Greetings! As the days are quickly growing longer and school is about to start, I always think of my Yiayia (grandma). Why? Because it reminds me of going to her house after church in the fall and her giving me bags full of vegetables from her garden. The aroma of the plants, dirt and basil greets you at the end of her driveway. She always had small pots of basil to give to others and she always gave me some around this time of year. We also would get a sprig of basil from church, too. What does basil have to do with this special feast day? Read this story and you’ll find out! 🙂
St. Constantine was an emperor in 326. (This is the same Constantine the Great that you probably read about in high school history class. He also legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Pretty, impressive guy!) He asked his mother, St. Helen, to go to the Holy Land, establish churches to commemorate the events of Jesus’ life and to find the Holy Cross.
St. Helen went out and found 3 crosses and nails used during the crucifixion – the two crosses of the thieves and the one of Jesus. But how did she know which one was the TRUE cross, the special cross of Jesus? St. Macarius, who was the Patriarch of Jerusalem, took a corpse and touched it to each cross. When the corpse touched the Holy Cross, he came back to life! Another woman was very sick and by touching it she was made well. Many people flocked to the area to see the cross. St. Macarius elevated the cross because so many people had come to witness it and he wanted all to see it. When you look at the icon, St. Macarius is the man holding the cross up and St. Helen is the woman dressed in a fancy, usually red, dress. St. Constantine built a church there in September of A.D. 335.
So what does this have to do with my yiayia and the smells of her garden? Basil! Basil was growing near the spot where the cross was found. It was an unknown flower at that time and is now associated with the cross. This is why the priests use basil to bless people with holy water.
In Jerusalem is the Holy Sepulcher, which is a large church that has many chapels inside dedicated to the events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It is the actual location that these events took place. In it is a chapel where they found the Holy Cross. Do you wish you could see this amazing place?! Well, guess what?! You can via virtual tour!! Tour of the Holy Sepulcure.
In our parish, the priest has the children stay in the pews after communion so they can see the service of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. It is a good idea to discuss this with your children at home before the feast day as well as on the ride to church. 🙂 The priest will have a tray of basil or flowers and the cross will be placed on top. The priest, deacon and altar boys will process around the church. During the procession, everyone kneels and sings, Agios O Theos, in a solemn tone just like we do on Holy Friday for the funeral procession of Christ. At one point, the priest will lift the tray up above his head while everyone sings, Lord Have Mercy, reminiscent of St. Macarius lifting the cross up for all to see. We have been singing the hymn during our evening prayers, to help our children learn them. Here is the service on youtube, in case you want to review it before you go to church or practice the hymns. The service is in Greek and English.
For the younger children, I will be posting a few activities for them to do in the next few days. I have lots of fun things to share with you! Cheers!