Holy Cross Day

Feast of the CrossIn the Christian liturgical calendar, there are several different Feasts of the Cross, all of which commemorate the cross used in the crucifixion of Jesus. While Good Friday is dedicated to the Passion of Christ and the Crucifixion, these days celebrate the cross itself, as the instrument of salvation.

In English, it is called The Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the official translation of the Roman Missal, while the 1973 translation called it The Triumph of the Cross. In some parts of the Anglican Communion the feast is called Holy Cross Day, a name also used by Lutherans. The celebration is also sometimes called Holy Rood Day.

As per some Christian tradition the True Cross was discovered in 326 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross. One-third remained in Jerusalem, one-third was brought to Rome and deposited in the Sessorian basilica Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Holy Cross in Jerusalem), and one-third was taken to Constantinople to make the city impregnable.

The date of the feast marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335. This was a two-day festival: although the actual consecration of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside the church on September 14 so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate it.

Red is the usual liturgical color in churches that follow such traditions. In Western Christianity, red vestments are worn at church services conducted on this day as well as Pentecost and other times of celebration. In the Roman Catholic liturgical observance, the red is worn only on this day, and if the day falls on a Sunday, its Mass readings[note 1] are used instead of those for the occurring Sunday in Ordinary Time. The lectionaries of the Church of England (and other Anglican churches) and Western Rite Orthodoxy also stipulate red as the liturgical color for ‘Holy Cross Day.’

In Eastern-Rite Orthodox Churches that use various liturgical colors, red vestments are also worn. Yet in these Orthodox churches, the wearing of red continues for a week after the feast.

In Western Rite Orthodox Parishes, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the calendar week after the one in which the feast day occurs, are designated as one of each year’s four sets of Ember days. In new calendar Western Rite Orthodox Parishes (e.g. those under the Antiochian Diocese) these ember days are the week following 14 September. In old calendar Western Rite Orthodox Parishes (e.g. those under the Russian Diocese) these ember days are the week following 27 September.

Until 1969, these ember days were a part of the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Organization of these celebrations in the ordinary form is now left to the decision of episcopal conferences in view of local conditions and customs. The ember days are still observed in the calendar of the Roman Rite’s “extraordinary form” and in the Anglican Ordinariate calendar.

September 14 is the titular feast of the Congregation of Holy Cross, The Companions of the Cross and the Episcopal Church’s Order of the Holy Cross. This date also marked the beginning of the period of fasting, except on Sundays and ending on Easter Sunday, that was stipulated for Carmelites in the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert of 1247. The Rule of St. Benedict also prescribes this day as the beginning of monastic winter (i.e., the period when there are three nocturns of psalms and readings at matins) which also ends at Easter.

Saint Cyprian

Saint Cyprian

Cyprian (Latin: Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus; c. 200 – September 14, 258 AD) was bishop of Carthage and a notable Early Christian writer of Berber descent, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. Soon after converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249. A controversial figure during his lifetime, his strong pastoral skills, firm conduct during the Novatianist heresy and outbreak of the plague, and eventual martyrdom at Carthage vindicated his reputation and proved his sanctity in the eyes of the Church. His skillful Latin rhetoric led to his being considered the pre-eminent Latin writer of Western Christianity until Jerome and Augustine. The Plague of Cyprian is named after him, owing to his description of it.

Nativity of Mary

English: Saint Anne with the Virgin

English: Saint Anne with the Virgin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nativity of Mary, or Birth of the Virgin Mary, refers to the traditional birthday of Saint Mary.

The modern canon of scripture does not record Mary’s birth. The earliest known account of Mary’s birth is found in the Protoevangelium of James (5:2), an apocryphal text from the late second century, with her parents known as Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.

In the case of saints, the church commemorates their date of death, with Saint John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary as the few whose birth dates are commemorated. The reason for this is found in the singular mission each had in salvation history, but traditionally also because these alone (besides the prophet Jeremiah, Jer 1:5) were holy in their very birth (John was sanctified in Saint Elizabeth‘s womb according to the traditional interpretation of Lk 1:15).

Devotion to the innocence of Mary under this Marian title is widely celebrated in many cultures across the globe.

Aidan of Lindisfarne

Stained glass at Holy Cross Monastery

Aidan of Lindisfarne (died 31 August 651) was an Irish monk and missionary credited with restoring Christianity to Northumbria. He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, known as Lindisfarne Priory, served as its first bishop, and travelled ceaselessly throughout the countryside, spreading the gospel to both the Anglo-Saxon nobility and to the socially disenfranchised (including children and slaves).

He is known as the Apostle of Northumbria and is recognised as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and others.

Biography

Bede’s meticulous and detailed account of Aidan’s life provides the basis for most biographical sketches (both classical and modern). One notable lacuna, which (somewhat paradoxically) reinforces the notion of Bede’s reliability, is that virtually nothing is known of the monk’s early life, save that he was a monk at the ancient monastery on the island of Iona from a relatively young age and that he was of Irish descent. Aidan was known for his strict asceticism.

Background

In the years prior to Aidan’s mission, Christianity, which had been propagated throughout Britain but not Ireland by the Roman Empire, was being largely displaced by Anglo-Saxon paganism. In the monastery of Iona (founded by Columba of the Irish Church), the religion soon found one of its principal exponents in Oswald of Northumbria, a noble youth who had been raised there as a king in exile since 616. Baptized as a Christian, the young king vowed to bring Christianity back to his people—an opportunity that presented itself in 634, when he gained the crown of Northumbria.

Owing to his historical connection to Iona’s monastic community, King Oswald requested that missionaries be sent from that monastery instead of the Roman-sponsored monasteries of Southern England. At first, they sent him a bishop named Cormán, but he alienated many people by his harshness, and returned in failure to Iona reporting that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticised Cormán’s methods and was soon sent as his replacement.[citation needed] He became bishop in 635.

Missionary efforts

Allying himself with the pious king, Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne, which was close to the royal castle at Bamburgh, as the seat of his diocese. An inspired missionary, Aidan would walk from one village to another, politely conversing with the people he saw and slowly interesting them in Christianity: in this, he followed the early apostolic model of conversion, by offering “them first the milk of gentle doctrine, to bring them by degrees, while nourishing them with the Divine Word, to the true understanding and practice of the more advanced precepts.” By patiently talking to the people on their own level (and by taking an active interest in their lives and communities), Aidan and his monks slowly restored Christianity to the Northumbrian countryside. King Oswald, who after his years of exile had a perfect command of Irish, often had to translate for Aidan and his monks, who did not speak English at first.

In his years of evangelism, Aidan was responsible for the construction of churches, monasteries and schools throughout Northumbria. At the same time, he earned a tremendous reputation for his pious charity and dedication to the less fortunate—such as his tendency to provide room, board and education to orphans, and his use of contributions to pay for the freedom of slaves:

He was one to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; and wherever in his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if infidels, to embrace the mystery of the faith or if they were believers, to strengthen them in the faith, and to stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works. … This [the reading of scriptures and psalms, and meditation upon holy truths] was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to eat with the king, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a small repast, made haste to be gone with them, either to read or write. At that time, many religious men and women, stirred up by his example, adopted the custom of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, till the ninth hour, throughout the year, except during the fifty days after Easter. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only meat, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed them, as has been said, to the use of the poor, or bestowed them in ransoming such as had been wrong fully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to the order of priesthood.

The monastery he founded grew and helped found churches and other religious institutions throughout the area. It also served as centre of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge, training many of Aidan’s young charges for a career in the priesthood. Though Aidan was a member of the Irish branch of Christianity (instead of the Roman branch), his character and energy in missionary work won him the respect of Pope Honorius I and Felix of Dunwich.

When Oswald died in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswine of Deira and the two became close friends. As such, the monk’s ministry continued relatively unchanged until the rise of pagan hostilities in 651. At that time, a pagan army attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan saw the black smoke from his cell at Lindisfarne Abbey, immediately recognized its cause, and knelt in prayer for the fate of the city. Miraculously, the winds abruptly reversed their course, blowing the conflagration towards the enemy, which convinced them that the capital city was defended by potent spiritual forces. Around this time, Oswine was betrayed and murdered. Twelve days later Aidan died, on 31 August 651. He had become ill while on one of his incessant missionary tours, and died leaning against the wall of the local church. As Baring-Gould poetically summarizes: “It was a death which became a soldier of the faith on his own fit field of battle.”

Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine by Justus van GentAugustine of Hippo (/ɔːˈɡʌstɪn/ or /ˈɔːɡəstiːn/; 13 November 354 – 28 August 430) was an early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was the bishop of Hippo Regius in north Africa and is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity for his writings in the Patristic Era. Among his most important works are The City of God and Confessions.

According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith.” In his early years, he was influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his baptism and conversion to Christianity in 386, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory. When the Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Church as a spiritual City of God, distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. The segment of the Church that adhered to the concept of the Trinity as defined by the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople closely identified with Augustine’s On the Trinity.

Augustine is recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Christian Church, and the Anglican Communion and as a preeminent Doctor of the Church. He is also the patron of the Augustinians. His memorial is celebrated on 28 August, the day of his death. Augustine is the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, the alleviation of sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists and Lutherans, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation due to his teachings on salvation and divine grace. Lutherans, and Martin Luther in particular, have held Augustine in preeminence (after the Bible and St. Paul). Luther himself was a member of the Order of the Augustinian Eremites (1505–1521).

In the East, some of his teachings are disputed and have in the 20th century in particular come under attack by such theologians as John Romanides. But other theologians and figures of the Eastern Orthodox Church have shown significant appropriation of his writings, chiefly Georges Florovsky. The most controversial doctrine surrounding his name is the filioque, which has been rejected by the Orthodox Church. Other disputed teachings include his views on original sin, the doctrine of grace, and predestination. Nevertheless, though considered to be mistaken on some points, he is still considered a saint, and has even had influence on some Eastern Church Fathers, most notably Saint Gregory Palamas. In the Orthodox Church his feast day is celebrated on 15 June. Church scholar and historian Diarmaid MacCulloch writes “his impact on Western Christian thought can hardly be overstated; only his beloved example Paul of Tarsus, has been more influential, and Westerners have generally seen Paul through Augustine’s eyes.”