On the fortieth day after the Transfiguration, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord. This holiday is a general Christian holiday, that is, according to the ancient tradition of the first millennium of the history of Orthodoxy, it is celebrated in the East and in the West.
In the Orthodox Church, the Exaltation, like the Transfiguration, is one of the most important twelve liturgical celebrations. Both holidays are dedicated to the Lord Jesus, and in the language of worship and theology they are called “the Lord's feasts”.
Like the Transfiguration, the Exaltation is not directly related to the history of our salvation, that is, it does not relate to the sphere of recollection of the key events of the divine economy on earth. In other words, the Exaltation, as well as the Transfiguration, might not have happened.
This is the fundamental difference between both celebrations from the Annunciation, Christmas, Baptism, the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, the Ascension and Pentecost, without which the history of salvation in the form in which we know it from the New Testament is dogmatically unthinkable. After all, these stages determine the main points of redemption in Jesus Christ.
The Transfiguration and the Exaltation form a special semantic unit in the liturgical calendar. It allows believers to look at the event of the Glory of the Lord on the Cross outside the sequence of Holy Week and Resurrection. Provides an opportunity to comprehend the events of secular history and everyday life in the perspective of deliverance in Christ.
Let us remember that the Transfiguration tells how the Lord was transformed before the Apostles Peter, James, and John. At this moment of Jesus’ greatest glory, the prophets Moses and Elijah spoke with Him, and the Father’s Voice, which had already been heard once during the Baptism from John, was heard again (cf. Matt. 17:5). According to the Gospel, immediately after the Transfiguration, Jesus announced to His disciples that he would be betrayed and killed (cf. Mark 9:12).
The erection of the Cross recalls how the mother of Emperor Constantine, Helen (250-330), in the tradition of the Church called “Equal to the Apostles”, in 326 in Jerusalem found the Holy Cross on which Jesus was once crucified.
It is important to remember that by that time the cross, as such, was still an instrument of execution and was a symbol of shameful death, which Christians themselves preferred not to designate.
The Cross of Jesus was hidden and literally deliberately “buried” by unbelieving pagans and Jews in an obscene place. Discovering the location of the Holy Cross cost Helena and the Christians accompanying her many prayers and great work. From this silence and humiliation, the belittling of God, called “kenosis” in theological language, in the light of the discovery of the Cross and its Exaltation, a great triumph was born. Three centuries after the Crucifixion, the Resurrection of Christ triumphed in the Exaltation of the Cross.
Thus, in a semantic sense, the Transfiguration and the Exaltation complement each other, but their vectors are, as it were, opposite. The Transfiguration is directed from glory to the Cross, the Exaltation is from the Cross to glory. It seemed to contemporaries that the Event of the Exaltation marked from above the final and irrevocable triumph of Orthodox Christianity in the Roman Empire and universal history. The official confession became the definition of Orthodoxy, and a universal conviction was born that the true empire is eternal and there can only be one.
Let us recall that the event of the Exaltation itself took place the day after the consecration of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem in 336. Helena herself did not live to see it. Three centuries later, Palestine was devastated by Persia, and the Cross was taken captive. His return in 628 after 14 years of captivity to Jerusalem under Emperor Heraclius (610–641) became the “New Exaltation” and the Renewal of the Holiday.
There were only a few years left before the capture of the Holy City by Muslim Arabs. After the mutual destruction of both empires in the Roman-Persian War, the expansion of Islam rapidly began. However, the participants in the great festivities of the “re-exaltation” simply could not know about it. It is important not to forget about the relativity of any earthly celebration, even religious, in our Last Times.