timer goes off, bring them all to the couch and tell the story of St. Helen and the finding of the True Cross.
2. Explore Basil
This is a great day to do a scientific exploration of basil. If you have the herb in your garden, you can go out and observe it growing. If not, the whole family can go to the store to purchase some. Have the kids describe its appearance, its smell, its taste, and its texture. You can even let them help you put it into your lunch or dinner that day. While you are examining its scientific properties, be sure to talk about its role in the finding of the Cross and explain its Greek name.
3. Make a Cross
If you are at all crafty (or even if you, like me, are not!), this feast lends itself easily to a craft project. Children can make crosses out of virtually any material. You can use card stock and have children decorate and cut out crosses. Or, many crafting stores have foam paper that would make lovely crosses. Young children can adorn them with glitter, stickers, beads, or whatever you have on hand. You can even go on a nature walk, gather wildflowers, and glue them on as well.
4. Practice Making the Sign of the Cross
This is also a perfect day to practice making the sign of the cross. With very young children (1-3), hold their hands and physically move them as they practice. You can explain that Orthodox Christians make the sign of the cross to ask for God’s blessing and protection and to show our love for Christ.
5. Practice Venerating Crosses
Families can also practice how to venerate crosses, the way to make a bow, and having a reverent attitude when kissing the cross.
6. Read about Christ and the Cross
Finally, read the Gospel of Christ’s crucifixion to the children. You can use a children’s Bible with illustrations or read from the Bible while the children look at an icon of the crucifixion. The children will likely have many questions about the Cross, about Jesus’s death, and even about death itself. This is a fantastic time to talk about Christ’s love for humanity and his victory over death.
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How does your family celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross?