English Edition

On the feast of the Procession of Honorable Wood of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord

Evgeny Poselyanin

On this day two feasts are celebrated: 1) the Procession, that is, bringing out of the Honorable Wood of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord, and 2) the celebration of the All-Merciful Savior Christ God and His Mother the Most Holy Theotokos, Mary. This is a minor feast. In Constantinople, during the time of the Greek emperors, on August 1 the Life-Giving Cross was carried out of the palace to the Church of the Hagia Sophia, and there was a blessing of the waters. This custom came to Russia from Greece. On this day after the Liturgy a small blessing of the waters in performed to bless the rivers, ponds, and lakes, and people process to these places from the church. The lesser blessing of the waters differs from the great, Theophany blessing of the waters in that hymns are chanted during the procession, and in that the prayers for the water blessing are shorter. Also, during the immersion of the cross into the water, "Save O Lord Thy people..." is sung, rather than "When Thou O Lord wast baptized in the Jordan."

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Tbe Procession of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord. Tbe Procession of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.
The two feasts of the "Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord" and the celebration of the "All-Merciful Savior Christ God and His Mother the Most Holy Theotokos,Mary" are combined in some menaions, but not all. The two feasts are given equal honor. This gives cause to suppose that these two feasts are not distinct and are essentially one and the same feast, known by two different names. This, however, is a totally wrong assumption. That becomes clear and undoubted if we take a look at the essence and reason for instituting these two different feasts.

Let us take a look and the feast of the "Procession of the Honorable and Live-Giving Cross of the Lord." The word "procession" is not quite right and is an inexact translation of the Greek word προοδος, which means literally, "carrying before" the wood or a part of the original Cross of the Lord. There is a hint as to the content of this feast in its very name. In a Greek Horologion from 1838 is written the following about the origin of this feast: "Because of the illnesses that often occur in August, the custom took root long ago in Constantinople of carrying out the Honorable Wood of the Cross into the streets to sanctify the places and avoid illness. On the eve, July 31, the Wood was taken out of the royal treasury and placed upon the holy table of the Great church (Hagia Sophia). From this day until the Dormition of the Mother of God, lityas were served all over the city and the cross was offered to the people for veneration. This is that very procession (προοδος) of the Honorable Cross." Another custom was joined to this one--to sanctify the water in the church of the royal court in Constantinople on the first day of each month, with the exception of January, when the water was sanctified on the 6th, and September, in which it occurred on the 14th. These two customs lie at the foundation of the institution of the celebration on August 1 of the "Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Cross of the Lord" and the attending solemn sanctification of the water.

On August 1 [August 14 new style] is the feast of the All-Merciful Savior, Christ our God, and His Mother the Most Holy Theotokos, Mary, instituted in 1158 in Russia under Metropolitan Constantine of Kiev, and in Greece, under Patriarch Luke of Constantinople. The reason for instituting this feast in Russia was the victory of the Russian forces led by Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky over the Volga Bulgars on August 1, and in Greece, the victory on the same day of Emperor Manuel over the Moslem Arabs, or Saracens.

Every time the pious Russian prince Andrei Bogloliubsky campaigned against the enemy he took with him an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos and the Honorable Cross of the Lord. He also had another pious custom closely connected with this. Before setting out on a bloody battle he would bring out the icon of the Mother of God with the Honorable Cross to his soldiers, and together with them he would fall to the ground and pray to the Mother of God with tears the following prayer:

--O Sovereign Lady, who gave birth to Christ our God! All who hope in Thee shall not perish; and I, Thy slave, have in Thee from God a wall and protection, and the Cross of Thy Son is a two-edged weapon against enemies. Pray to the Savior of the world Whom Thous didst carry in Thine arms, and may the power of the Cross be as fire scorching the face of the enemies, and may Thy all-powerful intercession help us defeat our enemies.

After this prayer, Prince Andrei and after him all the soldiers would kiss the holy icon of the Mother of God and the Honorable Cross of the Lord. Then with firm hope in God’s help and the intercession of the Mother of God they would buoyantly attack their enemies.

That is how it was in August 1158. The forces of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky, inspired by the prayers of their beloved leader and supported by heavenly aid, courageously attacked the Volga Bulgars and were soon completely victorious over them. The sight of their fallen comrades did not darken their joyful thoughts that prevailed after such a positive end to that bloody conflict. When the Russian soldiers returned from the field of battle to their camp, they were stricken by a wondrous vision: fiery rays were streaming from the Honorable Cross and the holy icon of the Mother of God, and they shone over the entire army. Then the Russian forces, made joyful by this miraculous sign, began to pursue their enemies with even greater courage: they razed five of their cities that were not willing to surrender, demanded tribute from the citizens (something common at that time) and then returned home triumphantly.

With this major event in the life of Rus’ coincided another no less important event in Greece. In the same year of 1158, the Greek emperor Manuel was forced to advance with his forces against the Saracens, who intended to bring Greece under their dominion. If they were to succeed in this it would have catastrophic ramifications for the Greeks: besides loosing their political independence, they would also have to suffer the loss of their Christian faith, which they would have had to replace with the Islam of their conquerors. On August 1, Emperor Manuel beheld a miracle from the Honorable Cross and the icon of the Mother of God, which he brought with him on the campaign, that was similar to the miracle described above--fiery rays were shining over his entire army. When they were victorious over the enemy after this, Emperor Manuel ascribed the victory entirely to the miraculous help of God.

In those days correspondence between the Greek emperor and the Russian prince never ceased. Therefore, Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky soon learned of the miraculous event in Greece, and the Greek Emperor Manuel also learned of the similar miracle in Russia. They both praised God for His wondrous care shown to both of them at the same time, and after taking counsel with their hierarchs and advisors, they decided to institute the feast of the Lord and His Most Holy Mother on August 1.

Thus, from this brief description of the reason and content of these two feasts celebrated on the 1st of August it can be clearly seen that they are different in character and instituted for entirely different reasons. One feast was instituted in connection with the spread of fatal epidemics, while the other was due to miraculous visions and victory over enemies. Therefore, in the "Lives" composed by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow these two feasts are not combined as one, but rather one is called the "Procession of the Wood of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord," while the other is called the "Celebration of the All-Merciful Savior, Christ our God, and His Mother the Most Holy Theotokos, Mary.

Evgeny Poselyanin

15 / 08 / 2013

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