Today in the liturgy, we remember St Cyril of Jerusalem. In his time the human mind was still struggling to comprehend God. As Jesus said people searched the scriptures looking for eternal life but they all seemed to come up with different answers.
Cyril was born around 313-315 AD, probably in Jerusalem. He was ordained as a deacon around 335 by Bishop Marius of Jerusalem and priest by Bishop Maximus around 343. Shortly after becoming priest, Maximus gave Cyril the responsibility for preaching to the people and for preparing those who wished to be baptised.
As a result of this there still exist his 23 Catechetical Lectures from the year 347 or 348 which he addressed to those preparing for baptism. The fact that he was given such a responsible role suggests that Maximus had great faith in Cyril’s orthodox teaching. The tone of the Lectures also reveals a person who is warm and pastoral towards those in his charge.
There were many different ideas around in that period, particularly about the person of Jesus. The Council of Nicea had met in 335 to answer the beliefs of the Arians. They believed that Jesus was the highest of created beings but was not of one substance with God, that he was not divine.
Other beliefs around included Patripassianism which denied that there were three persons in the Trinity but asserted that God the Father was incarnate and died to redeem mankind.
Another heresy was that of Sabellius who said the Trinity has only one divine essence which manifests itself in different forms as God. Cyril himself struggled with the idea that Jesus was of one substance with the Father, finally accepting it at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
By the end of 350 Cyril was Bishop of Jerusalem. He was responsible for the Christians who lived there permanently but also for an ever increasing number of pilgrims who began to take advantage of the end of persecution to visit the holy sites in the area.
At the beginning of Cyril’s time as bishop there was a miraculous event described in a contemporary letter: “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 Olivet, (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 together 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.”
Cyril’s time as bishop was far from peaceful. There was so much wrangling over different interpretations of the Trinity that it led to many difficulties. In 358 a council which was influenced by Acacius of Caesarea, deposed Cyril and forced him to retire to Tarsus.
The charge against Cyril was that he sold church property to give to the poor but it is more likely that Acacius, his superior who held the Arian view, wanted him out of the way as Cyril was teaching the Nicene view. A year later another council deposed Acacius but this was reversed in 360 and Cyril once again had to leave Jerusalem for a year.
On Emperor Julian’s accession Cyril was able to return once more until 367 when a new emperor, Valens, who took the Arian view, came into power. In 375 AD Emperor Gratian made it possible for Cyril to return to Jerusalem and there he stayed until his death in 386 AD. In case there was any doubt about Cyril’s right to be Bishop of Jerusalem it was confirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
As we can see, this period was a very difficult one to live in. Different views were fighting for supremacy and the definition of orthodox belief varied according to who was in power. Things settled down after the Council of Constantinople and the orthodox view from then on was that Jesus is divine and that the Son and the Father are equal.
We owe quite a debt to Cyril. His Lectures give a very good picture of how new converts were instructed at that time. There is also plenty of material on the liturgical practices of the time.
Here is what Cyril had to say about receiving communion:
“Approaching do not come with thy palms stretched flat nor with fingers separated. But making thy left hand a seat for thy right, and hollowing thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, responding Amen. And having with care hallowed thine eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, take it, vigilant lest thou drop any of it. For shouldst thou lose any of it, it is as though thou wast deprived of a member of thy own body.”
“Then after Communion of the Body of Christ, approach the Chalice of His Blood, not extending thy hands, but bending low, and with adoration and reverence saying Amen, sanctify thyself by receiving also the Blood of Christ. And while thy lips are yet wet, touch them with thy hands, and sanctify thy eyes and thy forehead and thy other senses”.
Cyril also made innovations in how Holy Week and Easter were celebrated and it is on these foundations that our current practice is based. As we enter into Lent, we are approaching a time of celebration which has been shaped partially by Cyril all those years ago in Jerusalem.
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O God, who through the Bishop Saint Cyril of Jerusalem led your Church in a wonderful way to a deeper sense of the mysteries of salvation, grant us, through his intercession, that we may so acknowledge your Son, as to have life ever more abundantly. Through our Lord.
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THE ELECTION OF A SUCCESSOR
TO CARDINAL LUBOMYR HUSAR
|Cardinal Husar presides at the Divine Liturgy|
In Ukraine today, a synod of Ukrainian Eparchial Bishops from around the world will gather to elect a successor to the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, whose resignation from office the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI accepted several weeks ago.
Among the bishops taking part will be a strong delegation from Canada led by the Winnipeg Archeparch Lawrence Huculak, OSBM.
Let us pray for the electors as they discern their future leader.