Iraqi Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Director's Blog, Iraq, Middle East

On the evening of Sept. 8, I joined with the Iraqi Community for a traditional celebration to anticipate the Feast day of the Holy Cross which the Church celebrates on September 14.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates three historical events: the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine; the dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Calvary; and the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem by the emperor Heraclius II. But in a deeper sense, the feast also celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of our salvation. This instrument of torture, designed to degrade the worst of criminals, became the life-giving tree that reversed Adam’s Original Sin when he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.

In the Archdiocese of Boston, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is particularly important not only because it celebrates the salvific offering of Jesus Christ on our behalf but also because our mother church is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and named to honor Christ’s victory over sin and death.

The Feast of the Holy Cross, although prominent on the official calendar of the Archdiocese, today is not celebrated with care in many of the homes of the average faithful Catholic. However, that is not the case with the Iraqi community. It is a prominent feast day on their calendar and it is prayerfully and joyfully celebrated every year. One of the leaders of the Iraqi community, Sermed Ashkouri, wrote to me this week and shared with me how the Iraqi community began celebrating this feast and also how they celebrate it today; at least in the countries where Iraqis are not being persecuted for their faith, like their homeland.

Sermed wrote the following:

Eid al-Salib (Feast of the Holly Cross)

Eid Al-Salib or the Feast of the Cross celebrates the finding of the Holy Cross that Jesus was crucified on.  History tells us that after converting to Christianity, Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to search for the cross used in the Crucifixion.  She stationed groups of believers on all of the hilltops between Constantinople and Jerusalem.  During the search, she found three crosses down in the valley between the hills.  To verify which Cross belonged to Jesus, Saint Helena brought sick people with her.  Each sick person touched the first Cross and then the second, until they touched the third one, and they were cured from their diseases.

 

When she found the Cross, she lit a bonfire as a signal which was then passed to Constantine with bonfires on all the hills.

fire

 

On the night of the feast in Iraq and some parts of the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Jerusalem), huge bonfires illuminate the houses and villages as far as the eye can see.  People gather in groups and celebrate by jumping over the fire as a symbol of passing over the difficulties of life by the power of the cross.

Sermed with son jump fire

Sermed with son jump fire

 

Fr. Mike jumping fire

Fr. Mike jumping fire…thankful i made it!

 

Woman jumping fire

Woman jumping fire

 

Sarah Stipho Jumping fire

Sarah Stipho Jumping fire

Besides that, people hang huge crosses made from electric pulps on the roofs of their houses and light them for a week.  Nowadays with the persecution of Christians in Iraq especially in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraqi’s don’t feel safe to continue such tradition in these areas.

Years later, due to Wars, the Church took the Holy Cross and divided it up into pieces.   Countries like France took a large portion.  In the Middle East, (ex. Iraq, Lebanon), the Church started to passed it on to people/families in small tiny pieces of wood.  The pieces of wood were kept protected by Candle Wax.  Christian people placed the piece of wood inside a small Golden Cross shaped box, and wore it as a necklace.   These necklaces were passed on from generation to generation. They were not to be sold.

My sister, my brother, my wife, and I, each have one of these necklaces.  They were passed on from our Grandfathers and Grandmothers.

Sermed, Aseel and Family with Fr. Mike

Sermed, Aseel and Family with Fr. Mike

 

Fr. Mike with Sema and Feras. Sema and Feras are expecting a child soon!!

Fr. Mike with Sema and Feras. Sema and Feras are expecting a child soon!!

 

Sarah Stipho and father

Sarah Stipho and father

 

I am grateful to Sermed Ashkouri for sending me the above information.  I truly look forward to participating in this great feast year after year. Let us pray for Christians who are currently persecuted in Iraq and countries throughout the world.

The Iraqi community has a facebook page.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/205991043811/

You can also find them by searching “Our Lady of Mesopotamia” on facebook.

 

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