Some of the twelve great feasts of the Church come in two’s. Such was the case of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and the Dormition of the Theotokos, and so now also is the case of the Nativity of the Theotokos and the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross. At Holy Trinity Monastery the latter is celebrated with extra solemnity in that with the blessing of the Metropolitan, Archimandrite Luke is granted the right to perform the rite of the Elevation of the Cross, much to the spiritual joy of the monastics, the seminarians and the many faithful who attend this service, conducted toward the end of the All-Night Vigil.
We have the great blessing to have a piece of the Life-Giving Cross of Our Lord, inserted into a pectoral cross worn at one time by the ever-memorable Archbishop Averky, the well-known previous abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery and gifted writer and sermonizer of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. The pectoral cross is itself inserted into a larger cross, especially for the services of veneration of the Cross.
The Cross is beautifully decorated with flowers, and a large pan is filled with cut flowers, mostly from the monastery flower gardens and also basil, since according to tradition, when the True Cross was discovered by St. Elena in the fourth century, the air was filled with the fragrance of this herb, thus its name, “Basilios,” or King.
As is the custom, the decorated Cross is transferred from the Proskomedia table to the altar table at the end of Small Vespers, with the chanting of the troparion and the kondakion. Toward the end of the Vigil, during the singing of the Great Doxology, the Cross is censed by the abbot of the monastery, wearing full vestments, and then, aided by attending clergy, Fr. Luke carries the Cross on his head out of the altar to the Royal Gates, where he intones, “Wisdom, aright,” and the Cross is thereupon carried down to an analogion previously placed in the middle of the church. This is accompanied by a full peal or “Trezvon” of the monastery bells, while the faithful along with the choir sing the troparion of the feast, “Save O Lord, They people.”
After the singing of the troparion and the censing of the Cross on the analogion, the service of the Elevation takes place. Preceded by small litanies, the Cross is at first lowered slowly to almost the floor and then raised slowly as high as possible while the choir chants “Lord have mercy,” one hundred times. At the same time, two priests slowly pour rose water over the Cross, which drips down into the basin of flowers. This is repeated four more times, in all directions and finally again, to the east.
Upon conclusion of this, first the clergy and then the choir with the faithful sing, “We fall down before Thy Cross, O Master.” Then the choir returns to its place to sing more of the appointed verses, while the faithful venerate the Cross and are anointed with blessed oil and each given a flower from the basin into which the rose water poured from the Cross.
The following day, the Divine Liturgy was served at 9AM. This was followed by a strict, Lenten lunch in the monastery refectory. The afterfeast lasts until October 4th. Every day, during the afterfeast, at the end of the Midnight Office, the Divine Liturgy, and Small Compline, the monastics and all in attendance chant “We wall down before Thy Cross, O Master.” Thus is celebrated this autumn feast of the Cross which in its divine wisdom, the Holy Church instituted, not only to commemorate when the Cross was rediscovered so long ago, but also as it were, to remind us of the saving passion of Our Lord, in the middle of the year’s time after the Passion of Christ, lest we forget what He has accomplished for us, our eternal salvation.