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November 6, 2016

Commemoration of the Falling of Ash from the Sky in 472 AD


On this day [November 6th] we commemorate the philanthropy of God after the falling ash under Leo the Great.


You threatened to burn us, but we did not burn, 
Since You mingled Your wrath with long-suffering O Word.

In the eighteenth year of the reign of Emperor Leo the Great, who is also called "Makellis" and "the Thracian," in the year 475,* on the sixth day of the month of November, at around noontime, the entire sky became cloudy. The normal blackness of the clouds changed into a red color, appearing as if it intended to scorch the entire world. This astonished everyone so much, that just by looking at the sky they thought that if rain fell from these red clouds, surely the rain would be fire and flames, and scorch everything, just as a rain of fire fell upon Sodom. In view of this expectation, all the Christians fled to the sacred churches, and supplicated God with entreaties and weepings. Wherefore the philanthropic Lord, mingling His goodness with His punishment, ordered the clouds to rain down such a rain that is strange and not customary, which brought fear to sinners, because the rain began at the time of vespers and kept up until midnight.

The falling rain was a black ash, and burned strongly like ash from a burning furnace. And so much came down, that from the ground it reach all the way up to the roof-tiles of houses, more than the height of a man. It burned up and scorched all the grass and plants and trees of the earth. There was also much that was difficult to wash away, showing thereby the displeasure of God concerning sins that are difficult to wash away. For after this, a great and furious rain fell down that lasted for days, that was able to wash away the ash. This was like a riddle. For just as sin is like a dark fiery ash within us, and like fire devours the offshoots of virtue, for this reason we are in need of rain, namely many tears, that comes from deep within our hearts with groaning and bitterness of soul. So that with this, we may wash away the flaming ash of our wickedness, and plant in the good earth of our minds to bring forth the fruits of virtue. In this way we will escape the punishments of Gehenna, which inflames our souls and bodies, and gain the Kingdom of Heaven.*


* Leo reigned from 457 to 474, and the incident of the falling ash took place in 472, therefore the incident took place in the fifteenth year of his reign. This event was the direct result of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 

* It should be noted that on the Sunday at the time of this feast, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is read in the churches, in order to remind us of the burning fires of Gehenna for those who do not repent of their sins.

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

If God can bring forth water from a rock as a comfort to men, He is also able to send down fire from the heavens as a punishment. The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is a classic example of God's punishment upon incorrigible sinners. That God can repeat this punishment was demonstrated over Constantinople in the year 472, during the time of Emperor Leo the Great and Patriarch Gennadius.

At noon on November 6 of that year, the sky became overcast with thick, dark clouds, causing darkness on the land. These clouds turned red as fire, then became dark, and alternated their appearance continuously. This phenomenon over Constantinople lasted for a full forty days. The frightened people turned to repentance and prayer. With the emperor and patriarch, they walked in procession through the streets from church to church and prayed to God with tears and lamentation. On the final day hot black ash fell like rain from evening until midnight, then stopped. The following day dawned clear and bright, but the sooty ash lay on the ground to a depth of nine inches. With great effort, the people cleaned their houses and streets of this sooty ash, but the crops in the field were utterly destroyed.

All who had understanding, understood that this was God's punishment, and that it was God's gentle punishment because the people hastened to repent before Him. Had it not been for this profound repentance for their great and accumulated sins, who knows what would have happened to Constantinople in those days? But the timely repentance of sinners, and the prayers of the Most-holy Theotokos, as well as the prayers of the countless saints and martyrs of Constantinople, greatly lessened the punishment.

The Lord's Mercy and Goodness

Our Lord is mercy and true goodness,
Yet He allows man to suffer for his sin:
Floods, sickness, earthquakes, droughts,
Horror and pains for body and soul.
He who does not see the Father when He offers gifts
Will see Him at the Judgment as the Righteous Judge.
The awesome Judge has many servants,
And employs them all for man's salvation-
The earth's thorns; serpents and beasts;
And floods, lightning, thunder from the sky;
And evil winds of illness; the sun, heat and darkness;
And the field, which gives either wheat or empty straw.
As many gifts await the faithful,
So many scourges are woven for the evil.
Adam's fields are watered with gentle dew,
But Sodom and Gomorrah are mowed with a flaming sword.
Above other created things, God loves man:
Therefore He forgives much; therefore He waits long.
But, when God's patience exceeds all bounds,
Then fire, not dew, does the work.

Read also: The Volcanic Ashes of Constantinople In 472 AD