The Day the Sky Caught Fire

It was called by the people, “the day the sky caught fire.”

At about 9:00 in the morning on Sunday, May 7, 351 A.D., the feast of Pentecost, the people of Jerusalem gathered in the streets, pointing to the sky in frightened shock. Tongues of flame were roaring across the horizon forming a gigantic blazing Cross in the sky. The apparition was seen by everyone in Jerusalem. Many people fell to their knees, beseeching God to spare them from annihilation. Others went to the churches to pray and ask forgiveness for their sins. But one man, the newly elected Patriarch of Jerusalem, Saint Cyril, bowed his head and gave thanks to God for this blazing sign from Heaven.

At that time, the Church and people of the Holy City were divided and fractured over the Arian heresy. The Patriarch Cyril repudiated its false teaching concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ – (the Arians said there was a time when the Son of God did not exist) – and the strong heretical faction was threatening him with exile and seemed to be swaying the masses. In this difficult situation, St. Cyril was beseeching God for help. The sudden appearance of the blazing Cross in the sky was for him an answer to that prayer.

Shortly after the miraculous event, St. Cyril wrote a letter known today as the Letter to the Emperor Constantius, the son of St. Constantine the Great, describing the miracle in vivid detail and making it clear that the miracle was a sign from God. The letter reads:

“On the 7th of May, about the Third Hour, a vast luminous body, in the form of a Cross, appeared in the sky just over the holy Golgotha, reaching as far as the holy Mount of Olives, seen not only 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 entire city, struck with a reverential fear tempered with joy, ran immediately to the church, young and old, Christians and unbelievers, 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 Heaven bears witness.”

At times, we may find ourselves embittered by the unfairness, inequality, and injustice that show up on every page of human experience. We may lose heart and faith when we look around and observe with our human perceptions what appears to be the prosperity and success of the wicked and the unjust. In all appearances it seems that in this world those who advance and rise to the top do so through lying, cheating, abusing, slandering, manipulating, killing, and many other criminal ways. Life sometimes doesn’t make sense and we want to cry out to Heaven, “It’s not fair!” just like Asaph, the author of Psalm 73, complains at the beginning of his prayer. He says:

“Surely God is good to the upright,to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

What Asaph is saying here is that his faith is being shaken by observing that wicked people are advancing in life and doing well, even if through illicit means. He is even envious of them and tempted to join their company, since this is the way to having it good in this life. Or so it seems to him during his crisis of faith. He continues his psalm:

“The wicked have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. They say, ‘How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?’ This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart righteous and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.”

Asaph is losing faith in God’s justice and thinks that his fidelity to God’s laws has been pointless, since he sees no earthly reward, and he sees how the evil scoff at God and do as they please, with no apparent consequence.

But then Asaph turns away from a human manner of thinking to the worship of the Most High God. He hands his life over to the Lord and begins to live and think according to faith rather than sight. He says:

“When I tried to understand all these things,it troubled me deeply, until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. For behold, those who keep themselves far away from You, O Lord, shall perish. But as for me, it is good to cling to God and to put the hope of my salvation in the Lord.”

There is Someone Who is strong and good, almighty and all-good, who will one day right the wrongs in our world and bring meaning out of the meaningless. When Jesus returns, He will come down from heaven with a host of powerful angels. He will comfort the afflicted, and He will not ignore those who have done evil.

In 2 Thessalonians, St. Paul describes the Day of the Lord in these words, that day which, as our Lord says in Matthew 24:30, will be preceded by the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven, that is, the sign of His Cross. St. Paul writes:

“God’s judgment is just, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His mighty angels.”

Until that Day, Jesus wants us to stand firm in our faith and have hope and trust in God’s loving providence. No matter what we endure on earth, we are safe for eternity, for God will right every wrong and make sense of the senseless.