Remember Constantine?

Sunday, June 21, 2020
Our opening hymn this Sunday is “Lift high the cross”, one of the most well known processional hymns coming to us from the Anglican tradition. Originally written with 11 stanzas, the hymn was written in 1887 for a festival liturgy in Winchester Cathedral by the cathedral’s Dean, George William Kitchen. The texts were altered by Michael Robert Newbolt for inclusion in the Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1916. This is the version that has gained prominence in the English-speaking world.
“Lift high the cross” incorporates an important feature of processionals: the crucifer (cross-bearer) leads the stately procession down the long nave, lifting the cross high. This ritual use of the cross is a sign of the victory of the resurrection and finds a biblical basis in John 12:32, “And I, when I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (RSV). 
Another influence comes from the fourth century, based on a story of the Emperor Constantine’s vision as told in Eusebius’s Life of Constantine, in which he saw a cross inscribed with the words, “In hoc signo vinces” (“in this sign [of the cross] you will conquer”). Constantine recognized Christianity officially as a religion of the state, providing a basis for further spread of Christianity. Raymond Glover calls the hymn text “a possible twentieth-century replacement for ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers'” and says that “the thrust of the text recalls the words of the Emperor Constantine’s vision”.
The hymn did not find voice in the United States until it was published in Hymns for the Living Church (1974), edited by hymnologist and professor Donald P. Hustad. Since that time, “Lift high the cross” has become a staple of many hymnals.
Michael Bodnyk
Minister of Music