Saint of the Day – 18 March – St Cyril of Jerusalem (315-387) aged 75 Bishop, Confessor and Father & Doctor of the Church, Theologian, Writer, Preacher, Catechist.
Little is known of his life before he became a bishop. According to Butler, Cyril was born at or near the city of Jerusalem, and was apparently well-read in both the Church fathers and the pagan philosophers. Cyril was ordained a deacon by Bishop St Macarius of Jerusalem in about 335 and a priest some eight years later by Bishop St. Maximus. About the end of 350 he succeeded St Maximus in the See of Jerusalem. It is not until his exile, historically recorded, that the event of his life are made clear. During a great depression, Cyril was accused of selling church property to feed the poor and thus exiled. Theologians and historians agree that his exile had less to do with service to the poor, and more to do with differences in doctrine, failure to conform to the Arian teachings and continued preaching of the Nicene doctrine. The Nicene Creed, which we still recite today, is believed to have had its origins in the teachings of Saint Cyril – as per his writings:
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten by the Father true God before all ages, God of God, Life of Life, Light of Light, by Whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. He was crucified and buried. He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and sat at the right hand of the Father. And He cometh in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. And in one Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, Who spake by the prophets; and in one baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and in one holy Catholic Church and in the resurrection of the body, and in life everlasting.”
Saint Cyril is known for his catechetical writings, including twenty-three homilies he delivered to those preparing for baptism during Lent and then mystagogical reflections for the week after Easter. In these writings, Cyril clearly outlines the liturgy of the Mass used at that time, including elements we continue celebrating today. Saint Cyril states a fairly strong doctrine of the Eucharist both in symbolic and realistic terms, addressing transubstantiation of elements and proclaiming the bread and wine received to be the actual body and blood of Christ. He affirms the true authority of the one Catholic Church, and provides instructions to the newly welcomed regarding how to receive the Holy Eucharist.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem lived in a time of great strife and conflict within the Church, a time of heresy, faction and political influence which questioned the Divinity of Jesus Christ (known as Arianism). Saint Cyril, a man of peaceful and conciliatory temperament, opposed this movement, aligning himself with those true to Christ and teaching Nicene doctrine.
For this, he suffered exile multiple times, due to the power and political connections of the Arians at that time. He finally returned to find Jerusalem torn with heresy, schism and strife, and wracked with crime. Even Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who was sent to help, left in despair.
They both went to the Council of Constantinople, where the amended form of the Nicene Creed was promulgated in 381. Cyril accepted the word consubstantial – that is, Christ is of the same substance or nature as the Father. Some said it was an act of repentance but the Bishops of the Council praised him as a champion of orthodoxy against the Arians.
Following the eventual acceptance of the Nicene Doctrine, Cyril served the Church with jurisdiction over all of Jerusalem for the last five years of his life. Ten years after Cyril’s death, the Abbess, Lady Etheria, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and wrote that she found a peaceful Christian community. This was the result of the efforts of Bishop Cyril, who suffered to heal the wounds that Arianism had inflicted on the Church.
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