Why “basil” at the Feast of the Cross?
The herb, basil has long been associated with the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The word “basil” is derived from “Vasileios,” the Greek word for a king or person of royal lineage.
According to the liturgical tradition, the Holy Empress Helena, Mother of the Saint and King Constantine, found the location of the True Cross by digging for it under a large growth of basil. Basil plants were reputed to have sprung up at the foot of the Cross where the Precious Blood of Christ fell, along with the tears of the Mother of God.
On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it is customary in the East to rest the image of the Holy Cross on a bed of basil before carrying it out for the veneration of the faithful. Also, in some areas, branches of basil are used throughout the temple as a festive decoration as well as to provide a heavenly scent in honor of the Feast. Blessed basil leaves may also be arranged in a bouquet at the foot of the “Golgotha” cross. Dried leaves taken from the feast can also be used by the faithful as a sweet incense to burn at home as a blessing.