Facing up a spiritual fight which is taking place in Poland now, we need prayer mobilization following the example of ‘Poland at the Cross’. Organizers of this great even are laymen

This year this meeting has been planned under the motto ‘Poland at the Cross’ on the Holy Cross. When it turned out that gathering of people in this place is impossible, bishop of Włocławek invited participants of prayer to Włocławek, to the airport Kruszyn there. The time of the meeting was assigned on 14 September when in the liturgy we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Hence the hereby reflection on the history of this holy day.

In this sign you will win

Churches of Christian East and West accordingly celebrate the day of the Exaltation of the Cross on the same day: 14 September. For the first time it was celebrated in Jerusalem on the occasion of sanctifying the basilica of the Holy Cross (Martyrion), connected by the tsar Constantine I the Great with the church of Resurrection (Anastasis) in the year 335. Both historic facts gave the beginning to the cult of Christ’s Cross. The first of them was the vision of shining cross in the sky which the tsar Constantine I the Great had before the decisive battle with Maxentius (year 312). The vision was together with the words: ‘In this sign you will win’. Since then the tsar gave a command of placing the sign of cross on flags. After the victorious battle he decided not only to find the tree of Christ’s cross but also build a basilica to his honour.

Finding the real cross is the second fact which lies at the basis of today’s holy day. Circumstances of searching are known to us from the oral tradition in which it is difficult to separate history from legend. We will limit here to summary of three versions of this tradition, testified in both eastern and western sources.

Legend about St. Helen

Legend about the empress Helen is the oldest version of history of uncovering Christ’s cross. The chronologically first testimony of this legend speaks about St. Ambroży, proclaimed in the year 395 at the funeral of tsar Teodozjusz the Great. Because this is a Latin text there is an opinion about the western origin of the legend. However, today it is known that it appeared in the mid of the 4th century in Jerusalem, and was written in Greek by Gelazjusz, a bishop of Palestinian Caesarea (about the year 390); its translation into Latin is in the ‘Ecclesiastic history’ by Rufin from Akwilea. This original text was widely used by Christian writers of the East and West.

In the summary the legend about St. Helen presents: mother of tsar Constantine I the Great who set off to Jerusalem in order to find Christ’s cross. Having uncovered three crosses, the real cross of Christ was identified with the help of bishop Makara, thanks to the miracle of healing or resurrection. On the spot of finding the cross Helen funded the excellent Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. She sent some relics of the Cross to her son (with the relics of nails), and left some of them in Jerusalem.

Restored life

In the beginning of the 5th century the second version of the legend developed, connected with the name of the empress Protonike. Neither Greek nor Latin sources know this legend, but only Syrian manuscripts testify it. The place of its origin is undoubtedly northern Mesopotamia, surely Edessa city. In the beginning of the 5th century, when the bishop of Edessa was Rabbula (the years 412-36), tradition about finding the Cross was included into the final apocryphical editing of ‘Addaj’s Teaching’. It says about accepting Christianity in the kingdom Edessa during the reigns of Abgar V Ukkama, directly after death of Jesus. Including the legend about the Cross into the ‘Teaching of Addaj’ was to show a relation of the Church in Edessa not only with Jerusalem, but also with Byzantium and empire.

The legend about Protonike is a local adaptation of a legend about St. Helen. It was probably brought to Edessa by pilgrims returning from Jerusalem. Anyway bishop Rabbula visited Jerusalem and must have known the legend about the Cross. Including it into the ‘Teaching of Addaj’ made the action move to the 1st century A.D. Helen, the main heroine of the legend, had to give way to a fictional empress Protonike, an alleged wife of Klaudiusz. Her name is completely unknown in history but has a symbolic significance: it refers to the first victory of the Cross, after its being uncovered for the first time. Protonike got converted in Rome thanks to Simon Peter, and then she went to Jerusalem with her children to look for the Cross. The Jews, having the supervision over Golgotha, she gave a command of giving back holy places to Jacob who was the first bishop of Jerusalem. Next, she went into the Holy Sepulcher and found three crosses there. At the same time her daughter accompanying her, fell dead onto the ground. The empress Protonike, touching the dead body with the three crosses, managed to recognize the real Cross which brought back life to her child. Finally, she passed over the real Cross to bishop Jacob, so that it would protect him with the greatest worship and where crucifixion of Christ took place and there is the sepulcher, she gave a command of building a church. When Protonike returned from Rome and told Klaudiusz about everything, the emperor gave a command of removing Jews from Italy.

Purpose: converting Jews

The legend about Juda Kyriak is the third version created probably at the beginning of the 5th century. Similarly as Protonike, the title hero of this legend is a fictional person; his role has a symbolic meaning here and overshadows the person of the empress Helen. A particular feature of this legend is a discourse with Judaism. Helen was accusing the Jews of hiding the Cross. The Jews did not believe their own prophets and denied their belief in Messiah. They got related with satan, so God left them. So, the apologetic legend about Juda Kyriak belongs to the genre promoting Christianity: finding the Cross by Juda is an argument for the Messiah dignity of Jesus and means the final defeat of Judaism.

The polemics is not the only intention of the legend’s author who is trying to convert the Jews. They are, in his opinion, potential Christians who did not dare to express their beliefs in the past in the fear of Sanhedrin. It results from showing the ancestors of Juda, who secretly expressed their belief in Christ. Juda experienced the power of Christians’ God, got converted with his whole heart and received baptism. Next, he held the post of the bishop of Jerusalem till the martyrdom death during the reigns of Julian Odstępca. The very choice of his names is symbolic: Juda (which means a Jew) becomes Kyriak, that is, ‘property of Lord’ (Jesus). So, the legend is the expression of Christians’ hope that the Jews will recognize their mistake one day and will become Christ’s followers.


„Niedziela” 36/2019

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl