The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross originated in Jerusalem in 355 to commemorate the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection. When the true cross of Jesus was found shortly afterwards, this event was commemorated on the same day. In time, the Feast of the Exaltation supplanted the feast of the dedication.
In 395, St. John Chrysostom wrote of three crosses which were discovered beneath Golgotha by the Empress Helena. Many other writers speak of miracles which occurred through contact with the true cross. It was through one of these miracles that the true cross was recognized by St. Helena and St. Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem.
The Holy Cross was kept in the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem until 614, when the Persians conquered the city and burned the church. In 628, Emperor Heraclius III defeated the Persians and returned the Holy Cross to Jerusalem. A portion of the cross was taken to Rome in the seventh century by Sergius I, a Pope of Byzantine origin.
Icons of the Feast usually portray St. Macarius in the center of the Icon, elevating the Holy Cross and showing it to the people. This elevation or uplifting of the Cross shows its prominence as the sign of victory. Hence the name “Exaltation” or “Elevation of the Holy Cross.” St. Constantine the Emperor, and St. Helena, his mother, are frequently shown, although some icons depict only St. Helena. Gathered about the Cross with St. Macarius and St. Helena are bishops, priests, and hymnographers. With them, too, we are joined in oneness of mind and purpose as we sing: “We bow to Your cross, 0 Lord, and we praise Your holy resurrection.”
TROPARION – Save Your people, 0 Lord, and bless Your inheritance; grant victory to Your Church over its enemies and protect Your people by Your cross.