This Sunday, May 7, the Armenian Church commemorates the Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross (Yerevoumun Sourp Khatchi). The Apparition of the Cross is the first feast dedicated to the Holy Cross in the Armenian liturgical calendar. It is celebrated in remembrance of the appearance of the sign of the cross over the city of Jerusalem in 351 that remained in the sky for several hours. The apparition extended from Golgotha to the Mount of Olives (about two miles), and was brighter than the sun and was seen by everyone in Jerusalem. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cyril, used this occasion to remind Emperor Constantius of Byzantium of his father’s (Constantine the Great) orthodox faith. Cyril claimed the Apparition was further reason to return to orthodoxy.
Traditionally, the Armenian translation of Cyril’s message is read on this feast day during the Antastan service prior to the Gospel lection. The Apparition is celebrated by the Armenian and Greek churches. The Greeks observe it on the fixed date of May 7, while the Armenian date is moveable depending on the date of Easter. It is celebrated on the fifth Sunday of Easter.
Cyril is a revered Doctor of the Church and he is remembered in the Armenian Church’s liturgical calendar. Here is a short excerpt from Cyril’s letter about the apparition.
“In those holy days of the Easter season, on 7 May at about the third hour, a huge cross made of light appeared in the sky above holy Golgotha extending as far as the holy Mount of Olives. It was not revealed to one or two people alone, but it appeared unmistakably to everyone in the city. It was as if one might conclude that one had suffered a momentary optical illusion; it was visible to the human eye above the earth for several hours. The flashes it emitted outshone the rays of the sun, which would have outshone and obscured it themselves if it had not presented the watchers with a more powerful illumination than the sun. It prompted the whole populace at once to run together into the holy church, overcome both with fear and joy at the divine vision. Young and old, men and women of every age, even young girls confined to their rooms at home, natives and foreigners, Christians and pagans visiting from abroad, all together as if with a single voice raised a hymn of praise to God’s Only-Begotten Son the wonder-worker. They had the evidence of their own senses that the holy faith of Christians is not based on the persuasive arguments of philosophy but on the revelation of the Spirit and power; it is not proclaimed by mere human beings but testified from heaven by God Himself .”
(Excerpt from Saint Cyril’s letter about the Apparition of the Cross)