When we begin discussing the rites of the Syriac Orthodox Church, especially with regards to her feasts and fasts, we should remember and contemplate that these rites are for our spiritual benefit. The study of their meaning gives life to the Syriac liturgy as a whole.
The Feast of the Cross
Feast Days, or Holy Days, are days which are celebrated in commemoration of the sacred mysteries and events recorded in the history of our redemption, in memory of the Virgin Mary Mother of our Lord, or of His apostles, martyrs, and saints, by special services and rest from work. A feast not only to commemorate an event or a person, but also serves to re-awaken the spiritual life by reminding us of the event it commemorates.
At certain hours Jesus Christ invites us to His vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15); He is born in our hearts on Christmas; on Good Friday we nail ourselves to the cross with Christ; on Easter we rise from the tomb of sin; and on Pentecost we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every religion has its feasts, but none has such a rich and wisely profound constructed system of festive seasons as the Apostolic Churches.
The Feast of the Cross is celebrated twice a year, on the mid great Lent and September 14th.
On Wednesday of the Mid-Lent the church celebrates the feast of the lifting up the Holy Cross as it is mentioned by the Lord in chapter 3 of the gospel of John "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15; 8: 28; 12: 32; Nu 21:4-9).
By saying “as Moses lifted up the serpent” - He shows the reason why He descended from heaven, that He might be lifted up, i.e. crucified, for the salvation of mankind, and be, by the appointment of God, as certain remedy for sinful souls as the brazen serpent elevated on a pole (Num. 21:9), was for the bodies of the Israelites, which had been bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness.
The book of Wisdom says: "they were troubled for a small season that they might be admonished having a sign of salvation ... for he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee that art the Savior of all." (Wisdom 16:5-12)The brazen serpent typified the Son of man, in that:
(1) the brazen serpent had the form without the venom of the deadly serpent; just as Jesus was "in the likeness of sinful flesh" yet "without sin" (Rom. 8:3), "made sin for us" though He "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21); the brazen serpent seemed the most unlikely means of curing the serpents' bites; so the condemned One (Jesus) seemed most unlikely to save the condemned.
(2) The brazen serpent lifted up on the pole so as to be visible with its bright brass (which also is typical: Re 1:15) to the remotest Israelite answers to Jesus "evidently set forth before the eyes, crucified" (Gal. 3:1), so that "all the ends of the earth" by "looking unto" Him may "be saved" (Isaiah 45:22), "lifted up from the earth," and so "drawing all men unto Him" (John 12:32-34).
(3) The cure of the body by looking naturally typifies the cure of the soul by looking spiritually; faith is the eye of the soul turned to the Savior (Heb. 12:2), a look from however far off saves (Heb. 7:25; Eph. 2:17; Acts 2:39); the bitten Israelite, however distant, by a look was healed. The serpent form, impaled as the trophy of the conqueror, implies evil, temporal and spiritual, overcome. Wisdom (of which the serpent is the symbol) obeying God is the source of healing; as wisdom severed from God envenoms and degrades man. Moses' serpent rod was the instrument of power overcoming the magicians' serpents (Ex. 7:10-12).
Christ having instructed Nicodemus in the doctrine of regeneration in the former verses, here He instructs him in the death of the Messiah and in the necessity of faith in His death. The Son of man must be lifted up; that is, upon the cross, and die; that whosever believes in Him should not perish.
The antitype or the substance of what that type did shadow forth: the brazen serpent's lifting up upon the pole, prefiguring Christ's exaltation or lifting up on the cross. So must the Son of man be lifted up.
Learn hence, that the Lord Jesus Christ is of the same use and office to a sin-stung soul, which the brazen serpent was of old to a serpent-stung Israelite.
Here in the occasion of their institution; they were both agreeing: brazen serpent and Christ, appointed for cure and healing.
Were they serpent-stung? we are sin-stung; devil--bitten. Was the sting of the fiery serpent inflaming? Was it spreading? Was it killing?
So is sin, which is the venom and poison of the old serpent. They agree in this; that they both must be lifted up before cure could be obtained; the brazen serpent upon the pole, Christ upon the cross.
They both must be looked unto before cure could be obtained; the looking up of the Israelites was as necessary unto healing, as the lifting up of the serpent.
Faith is as necessary to salvation as the death of Christ. The one renders God reconcilable unto sinners, the other renders him actually reconciled.
Again, did the brazen serpent heal all that looked upon it, and looked up unto it, though all had not eyes alike, some with a weak, others with a stronger eye? In like manner does Christ justify and save all, that with a sincere faith, though weak, do rely upon him for salvation; Whosoever believes in him shall not perish.
Further, the brazen serpent was effectual for Israel's cure after many stings; If after they were healed they were stung afresh, and did look up to it, they were healed by it. Thus the merit of Christ's death is not only effectual for our cure and healing at our first believing or after baptism, but after involuntary relapses and backslidings, if by faith we have recourse to the blood of Christ, we shall find it effective for our further benefit and future healing.
In a word, as the brazen serpent had the likeness of a serpent, the form, the figure, the name, the color of the serpent, but nothing of the venom and poison of the serpent in it; so Christ did take upon him our nature; but sin, the venom and poison of our nature, He had nothing to do with: though Christ loved souls with an invincible and insuperable love, yet He would not sin to save a soul. This was the similarity and resemblance between Christ and the brazen serpent.
The disparity or difference between brazen serpent and Christ is that the brazen serpent had no power in itself, or of itself, to heal and cure: but Christ has a power inherent in Himself, for the curing and healing of all that do believe in Him.
Again, the brazen serpent cured only one particular nation and people, Jews only; Christ is for the healing of all nations, and His salvation is to the end of the earth.
Farther, the brazen serpent cured only one particular disease; namely, the stinging of the fiery serpents; had a person been sick of the plague, or leprosy, he might have died for the entire brazen serpent: but Christ pardons and forgives all the iniquities, and heals all the diseases, of His people (Ps 103:3).
Yet again, though the brazen serpent healed all that looked up unto it, yet it gave an eye to none to look up unto it; whereas Christ does not only heal them that look up to Him, but bestows the eye of faith upon them, to enable them to look unto Him that they may be saved.
In a word, the brazen serpent did not always retain its healing virtue, but in time lost it and was itself destroyed (2 Kin. 18:4); but now the healing virtue and efficacy of Christ's blood is eternal.
All believers have and shall experience the healing power of our Redeemer's death to the end of the world.
Lastly, The Israelites that were cured by looking up to the brazen serpent, died afterwards; some distemper or other soon carried them to their graves; but the soul of the believer that is healed by Christ shall never die more: Whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life
And the 14th of September the church celebrates the feast of discovery of the Holy Cross. Regarding the finding of the Holy Cross by Empress Helen the Syrian. The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Adrian (117-138AD) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulcher of the Lord, and upon the hill fashioned there to set up a pagan temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered on this place and offered sacrifice to idols. Eventually, 300 years later, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains -- the Sepulcher of the Lord and the Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This occurred during the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337AD) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman Empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part, becoming in the year 323AD the sole-powerful ruler of the vast Roman Empire.
In the year 326AD, ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Constantine fulfilled his mother’s desire and sent his pious Empress Helen to Jerusalem, having provided her with a letter to the Jerusalem bishop Macarius. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and idol-statues overshadowing Jerusalem. Searching for the Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her searching remained unsuccessful. Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated, that the Cross was buried there, where stands the pagan-temple of Venus. They demolished the pagan-temple and, having made a prayer, they began to excavate the ground. Soon after they detected the Sepulcher of the Lord and not far away from it three crosses, a plank with inscription having been done by order of Pilate, and four nails, which had pierced the Body of the Lord. In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Bishop Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse (dead body). When the Cross of the Lord was placed to it, the dead one came alive. Having beheld the rising-up, everyone was convinced that the Life-Giving Cross was found.
Christians, having come in an untold crowd to make veneration to the Holy Cross, besought Saint Macarius to elevate, to exalt the Cross, so that all even afar off, might reverently contemplate it. Then the Bishop and other spiritual leaders raised up high the Holy Cross, and the people, saying "Lord have mercy," reverently made prostration before the Venerable Wood. On her way to Jerusalem, Helen left one of her servants on a mountain. Once the cross was discovered, she ordered her men to light a fire on top of a nearby mountain. Having seen the fire, the servant staying on the next mountain lit another fire, and in this manner the news of the discovery of the Holy Cross reached the capital, Constantinople.
This solemn event occurred in the year 326 AD. During the discovery of the venerable wood of the Holy Cross there occurred also many miracles, the elder Jude and many other Jews believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Kyriakos (i.e., lit. "of the Lord") and afterwards was ordained Bishop of Jerusalem. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363 AD) he accepted a martyr's death for Christ (commemoration of Priest-Martyr Kyriakos is 28 October).
The empress Helen journeyed round the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Savior -- the reason for more than 80 churches -- raised up at Bethlehem the place of the Birth of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives from whence the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Savior prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after the falling-asleep. Saint Helen took with her to Constantinople part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails.The Emperor Constantine gave orders to raise up at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, which contained also the Sepulcher of the Lord, and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about 10 years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple; she died in the year 330. The church was consecrated on September 13, 335AD. On the following day, September 14, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross was established. It has become a day for recognizing the Cross as a symbol of triumph, a sign of Christ's victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, "And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me." (John 12:32).