In the Munich Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a small piece of the True Cross of the Lord is kept, though it is very small. It hails from the Holy City of Jerusalem, from the reliquary that contains the Cross. This reliquary was seized when Jerusalem fell to the Persians in 614. In 624, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians and returned this holy item to Jerusalem, where it has remained to this day. In 2002, Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany received this small portion of the Cross from the Jerusalem Patriarchate which broke off during cleaning. It is immersed in wax, under glass in the middle of a carved cross.
Church feast days when the cross is brought out for veneration include:
Procession of the Precious Wood of the Life-giving Cross of the Lord.
The Feast to the All-Merciful Savior and the Most-Holy Mother of God.
August 1 (August 14 new style), is the beginning of the strict Dormition fast. On the first day of Dormition fast, the Church celebrates the “Procession” of the Precious Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. The Russian name for the holiday is proiskhozhdenije, or “procession,” which indicates a ceremony of bringing out, a procession of the cross, or simply iznesenije, which in Russian more accurately translates the original Greek. Since the time that the Son of God sanctified the Cross with His sufferings, the Cross has been given unusual miracle-working powers. The history of this feast day bears witness to this.
A portion of the Cross would be brought out in Constantinople during bouts of the plague, and then, annually on August 1, the Cross would be brought from the Imperial Residence to the Church of Hagia Sophia. There, water would be blessed, and then, for two weeks (coinciding with the Dormition fast), the Cross would be taken around the city. On August 14 (August 27 new style), the Cross would be returned to the Imperial Residence.
This celebration was echoed in Russia along the lines of the Constantinople Church. Here it is joined with the memory of the Baptism of Rus in 988. In accordance with the rite accepted in the Russian Church today, during matins on the eve of this day, after the great doxology, the procession of the holy cross is made to the middle of the church for veneration, and prostrations are made as they are during Veneration of the Cross Sunday of Great Lent, and after Liturgy the next day, the lesser blessing of the waters. At the same time, newly-harvested honey is also collected (see August Menology ch. 1, pp. 21-2). The people of Russia traditionally called it the “Honey Savior,” and the Transfiguration was the “Apple Savior.” There is no theological significance to the blessing of honey or fruit, but these are the centuries-old traditions of Russia, and the Church has given its assent to them. It is good to bless the first honey and the first fruits of the year, as long as it doesn’t overshadow the main spiritual essence of the holidays and the fast—repentance and mercy. From the beginning of Christianity in Russia, the Russian people have known the power of fervent prayer, of genuine repentance and works of piety, and the rule of charity, which believers tried to make law in their daily lives. Let us follow their bright path, and may our Heavenly Father grant us victory over our passions as well as eternal bliss, by the prayers of the Most-Holy Mother of God, the All-Merciful Savior and the power of the Venerable Life-Giving Cross.
The 3rd Sunday of Great Lent, the Veneration of the Cross.
In the middle of Great Lent, on Saturday night during vigil, the Cross is ceremoniously brought out of the altar and placed in the middle of church in order to remind the faithful of the sufferings and death of the Lord, thereby inspiring and encouraging those observing Lent to continue in their spiritual labors. The veneration of the Cross continues during the Fourth Week of Great Lent, until Friday—the entire week is called Veneration of the Cross Week, and the cycle of divine services concentrate on the Cross. This week marks the halfway point of Lent. The meaning of this holiday is that Orthodox Christians, making their spiritual journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the Pascha of the Lord, are in the middle of the path of the “Wood of the Cross.” We gather our strength under the Cross for our continued struggle. The Cross of the Lord heralds Christ’s victory over death—His Holy Resurrection. With the aim of greater inspiration in maintaining patience in our podvigi, the Holy Church reminds us of the approaching feast of Pascha, singing the praises of the sufferings of the Savior, together with His joyous Resurrection: “Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.”
The Elevation of the Cross.
In memory of the discovery of the Cross of the Lord by Holy Queen Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles, the mother of Emperor Constantine, the Cross is brought out into the church at the end of all-night vigil, while the worshipers make prostrations and the choir sings “Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.”
In the town of Limberg, Germany, on the River Lahn, is a Byzantine stavroteka (from the Greek stavros, or cross) which contain two large pieces of the Cross of the Savior. Around these two cross-shaped fragments are small doors with sections for other relics. The stavroteka was taken by the Crusaders who destroyed Constantinople in 1204 and looted a great number of holy items. The stavroteka is now on exhibit in the Diocesan Museum of Limburger Cathedral. There exists a film on the Limberger stavroteka with details and commentaries in German.
It is when we behold the oceans of wickedness and the cruelty of this world that we must understand that Christ on the Cross took this assault of evil upon Himself as the very center, and that with His presence, he reveals the true meaning of all things. Here, love conquers all, seeking to subsume all of us into itself, into the fullness of transformed life, into endless bliss. We are called upon this in complete freedom: pay heed to this unprecedented event. In silence, its depth is revealed.
Every Wednesday and Friday, the Cross is hailed during divine services:
Troparion to the Cross: O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victories to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Thy Cross, preserve Thy habitation.
Kondak to the Cross: O Lord: As Thou were voluntarily crucified for our sake, grant mercy to those who are called by Thy Name; make all Orthodox Christians joyful in Thy Power, granting them victory over their adversaries, by bestowing to them the invincible Trophy, Thy Weapon of Peace.
Communion hymn: The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, hath been signed up on us.
Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia and St Nicholas,
Munich, Germany, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia