Monday, September 14, 2009

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Heraclius restoring the Cross to Calvary

At the end of the reign of the emperor Phocas (early 7th century), Chosroes, king of the Persians, seized Egypt and Africa and captured Jerusalem, killing many thousands of Christians and taking away into Persia the Cross of Christ the Lord which Helena had placed on Mt. Calvary. Heraclius, who succeeded Phocas, was prompted by the burdens and disasters of war to sue for peace. But he could not obtain it even under unjust conditions, since Chosroes had been made insolent by his victories. In this great crisis, Heraclius gave himself up to constant prayer and fasting, imploring God's help. By divine inspiration, he raised an army, joined battle with the enemy and conquered three of Chosroes' generals and their three armies.

Broken by these defeats, Chosroes fled and, as he was preparing to cross the river Tigris, he appointed Medarses, his son, as his co-ruler. But Siroes, Chosroes' older son, bitterly resented this affront to himself and plotted to kill his father and his brother, which he did a little later when they returned from their flight. He obtained his kingdom from Heraclius under certain conditions, the first of which was the restoration of the Cross of the Lord Christ. And so, fourteen years after it had been taken by the Persians, the Cross was returned. On his coming back to Jerusalem, Heraclius bore it on his own shoulders in a solemn ceremony, taking it to the mount which the Savior Himself had carried it.

This event was made famous by a spectacular miracle. For Heraclius, clad as he was in gold and jewels, was forced to halt at the gate which led to Mt. Calvary. The more he tried to go on, the more he seemed to be held back. Heraclius and those with him were dumbfounded at this; but Zacharias, bishop of Jerusalem, said, "Consider, O emperor, how poorly you are imitating the poverty and humility of Jesus Christ when you carry His Cross in these triumphal robes." Then Heraclius, taking off his ceremonial robes and his shoes and putting on a poor man's garment, easily went the rest of the way and placed the Cross on that same spot on Calvary from which it had been taken by the Persians. And so the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which was already being celebrated each year on this day, took on still more luster because of the memory of this event when Heraclius replaced the Cross where it had first been set up for the Savior.

Image from Cardinal Seán's Blog.
Text from Mater Dei.

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