The feast of the Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross is very solemnly celebrated in the monastery, which is blessed to have a small piece of the True Cross. This is contained in a decorated pectoral cross which once belonged to Archbishop Averky, a well-known writer and confessor of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and a previous abbot of our monastery and rector of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, located in the monastery.
This piece of the Cross was placed in a larger, Maltan-style wooden cross and is used for the feast of the Exaltation as well as the feast of the Procession of the Cross, the 1stof August. For the feast the Cross is decorated with beautiful flowers from the monastery’s summer flower gardens as well as fragrant basil.
At the end of the Great Doxology, as per the typicon, after Vladyka censed the altar table three times, he lifted the Cross and accompanied by the priests he brought it out of the altar and stood before the Royal Gates and blessed towards the east and then towards the faithful with the Cross. Upon placing the Cross on a prepared analogion, he again censed the Cross as the choir, gathered in the center of the church, sang “Save O Lord They people,…” with the trezvon peal of the bells.
Immediately after this the Cross was once again lifted up by Vladyka who climbed upon his pedestal with the Cross upraised, and thereupon the ritual of the Exaltation proceeded. This consisted of the Cross being lifted slowly in all four directions just as the bishop does when he blesses with the dikiri and trikiri at the Small Entrance. He holds the Cross high and then slowly lets the Cross descend while the choir sings “Lord have mercy” fifty times. Then he lifts the Cross up high again while the choir sings “Lord have mercy” another fifty times. Meanwhile two hieromonks pour water mixed with rose water over the Cross, which flows over the Cross and down into a large pan filled with marigolds, collected from the monastery graves. After this is done in all four directions, it is repeated once more towards the east.
Upon completion of this all the people sang “We venerate Thy Cross, O Master…” The choir returned to their kleros to sing further hymns to the Cross while the bishop venerated the Cross, followed by the clergy, the monastics, the seminarians and then all the faithful. As at all feasts, everyone is anointed with blessed oil and received a small bouquet of the flowers over which the rose water had been poured upon the Cross. In former days, pious women would ask to take the water left in the large pan to their homes and make tea out of it for healing.
Unlike other great feasts, the Exaltation of the Cross is a day of strict fasting, when only oil is allowed, in commemoration of the sufferings of Our Lord upon the Cross. In many other ways, there are similarities between this feast and the Lord’s Passion, during Holy Week. It may be said that the Holy Church wants its faithful to be reminded of the Cross half-way through the year from one Holy Friday to another. After all, this is the very center of our faith and is meant to strengthen us in our spiritual struggles.