The sign of the cross, the universal symbol of Christianity, brings with it hope and comfort in the promise of life after death.
The Armenian Church marks four feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross.
Apparition of the Holy Cross (celebrated 28 days after Easter Sunday)
This feast is dedicated to the Apparition of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. At noon on May 19, 351AD, a bright, luminous cross appeared over the skies of Jerusalem, centred over an area spanning from the Mount of Olives (where Christ was betrayed and arrested) to Golgotha (where Christ was crucified). Bishop Cyril (later St. Cyril of Jerusalem) subsequently wrote a letter to Emperor Constantine of Byzantium wherein he describes the miraculous and beautiful scene. St. Cyril tells Constantine that the apparition is a true testimony of the Orthodox faith of Christianity.
The Armenian translation of the Bishop’s letter has been preserved by the Church and is read each year on the Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Khatchverats), is the last one of the Five Tabernacle (Daghavar) Feasts of the Armenian Church and the most important of the four feasts of the Holy Cross.
It is dedicated to the history of the return of the Holy Cross from imprisonment, its elevation and glorification.
Holy Cross of Varak (celebrated on the third Sunday of Exaltation)
The Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak falls within the Season of the Cross and is an observance unique to the Armenian Church. It is the celebration of the discovery of a true piece of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.
In the 3rd century, Saint Hripsime and her companions, fleeing persecution, brought a relic of the Holy Cross to Mount Varak and left it to the local priests for protection. The location of the relic remained unknown until the 7th century when a monk by the name of Totig had a vision of a cathedral with twelve pillars on the summit of Mount Varak. In the midst of the cathedral was a radiating cross, which then slowly descended down the mountain and rested over the altar of the monastery of Varak. Totig and his student Hovel rushed to the church and found that the vision revealed the location of the relic of the Holy Cross that Saint Hripsime entrusted to the priests centuries earlier. Catholicos Saint Nersess the Builder certified its authenticity and ordered that the Armenian Church dedicate the third Sunday of the Cross to venerating the Holy Cross of Varak, although today, the location of the relic remains unknown.
Discovery of the Cross (celebrated on the seventh Sunday of the Exaltation)
This is the crowning of the celebrations of the Holy Cross, within the cycle of an entire calendar year. The Apostolic Churches owe this important feast, upon which the other celebrations of the Cross throughout the year are established, to Queen Helena (Heghineh), the mother of Byzantine Emperor Constantine. In 327, the Queen, who was in her mid-seventies, set out on a long journey to Jerusalem with the primary intention of finding the actual Cross upon which Jesus Christ had been crucified. Following a series of inquiries, with the help of a local Jew named Judas in Golgotha (where Christ was crucified), the Cross was discovered, and the authenticity of the relic was tested by a miracle.
When the Cross was unearthed, two other crosses were found in the same place. As we know, Jesus was crucified with two thieves, and when the three crosses were discovered side by side, it raised questions about which was the True Cross. Just then, a funeral procession was passing by. The procession was stopped, and the corpse of the deceased was placed upon the first cross. Nothing happened. The corpse was then placed upon the second cross. Again, nothing happened. Finally, the corpse was placed upon the third cross which happened to be the True Cross. Immediately, the deceased came back to life having touched the very wood upon which Jesus had been crucified.
After that miracle, the Jew converts to Christianity and later becomes the Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. After the discovery of the Holy Cross Heghineh renovates the Holy Places of Jerusalem and builds the Church of Holy Resurrection of Golgotha, where later the Lord’s cross is installed.
Season of the Cross
In the Armenian Church, the Season of the Cross begins with the Fast of the Holy Cross which precedes the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It ends on the Sunday nearest November 18th, the first Sunday of Hisnag.
Each of the feasts of the cross has its own historical significance, and each is linked to the others. The season begins with a five-day Fast of the Holy Cross in preparation for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Two weeks after the Exaltation—in a feast unique to the Armenians—the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak (Varaka khatch) commemorating the placement and discovery of an authentic relic of the cross in Armenian soil at Varakavank (the Monastery of Varak).
Finally, on the Sunday closest to October 26, the Armenian Church celebrates the Discovery of the Holy Cross (Kyoud Khatch), commemorating the finding of the True Cross in the Holy Land by St. Helena (A.D. 327).