Elevation of the Cross





  1. Students should be able to identify each character in the icon, telling the story.
  2. Students should know the Troparion of the Holy Cross and “Before Thy Cross”.
  3. Students should know that the date of the feast is September 14.


Possible Lesson Plan:


  1. Open with prayer.


  1. Review the icon of the feast: St. Macarius is in the center holding the cross, Helen on the left with crown, Constantine on the right with crown, citizens of Jerusalem, and the city of Jerusalem in the background with the domed Church of the Holy Sepulchre right above the Cross.  You might begin and ask what the students already know about the story and its participants, setting the stage for the telling of the story.


  1. Review the story of the finding of the holy cross, first reminding students of the historical context (Who was Constantine? What did he do? What was the Council of Nicaea and its outcome?):


This feast originated on the occasion of the finding of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. This event, according to early Christian historians, occurred during the time of Constantine the Great. He, feeling a great reverence for the Cross of Christ because it had brought him many victories and also desiring to express his thankfulness to God for the peace in the church after the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, decided to erect a church on Golgotha. This is the place where Jesus was crucified, along with the two thieves.


To lay the groundwork for this project, Con­stantine's mother Helena journeyed to Jerusalem in 326. Upon arriving in the Holy City, she was struck with a deep desire to find, if that was pos­sible, the Cross of Jesus. She learned that it was the custom of the Romans of Jesus' time to bury the crosses near the spot upon which the execu­tions had taken place - this information was sup-plied to her by an elderly Jewish man who had spent his entire life in the city.  In addition, she was told that the Holy Cross was beneath a pagan temple, erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian many years before. Helen had the temple torn down and set about the task of excavation, digging. The troops who did the actual digging pleaded with her after a while to give up her dream, for they kept finding nothing in the ground but ancient pottery. St. Helena, however, insisting upon her royal privileges, prevailed and work continued. Finally, the soldiers found not one but three crosses. It was not possible to know upon which of the crosses the Lord Jesus had been crucified, for the tablet with the superscription "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" was found separately.


There was naturally great excitement in the city with the news that the crosses had been found, but no one could figure out a way of discovering which of the three was the Cross of Jesus. But the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Macanus, was an in­spired man. He ordered a very sick but pious woman to be brought to the place, and there -in the presence of the Queen and a great crowd of people - proceeded to touch the sick woman with each of the crosses. The first two accom­plished nothing, but when the third one touched her - she was healed of her sickness, made whole.


When they were bringing the crosses back to the city - for at that time Golgotha was still "outside" Jerusalem, as it was the Roman custom to perform crucifixions on the outskirts - a more wonderful miracle took place which conclusively proved which of the three crosses was Christ's. The procession heading into the city, led by Patri­arch Macarius, ran into another procession -heading away from the city, a funeral. The patriarch again went through the same procedure as he had with the sick woman, but this time with the man who was being buried. When the third cross touched the dead man, he awoke, as if from sleep.


With the news of these two great miracles, crowds and crowds of people began piling into Jerusalem. Because of the size of these crowds, and the smallness of the Cathedral Church, it was not possible for everyone to even see the Cross, let alone venerate it. So the next day, the Patri­arch and a number of his deacons raised up the Cross over their heads during the service so that all could see - and all the people began singing, over and over, "Lord, Have Mercy." Thus was born the custom, lasting to the present day in some churches, of singing these same words over and over when the Cross is lifted during the ser­vices on this day.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the site where the true cross was found.


But the special hymn of the days during which the Cross is in the center of the church is "Before Thy Cross, We Bow Down In Worship, 0 Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection, We Glorify!" This hymn even replaces the Trisagion ("Holy God") during the Divine Liturgy on these days. This hymn originated some ten years after the above finding of the Cross, when a Church of the Resur­rection of Christ was consecrated in Jerusalem in 335 A.D. Many Bishops came from all over the world to consecrate this church to God, and when they returned to their home parishes this hymn went with them.


Why “basil” at the Feast of the Cross? The herb, basil has long been associated with the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The word “basil” is derived from “Vasileios,” the Greek word for a king or person of royal lineage.

According to the liturgical tradition, the Holy Empress Helena, Mother of the Saint and King Constantine, found the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a large growth of basil. Basil plants were reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where the Precious Blood of Christ fell, along with the tears of the Mother of God. On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it is customary in the East to rest the image of the Holy Cross on a bed of basil before carrying it out for the veneration of the faithful. Also, in some areas, branches of basil are used throughout the temple as a festive decoration as well as to provide a heavenly scent in honor of the Feast. Blessed basil leaves may also be arranged in a bouquet at the foot of the “Golgotha” cross. Dried leaves taken from the feast can also be used by the faithful as a sweet incense to burn at home as a blessing.

Why not plant some basil today in an egg carton to take home and water? Plant it next spring in the yard and have a lovely plant for next year’s feast.



  1. Read the gospel and epistle readings for this feast (have students read aloud in turns):

            John 19:6-35

            I Corinthians 1:18-24 – What does Paul say about the importance of the cross?

       Old Testament Scriptures regarding the Holy Cross:

            Exodus 7:5, 7:19-20, 8:6-22, 10:21-22, 14:21,26, 17:11-12

            Numbers 2: 2-31


  1. How many New Testament references to the cross can you find?  This can be a contest, with a time limit.  Have each student select one or more and read – no repeats!


6.   A Musical Feast (Sing them, if you’re so inclined.):

Troparion: O, Lord, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance.  Grant victory to all Orthodox Christians over their adversaries and by virtue of thy cross preserve thy habitation.

     Kontakion: Do thou, who of thine own good will wast elevated upon the Cross, bestow thy bounties upon the new people which is called by thy Name, O Christ our God; make glad with thy might our believing kings, granting them victory over their adversaries. May thine aid be a panoply of peace, a trophy invincible.

In place of the Trisagion: Before thy cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and thy holy Resurrection we glorify.

Exapostilarion: The cross is the preserver of all the universe.

                          The cross is the beauty of the Church.

                          The cross is the might of kings.

                          The cross is the steadfastness of believers.

                          The cross is the glory of the angels and the sting of Satan.

  1. Discussion questions:

What are some Old Testament “forerunners” of the cross? How was the cross (and the crucifixion) predicted in the Old Testament? In what way was the cross the fulfillment of the Old Covenant?

Who is our adversary?  How is the cross the sting of Satan? How did the cross preserve the universe?

Where do we see the cross, in church and elsewhere? What are some words that contain the word “cross”? (crossroads, crosshairs, crosswalk) Any significance?



  1. Craft Idea – Seed Mosaic: Take a

paper plate. Have students draw

on it a cross, style of their choosing.

Bring to class lots of different colors

and shapes of seeds and beans.

Have students glue on seeds and

beans in mosaic form.


  1. Make a felt banner as before.



     10.   Close with prayer.