On the occasion of the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, it is good to recall the liturgical year, and its starting feast. The liturgical year starts September 1 and finishes August 31. Why so? Because it refers to the cycle of seasons. And the early civilization depended on seasons for agriculture. Liturgically, the Fathers placed the feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8 and her Assumption on August 15. So the year starts and finishes with Mary who begot our salvation. The exaltation of the cross is the first feast of our salvation. It is placed on September 14.
Historically there is a lot to say about the Cross. It was found by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, in 326. Excavating near Jerusalem, she, in fact, found 3 crosses, and one of them miraculously healed a sick person. For almost 100 years from 511 on, there were many revolts and upheavals against the empire from within and from without. Instigated by minorities including the Jews, heretics and schismatics such as the Jacobites in Syria, and the Copts in Egypt, the Roman empire in the East was substantially weakened. In 614, the Cross was carried away from the church by the invading Persians and remained missing until it was recaptured by the emperor Heraclius in 628. The Church commemorated the recapture of the Cross by illuminating with fire light the mountains and places it travelled throughout the empire. The Church does that every September 14.
The gospel we read on the feast is a re-actualization of the events that preceded the crucifixion of our Lord. It shows the forces that stood against Christ on his way to save them: the high priests, the Jewish people, and Pilate. The crowds were singing to Jesus a week earlier and now they turned against him. The high priests thought they were not doing anything wrong. Their duty was to keep the Law and to make sure that no revolution will take place when they are occupied by a staunch enemy: the Roman empire. They thought it is better for one man to die than the whole nation to perish. Pilate was a foreign governor who had no interest in religious Jewish quarrels. His dialogue with Christ before ordering his crucifixion sheds light on us today as much as it did then.
He questioned Christ at length, prompted by his wife’s request to release him. But Christ remained silent! He then asked him “So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, sarcastically, "What is truth?" as if saying to him: You have nothing. You are going to be killed for saying things. Be wise. Forget about truth-Just worry about your life and survival here. I can release you and you can go to Rome. Live your life there as a free man…
Pilate could have said that to any other person but the answer of Christ is the same. The Truth is a big thing in Christ’s way of thought and life. He must defend the Truth to the end. He is not politically correct. And he cares for everyone even when everyone is against him.
“Behold the Man” Pilate tells the Jews when he is surrendering Christ to them. Christ is said to have been crucified on the place called Golgotha i.e. The Skull, the skull of Adam- the skull of humanity. His blood went into the skull of humanity and he went to Hades so that he could save by his death the dead humanity. Christ’s Cross is tied to his Resurrection. No life without death.
Now look at Pilate and think of us: Do what you want – Just be silent in matters of truth. Is not this how we think today? Do not we crucify Christ everyday?
Fr. Georges Farah, PhD. gave the above lecture at Jesus the King Church on September 12, 2008.