March 18, 2014

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem as a Model for our Lives

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Feast Day - March 18)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Cyril was born in Jerusalem in either 313 or 315 A.D. and is one of the brightest figures among the Fathers and Teachers of the Church in the fourth century. As a Deacon and Presbyter in Jerusalem he was distinguished for the breadth of his theological knowledge and his divine zeal for the spread of the Gospel. In 349 or 350 he succeeded the deceased Bishop Maximus II of Jerusalem. He was consecrated as Bishop by Metropolitan Acacius of Caesarea, to which belonged the Diocese of Jerusalem. However, because Acacius of Caesarea was an Arian, and also because Saint Cyril avoided using the term "homoousios" ("consubstantial"), as established by the First Ecumenical Synod, this created the suspicion that he was an Arian. But this suspicion was overturned by the Second Ecumenical Synod, which calls him a great fighter against Arianism. He struggles against the heresy of the Arians caused him to be exiled three times and to live thirteen entire years in exile. The last years of his life he spent in his office and alongside his anti-heretical struggles he organized the pastoral and catechetical work of the Diocese. He left us works which, according to expert opinion, are "the most precious possessions of Christian literature". The most important of these are his Catechism. These are twenty-four lectures that were delivered in the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and addressed to both the newly-illumined and the illumined. The first of these is titled "Pre-Catechism" and is somewhat of a preface or introduction to the catechesis that follows. In 387 he delivered his holy soul "into the hands of the living God".

By reading carefully the Catechism of Saint Cyril it is possible to feel that the majority of us contemporary Christians belong rather to the order of Catechumens instead of Believers. This is because we ignore basic truths of our faith, and especially because our way of life and behavior is not suitable for authentic members of the Church. Most of us typically pray and attend church, and if we confess we do it out of habit rather than sincere repentance, that we may commune on the "big" days as required by custom, without understanding much how serious a case it is to Commune of the Body and Blood of Christ and that it should not be done without preconditions. In other words, to commune one needs to meet some basic requirements. They should be baptized, be living members of the Church, they should have the permission and blessing of their Spiritual Father and they should have prepared properly, in accordance with his instructions.

Regarding how often one should commune, this is regulated by the Spiritual Father depending on the spiritual condition of each individual. It is good for one to ask, because mistakes in the spiritual life can cost dearly. Of course, everyone is free to do what they want, but they should be prepared to answer for their actions and suffer the consequences, in accordance with spiritual law.

Divine Communion is, of course, the same for everybody, but it also operates differently for each of us. For those who partake after proper preparation, as stated above, it is a light that illumines, while for those who commune without awareness, preparation and a blessing it becomes a fire that burns. "Like a live coal, You burn the unworthy" (Service of Divine Communion).

Also, the mystery of Baptism must be performed after proper preparation. Those who are baptized in old age should be catechized by experienced Catechists. Because it is not possible for infants to be catechized prior to baptism, parents and godparents should be directly responsible to take care to connect them over the course of time with the Church. They should teach them to attend church and commune frequently. Besides, this is why we are baptized, so that we can commune of the Immaculate Mysteries, and to have within us, in our souls and bodies, Christ.

Before the celebration of the mystery of Baptism and Chrismation, the Priest reads exorcisms because, as Saint Cyril points out, according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, before baptism a devil nests in the heart of man that must leave in order for the Holy Spirit to dwell there. Through Baptism a person is buried and resurrected together with Christ and becomes a member of His blessed Body, namely the Church, and through Chrismation they receive the gift of the Grace of the Holy Spirit and their nous is illumined. This is why Baptism is also called illumination.

Divine Grace "is not tempted" and is not acquired by any other way except through Baptism and Chrism (St. Cyril of Jerusalem). It remains in the heart when a person struggles to conquer their passions, to keep the divine commandments, to sincerely repent of their sins. On the other hand it does not act in the heart with the result that the nous is darkened. "Grace has been given mystically to those who have been baptized into Christ; and it becomes active within them to the extent that they actively observe the commandments. Grace never ceases to help us secretly; but to do good - as far as lies in our power - depends on us." (St. Mark the Ascetic).

In conclusion, it should be stressed that nothing within the Church should be done without preconditions, because Divine Grace "is not tempted" and God "is not mocked".

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΚΥΡΙΛΛΟΣ ΑΡΧΙΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΙΕΡΟΣΟΛΥΜΩΝ", February 2005. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.