Saturday, 11 April 2015

George Demacopoulos: Festal Violence: Liturgical Commemoration of the Cross in Byzantium

This paper examines a group of hymns associated with Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which was fixed on the Byzantine calendar for September 14.  As an amalgamation of overlapping traditions and legends the Feast of Elevation of the Cross came to commemorate three events in the life of the Church (1) Christ’s victory over death through his passion (2) the legendary finding of the Cross by St. Helen during the early part of the fourth century, and (3) the recovery of the Cross by Heraculus in 631.  A careful examination of the hymns associated with the Feast reveals that, just like Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, these hymns offer a paradoxical double-play on the violence associated with the Cross.  Specifically, they weave together the soteriological benefit of the violence suffered by Christ and the power that the Cross is thought to bestow upon the emperor and his armies to inflict violence against the non-believers.

Given that the hymns originate from Palestinian monasteries long after Byzantine control of the region had been lost, this paper examines the ways in which this double-play of violence intersects with a political theological of nostalgic longing.

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