May 7, 2009

The Cross That Appeared in the Sky Over Jerusalem in 351 A.D.

Commemoration of the Honorable Cross that Appeared in the Sky 
Over Jerusalem in 351 A.D. (Feast Day - May 7th)


The cross planted in the ground, sanctified the earth in days of old,
And now that it has appeared, it sanctifies also the heavens.
On the seventh the seal of the cross spread out in the heavens.

On this day in the year 351, not long after Saint Cyril of Jerusalem had succeeded Maximus as Archbishop of Jerusalem, during the reign of Constantius, the son of Saint Constantine the Great, on the day of Pentecost, the multi-attested sign of the Cross appeared over Jerusalem.

Saint Cyril, in his letter to the Emperor Constantius, describes the event he witnessed with his own eyes:

On the nones [or 7th] of May, about the third hour [or nine in the morning], a vast luminous body, in the form of a Cross, appeared in the heavens, just over the holy Golgotha, reaching as far as the holy Mount of Olives [that is, almost two English miles in length], seen not by one or two persons, but clearly and evidently by the whole city. This was not, as may be thought, a momentary transient phenomenon: for it continued several hours visible to our eyes, and brighter than the sun, the light of which would have eclipsed it, had not this been stronger. The whole city, struck with a reverential fear, tempered with joy, ran immediately to the church, young and old, Christians and heathens, citizens and strangers, all with one voice giving praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, the worker of miracles; finding by experience the truth of the Christian doctrine, to which the heavens bear witness. (PG 33:1 16q)

He concludes his letter with wishes that the emperor may always glorify the holy and consubstantial Trinity. Historians of the time, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, including Sozomen, Theophanes, Eutychius, John of Nice, Glycas, and others quote Saint Cyril concerning this event. Others, such as Socrates, Philostorgius, and the anonymous Chronicle of Alexandria give their own account of this phenomenon. This miracle was regarded by the Christians as the final victory of Orthodoxy over Arianism. Philostorgius and the Chronicle of Alexandria affirm that this Cross of light was encircled with a "large rainbow".

Philostorgius writes:

It appeared at Jerusalem about the third hour of the day which is called the day of Pentecost. This sign, which was portrayed by no human hand, was seen to stretch from the Mount of Calvary even to the Mount of Olives, and was accompanied by a large iris, like a crown, which surrounded it on all sides. The iris, indeed, signified the mercy of Jesus Christ crucified and taken up into heaven, and the crown denoted the victory of the emperor. Moreover, that splendid and venerable sign did not escape the notice even of the soldiers. But though it was clearly seen by both armies, it frightened above all measure Magnentius and his partisans, who were addicted to superstitious practices ; while, on the other hand, it inspired Constantius and his army with invincible bravery. Magnentius, however, having suffered this defeat from Constantius, afterwards recovered his strength by degrees, and, engaging with him in a second battle, was entirely defeated, and fled away to Lyons with the loss of nearly all his army. (Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter XXVI)

Socrates writes:

At the time that Cyril administered the church of Jerusalem after Maximus, the sign of the Cross appeared in the heavens. It shone brilliantly, not with divergent rays like a comet, but with the concentration of a great deal of light, apparently dense and yet transparent. Its length was about fifteen stadia(1) from Calvary to the Mount of Olives, and its breadth was in proportion to its length. So extraordinary a phenomenon excited universal terror. Men, women, and children left their houses, the market-place, or their respective employments, and ran to the church, where they sang hymns to Christ together, and voluntarily confessed their belief in God. The intelligence disturbed in no little measure our entire dominions, and this happened rapidly; for, as the custom was, there were travelers from every part of the world, so to speak, who were dwelling at Jerusalem for prayer, or to visit its places of interest, these were spectators of the sign, and divulged the facts to their friends at home. The emperor was made acquainted with the occurrence, partly by numerous reports concerning it which were then current, and partly by a letter from Cyril the bishop. It was said that this prodigy was a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy contained in the Holy Scriptures [Mathew 24:30]. It was the means of the conversion of many pagans and Jews to Christianity. (Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, Chapter V)

Apolytikion in the First Tone
The image of Thy Cross at this time shone brighter than the sun, when Thou didst spread it out from the holy Mount of Olives to Calvary; and in making plain Thy might which is therein, O Savior, Thou didst also thereby strengthen the faithful. Keep us always in peace, by the intercessions of the Theotokos, O Christ our God, and save us.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Making its rays to shine above in the heavens, the spotless Cross dawned on the earth, bright with splendour; for it had opened Heaven, which was shut of old. Granted the effulgence of its divine operation, we are surely guided to the unwaning resplendence. In battles we possess it as a true weapon of peace and a trophy invincible.

1. According to Herodotus, one stadia is equal to about 600 feet.