Saturday, 14 September 2013

Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross

Rorate Caeli tweeted today, under the heading 'Trads against triumphalism' (!),  a reminder that this coming week includes the traditional Ember Days - which might perhaps usefully include further prayers and fasting for peace in Syria given President Obama's extraordinary speech lauding American Exceptionalism last week (and Mr Putin's equally interesting reply in the New York Times!).

But today's great feast is equally a reminder of the dangers of triumphalism, as the story of it from the readings for Matins make clear:

Chosroes of Persia, having, in the last days of the reign of the Emperor Phocas, overrun Egypt and Africa, in 614, took Jerusalem, where he slaughtered thousands of Christians and carried off to Persia the Cross of the Lord, which Helen had put upon Mount Calvary. Heraclius, the successor of Phocas, moved by the thought of the hardships and horrid outrages of war, sought for peace, but Chosroes, drunken with conquest, would not allow of it even upon unfair terms. Heraclius therefore, being set in this uttermost strait, earnestly sought help from God by constant fasting and prayer, and through His good inspiration gathered an army, joined battle with the enemy, and prevailed against three of Chosroes his chief captains, and three armies.

Chosroes was broken by these defeats, and when in his flight, in 628, he was about crossing the Tigris, he proclaimed his son Medarses partner in his kingdom. Chosroes' eldest son Siroes took this slight to heart, and formed a plot to murder his father and brother, which plot he brought to effect soon after they had come home. Then he got the kingdom from Heraclius upon certain terms, whereof the first was that he should give back the Cross of the Lord Christ. The Cross therefore was received back after that it had been fourteen years in the power of the Persians, and (in 629) Heraclius came to Jerusalem and bore it with solemn pomp unto the Mount whereunto the Saviour had borne it.

This event was marked by a famous miracle. Heraclius, who was adorned with gold and jewels, stayed perforce at the gateway which leadeth unto Mount Calvary, and the harder he strove to go forward, the harder he seemed to be held back, whereat both himself and all they that stood by were sore amazed. Then spake Zacharias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying See, O Emperor, that it be not that in carrying the Cross attired in the guise of a Conqueror thou showest too little of the poverty and lowliness of Jesus Christ. Then Heraclius cast away his princely raiment and took off his shoes from his feet, and in the garb of a countryman easily finished his journey, and set up the Cross once more in the same place upon Calvary whence the Persians had carried it away. That the Cross had been put by Heraclius in the same place wherein it had first been planted by the Saviour caused the yearly Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to become the more famous thenceforward.

Today we can give special thanks for the coming into effect of Summorum Pontificum.

But we should also remember that the commitment to poverty and charity is not an optional add-on for our faith, but rather something integral to it.

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