Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Save, O Lord, Your people and bless Your inheritance;
grant victory to the faithful over their adversaries.
And protect Your commonwealth, by the power of Your Cross.
(Apolytikion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross)


September 14


Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross is celebrated each year on September 14. The Feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.


In the twentieth year of his reign (326), the Emperor Constantine sent his mother Saint Helen to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places and to find the site of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Cross. Relying upon the oral tradition of the faithful, Saint Helen found the precious Cross together with the crosses of the two thieves crucified with our Lord. However, Helen had no way of determining which was the Cross of Christ.

With the healing of a dying woman who touched one of the crosses, Patriarch Macarius of Jerusalem identified the True Cross of Christ. Saint Helen and her court venerated the Precious and Life-Giving Cross along with many others who came to see this great instrument of Redemption.

The Patriarch mounted the ambo (pulpit) and lifted the Cross with both hands so that all of the people gathered could see it. The crowd responded with "Lord have mercy".

This became the occasion of the institution in all of the Churches of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, not only in memory of the event of the finding of the Cross, but also to celebrate how an instrument of shame was used to overcome death and bring salvation and eternal life.

The Feast is an opportunity outside of the observances of Holy Week to celebrate the full significance of the victory of the Cross over the powers of the world, and the triumph of the wisdom of God through the Cross over the wisdom of this world. This Feast also gives the Church an opportunity to relish the full glory of the Cross as a source of light, hope and victory for Christ's people. It is also a time to celebrate the universality of the work of redemption accomplished through the Cross: the entire universe is seen through the light of the Cross, the new Tree of Life which provides nourishment for those who have been redeemed in Christ.

Icon of the Feast

The icon of the Feast of the Precious Cross tells the story of the finding of the Cross and of its Exaltation. Patriarch Macarius is standing in the pulpit elevating the Cross for all to see and venerate. On each side of the Patriarch are deacons holding candles. The elevated Cross is surrounded and venerated by many clergy and lay people, including Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine.

In the background of the icon is a domed structure that represents the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. This church was one of the churches constructed and dedicated by Emperor Constantine on the holy sites of Jerusalem.


Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross


This Feast of our Lord is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is conducted on the day of the feast and preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on the evening before the day of the feast.

On the day of the Feast at the conclusion of the Matins or of the Divine Liturgy, a special service is held. The Cross is placed on a tray surrounded by branches of basil and is taken in solemn procession through the church to the chanting of the Hymn of the Feast. The tray is placed on a table, and the priest takes the Cross and offers petitions from each side of the table, the four directions of the compass. This represents the universal nature of the offering of Christ upon the Cross. As the people respond by chanting "Lord have mercy", the priest raises and lowers the cross, a commemoration of its finding and exaltation. At the conclusion of the service, the people come and venerate the cross and receive the basil from the priest. The basil is used and offered, as it was the fragrant flower growing where the Cross was found.

Scripture readings for the Feast of the Cross are the following: At Vespers: Exodus 15:22-16:1; Proverbs 3:11-18; Isaiah 60:11-16. At the Orthros (Matins): John 12:28-36. At the Divine Liturgy: I Corinthians 1:18-24; John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30-35.


The Incarnate God: The Feasts of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, Catherine Aslanoff, editor and Paul Meyendorff, translator (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995).

Festival Icons for the Christian Year by John Baggley (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000), pp. 111-115.

The Festal Menaion translated by Mother Mary (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1969) pp. 50-51.

Orthodox Saints, Vol. 3, by Fr. George Poulos (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1991), pp. 193-194.

The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Vol. 1, by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra (Ormylia: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady, 1998), pp. 101-102.

Icons of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross provided by Athanasios Clark and used with permission. 

Photograph from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross provided by Tzetsis Photography and used with permission. 



Archiepiscopal Encyclical for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Protocol 34/19


September 14, 2019

The Universal Exaltation of
The Precious and Life-Giving Cross

To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

             As we commemorate this most blessed Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, we sing as an exclamation of faith and a witness of the Gospel to all the world, “The Cross is raised on high, and urges all the creation to sing the praises of the undefiled Passion of Him who was lifted high upon it.” (Hymn of Vespers)   Today, as Orthodox Christians we raise high the Cross as an emblem of victory and an invincible shield.  We raise high the Cross of Christ our Lord, proclaiming the salvation that has come through Him.  We raise high the Cross, affirming that God’s love for us is greater than the power of death.  And in raising high the Cross, we raise up Christ so that all the world may see our Resurrected Lord and believe.

            This Feast of the Holy Cross is a very special day for us as Orthodox faithful, and it is also a special day for our Holy Archdiocese.  It is on this Feast each year that we affirm our support for the sacred work of our dear Schole, our Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.  On this Feast we offer our prayers for the students, faculty and staff, we encourage parishes and faithful to contribute to the mission of the school.  In addition, you are encouraged to recognize seminarians from your parish and to commit to cultivating more leaders for the Church.

            This year the Feast comes at a very critical time in the life of our Schole, and as we raise high the Cross of Christ in our communities, I ask that you raise your prayers on behalf of Holy Cross.  We have begun the search for a new president for the institution.  We are working diligently with His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios and the Board of Trustees to address issues and challenges so that our focus remains on preparing clergy and other leaders for a lifetime of service to God and His Church.  Your prayers and support are needed so that our blessed Schole and its legacy of training and nurturing generations of clergy can be on firm foundations.

            Today, we greet the Cross with joy, for the Cross has been given to us as a light and the salvation of our souls.  It illumines the path of holiness.  It guides our journey of faith unto eternal life.  In this joy may we also celebrate our Holy Cross School of Theology and the tremendous offering that has and will continue to be made from this holy hill.  That offering has had an impact in taking the Gospel into all the world, in nurturing the faithful in our parishes across this land, and in serving as a community of spiritual formation, an academy that cherishes intellectual inquiry, and a beacon of truth and grace.

            May the power of the Cross protect you, its light guide you, and this Feast inspire you to take up your cross daily, believing that God gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. (I Corinthians 15:57)

With paternal love in Christ,

Archbishop of America


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Listen to the hymns of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross:

Apolytikion (First Tone)

Save, O Lord, Your people and bless Your inheritance; grant victory to the faithful over their adversaries. And protect Your commonwealth, by the power of Your Cross.

Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

You who were lifted upon the Cross of Your own will, O Christ our God, bestow Your compassions upon the commonwealth that bears Your Name. By Your power, gladden our faithful rulers, giving them victory over their adversaries. May your alliance be for them a weapon for peace, an invincible standard.