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‘In This Sign You Will Conquer’: Exaltation of the Cross
Today in both the Roman and Byzantine calendars is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Christ.
This feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross upon which Jesus died by Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, and the dedication of the basilica built over Calvary and the tomb from which Jesus resurrected.
After a vision predicting his victory in the sign of the Cross (he was told “in this sign you will conquer”), Constantine became ruler of the Roman Empire after using the cross as his army’s emblem. He therefore legalized Christianity. Constantine’s Christian mother Helena then traveled to the Holy Land to uncover sites important in the life of Christ, and there discovered Calvary, the tomb, and three crosses. Jesus’s cross was verified after a sick (or dead—accounts vary) woman who touched it was immediately healed. The current Church of the Holy Sepulcher or Church of the Resurrection, encompassing the remains of Mt. Calvary and Jesus’s tomb, stands on the site of Helena’s basilica. I had the great blessing to visit there and see the sepulcher last week.
When Constantine heard “in hoc signo vinces,” or “in this sign you will conquer,” he thought only of his material victory over his rival for imperial power. But that statement applies to each and every Christian. Jesus saved mankind through His Cross, and rose from the dead only after his Passion and Crucifixion. So too, we will attain Heaven and the resurrection of the body only if we take up our crosses and follow Jesus (Lk. 9:23). In the sign of the Cross, we will conquer.
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