by The Very Rev. Canon Keans
My lord, my dear friends, this is no ordinary day: it is a day of joy and congratulation, because a noble work has been accomplished. This church has been dedicated to Almighty God under the title of the Holy Rood or Sacred Cross. The church keeps two distinct festivals in honour of the sacred cross. The first is the feast of the finding of the Holy Cross by St. Helen. In the beginning of the fourth century, Maxentius declared war against Constantine the Great, who was then in Gaul. He marched from Gaul into Italy, and when he was within nine miles of the city of Rome, about midday there appeared to him and to his army a splendid cross over the sun, clad in a light so rich and so powerful that it almost killed the light of the midday sun. This sign was the sign of the cross, and the words around it were, “In this sign thou shalt conquer.” Constantine at that time was a Pagan, but he came to battle invoking the aid of the living and true God. That night in his slumber our Lord manifested to him that it was His will that he should make a standard after that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and promised him the victory wherever it should go. As soon as the day dawned, he called his councillors around him, and they carried out the design which God had given them. It was a magnificent cross, bearing the initials of the name of our Divine Lord, He chose fifty of the most valiant and noble men of his guard to bear it in to battle before him Standards were made also for the different corps of his arms, and when the day of battle came, though his numbers were inferior to those of Maxentius, he swept the field with triumph. Maxentius in flight, was drowned crossing the Tiber.
Constantine entered Rome in triumph, and as a witness to the whole world of that triumph of the power of the cross that magnificent arch still stands outside the walls of Rome.
Some years later Constantine, having been received into the Catholic Church, determined to erect a church in Jerusalem in thanksgiving for this victory. His mother was St. Helen, a native of Britain, and she, though eighty years of age, was at once prepared to go to .Jerusalem to see the order of her son carried out. On her voyage Almighty God inspired her with the desire of finding the identical cross on which her Divine Master had died for the sins of the world, and as soon as she reached Jerusalem she sought the place. The temple of Venus was thrown down, the statue of Jupiter was broken into pieces, the ground was excavated and she found three crosses, and the title, and the remains of the sponge, and the crown of thorns, and the nails. But there were three crosses; how should she know which of the three bore her Divine Master in death? She appealed at once to the Bishop of Jerusalem. It so happened in that day that a lady of distinction was nigh to death from some acute disease, and the holy bishop suggested that the crosses should be taken in procession. and the one that should heal her of her malady should be the cross of Him who had saved the world. One touched the invalid with no result, the second touched the invalid and there was no result, but on the touch of the third, she sat up cured, and walked before those present, blessing God for her restoration to health.
Last Sunday we kept another feast, and that was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast signifies the recovery of the Holy Cross from the hands of the infidels. In the seventh century, Chosres II, King of Persia, drew his sword against the Church of God, and he swept to and fro through the East bearing down everything before him. At last he entered the city of Jerusalem, plundered it, and carried away with him the holy relics, and together with them the holy relic of the cross. I need not tell you with what pain and grief the Christian world heard that these sacred things had been borne off. For some time the Emperor Heraclius endeavoured to make peace with the tyrant but he treated his overtures with contempt. At last, in the year 627, he drew his sword in the name of God to do battle for the church and for the Holy Cross. He carried the war into the enemy’s country, and wherever he moved victory went with him. Leading his army he fought a decisive battle near the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh, and broke altogether the Persian power, and from that blow it never recovered even to this day. Chosres II met with a terrible death at the hands of his own son. Siroes, who made peace with the Emperor Heraclius, and made over the treasures which his father had brought from Jerusalem. The emperor then returned in great state to Constantinople, and in the spring of the following year he made a solemn entry into Jerusalem, bearing upon his shoulders the cross which he had redeemed from the hands of the infidel. Historians tell us that a he neared the city gates an invisible hand kept him back. He wondered, he trembled, he saw not any power, but he felt it. It was then that the patriarch said to him, “My liege, thou must not enter Jerusalem clad as thou art. Our Lord carried that cross, not with a diadem on His brow, but a crown of thorns: not clad in the purple attire of royalty, but in the garb of poverty. He carried that cross not with shoes on as you wear, but barefooted”. In a moment the emperor saw his trouble: he cast aside his diadem, he set aside his royal robes, he put off his shoes, and barefooted, and with the garb of lowliness around his shoulders, once more he took the sacred cross, and as he neared the gate there was no invisible hand then to check his course. He moved on with acclamations of joy and thanksgiving to God, and restored the cross to the church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. That is the festival, my dear friends, we kept last Sunday, and by a special privilege granted by his Eminence the Cardinal, we celebrate today the Mass of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.