Yesterday was Holy Cross Day, a major feast day in The Book of Common Prayer. Although only restored to the Episcopal Church Calendar in the 1979 Book, the feast itself is one of the more ancient feasts of the church dating back to the Fourth Century. It was first celebrated to mark the dedication of the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem built by the Emperor Constantine the Great in 335 on the site where his mother, Helena, had discovered the True Cross in 326. Of that cross, one third remained in Jerusalem, one third went to Rome to the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and the other third to Constantinople. The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross soon became one of the Twelve Great Feasts of Eastern Orthodoxy. By the Seventh Century the Feast was celebrated in Rome under the title the Triumph of the Cross. Just to lay to rest any accusation of idolatry, the Second Council of Nicea declared that “he who adores the image, adores the person who it represents.”
While the feast itself may not have become part of our Prayer Book until 1979, this Diocese has a special relationship with both the Order of the Holy Cross and the Order of St Helena, Episcopal religious orders for men and women respectively. The Order of the Holy Cross began its life here in the City in 1884 when Bishop Potter received the vows of Father James Otis Huntingdon, the Founder of OHC. The sermon at that ceremony was preached by Father Houghton from the Church of the Transfiguration, who was the Spiritual Director to Father Huntingdon. The order eventually settled in West Park, New York, which is still its principal house, and where many go for retreats and visits. The Order of St Helena (who found the True Cross) was founded later in 1947 and based its rule on OHC. The women’s order eventually settled in Vails Gate, NY, with a smaller house in East 28th Street, before moving to Augusta, GA, several years back. We remember both orders with thanksgiving as they keep their feasts of title on Holy Cross Day.
But chiefly Holy Cross Day celebrates the Cross of Jesus, the Saving Sign at the very heart of the Gospel. One of my favorite hymns is “Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim” the words of which are reflected in the collect for this day:
“Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”