Her name was Egeria and she was filled with love for the Lord. This was perilous in the 4th century until the Edict of Milan by the Emperor Constantine, that permitted Christians to worship publically. The great persecutions had come to an end and Egeria wished to fulfill a long-held dream, to travel in pilgrimage to the places made holy by the Savior. She, like Helena, the mother of Constantine, set out on an incredibly arduous journey to venerate the place of the crucifixion and resurrection as well as the holy places spoken of in the Scriptures. Along the way, she kept a journal that now forms the primary source for the liturgical celebrations that were celebrated in these very locations and especially in Jerusalem in the 4th century, when Cyril was Bishop.
The special and unique liturgy that we celebrate today, more properly called, The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, has its roots sunk deeply in these 4th century rites described by Egeria. Two pivotal elements framed this ancient rite: The Proclamation of the Passion according to St. John and the Veneration of the Wood of the Cross. Here is how Egeria describe that veneration:
From time immemorial, it is the account of the Passion as recorded by St. John that is proclaimed this day. Jesus, sovereign Lord of the Universe, is imaged in this Gospel, not as victim but rather victor in embracing his destiny that will lead to Glory. The wood of the cross is transformed from being an instrument of torture to that of the tree that becomes the instrument of our salvation because of him who hangs upon it in triumph over the powers of darkness.
In the 6th century, St. Venantius (c-530-c-609) composed the classic Good Friday chant, Crux Fidelis, sung during the veneration, that captures poetically, the beauty and glory of the cross now transformed by Christ the Victor.
Faithful cross, above all other,
One and only noble tree:
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee!
On this most solemn day, let us too join Christians of all ages as we proclaim: We adore you, Oh Christ, and we bless you. Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.