St. John the theologian is one of the four evangelists, or authors of the Gospels. St. John was the son of Zebedee and Salome, who were well-to-do fishermen. As a very young man, St. John was a disciple of John the Baptist. He, together with Peter and James, were especially close to Jesus and were with him at special moments such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the Transfiguration. At the Last Supper, St. John leaned on Christ’s bosom. At the crucifixion the Lord Jesus entrusted his mother to Saint John. St. John was a zealous disciple of our Lord and when a Samaritan village did not welcome our Lord he asked that God send down fire on the village. For this reason St. John was named “Son of Thunder.” After Christ’s Ascension he remained in Jerusalem until that city was destroyed by Rome, after which he lived and ministered in Ephesus. For a time he was exiled to the island of Patmos. Although he was tortured by the Romans he died a natural death in great old age.
If we compare St. John’s Gospel with the first three we find that in Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus taught primarily in parables (short stories with a point) and short, pithy sayings. Within the fourth Gospel, Jesus teaches in long theological discourses. For this reason some critics would say that John’s Gospel cannot be relied on.
However, in the first three Gospels Jesus was teaching humble peasants in Galilee while in the fourth Gospel Jesus is addressing the well-educated theologians in Jerusalem and also was addressing his own disciples rather than the crowds.
As mentioned earlier, St. John lived to a ripe old age and wrote his Gospel many decades after the first there. St. John wanted to give a fuller teaching of Christ’s divinity than the first three did. In other words, St. John made what was implicit in the other Gospels explicit. Or to put it another way, St. John had been teaching, preaching and meditating on the Gospels for many years, so some scholars would suggest that St. John gives the deeper meaning of Christ’s words. This is not to say that St. John was “making things up,” rather he was presenting the fullest meaning of Christ’s words and deeds. This means we should always read Christ’s words and deeds in the first three Gospels in the context of John’s Gospel so we can understand them most fully.
September 21st is the leave-taking of the feast of the Elevation of the Cross (September 14th) so as we are still within this festal period it is appropriate to consider the relics of the True Cross.
In the years 326-328 AD St. Helen (Elena) the mother of St. Constantine the Great, was visiting the Holy Land, going to places associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In particular she was looking for the True Cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified. She found the True Cross, which was venerated in Jerusalem for many centuries. Part of it was taken to Constantinople and many fragments were taken by Crusaders. There are many churches around the world which claim to have fragments of the True Cross.
There are many sceptics who mock these claims, saying there are too many fragments in too many places. The Swiss reformer, John Calvin, said there were so many pieces which claimed to fragments of the True Cross that one could fill a whole ship with them. Many people say the same thing now.
However, in the 19th century a Frenchman, Charles Rohault de Fleury, drew up a catalogue of all the fragments he could find and wrote that all these fragments put together did not make up even one whole cross.
In the 20th century, a German biblical scholar, Carsten Pieter Thiede, did the same kind of research that de Fleury had done in the 19th century and reached a similar conclusion. He wrote a book called “The Quest for the True Cross”, which is available used for one cent on Amazon.com.
So, can we prove that each and every alleged fragment of the True Cross is genuine? The answer is no, we can’t. However we should never mock relics because if we do we are, in effect, saying that God cannot be present in material things. But in fact, the whole point of Christianity is that Christ came to save not only human beings but the entire material cosmos, so God does, indeed, work through bread, whine, icons, relics of the saints and so on. Christianity is not a religion of the salvation only of disembodies souls but of the redemption of the entire human person, body, soul and spirit, and the material world also.
Link to book mentioned in article: The Quest for the True Cross
The feast of the Holy Cross commemorates two “rediscoveries” of the Holy Cross (the cross on which Christ was crucified) in 326 AD and again in 614 AD. These rediscoveries happened in this way.
In 70 AD, the Roman army of Emperor Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the temple, after a Jewish revolt which has begun several years early. Later Emperor Hadrian ordered a pagan temple to be built over Golgotha, the hill on which Jesus was crucified, so that no one would know where this had happened.
In 326 AD Empress Helen (Elena), mother of St. Constantine the Great (the emperor who legalized Christianity) journeyed to Jerusalem to visit the sites of Christ’s life, and to hopefully find the cross of Christ.
Local tradition said that Golgotha was under a pagan temple of Venus. St. Helen ordered excavations to be done there and found three crosses, but there was no way of telling which one was Christ’s. To find out, the empress asked a sick woman to touch the three crosses and when she touched one cross she was healed, so this was probably the cross on which Christ was crucified. To make sure, she laid the crosses on the body of a dead man. When the cross of Christ touched him he came back to life. In this manner St. Helen realized that the healing, life-giving cross was Christ’s.
Then in 614 AD when the Persians captured Jerusalem, the Holy Cross was taken as a war prize. The cross was recovered in 622 AD by the Roman forces and returned to Jerusalem.
But in 326 AD and 627 AD, when the cross was recovered, it was raised on high and the Christians sang “Lord have mercy” many times. One can see this recreated in the cathedrals and monasteries at the Virgil service on September 14th.
In parish churches the cross, decorated with flowers, is brought out for veneration at the end of Matins. At this time the hymn “Before Thy Cross” is sung.
This feast reminds us that the cross of Christ is the sign of Christ’s victory over death, a victory which we participate in during our baptism.
Troparion — Tone 1
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.
Kontakion — Tone 4
As Thou wast voluntarily crucified for our sake, grant mercy to those who are called by Thy Name, O Christ God; Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Thy power, granting them victories over their adversaries, by bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Thy weapon of peace.