June 9, 2015

Saint Cyril of Alexandria as a Model for our Lives

St. Cyril of Alexandria (June 9 and January 18)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Cyril was born in Alexandria from a noble family in around 380, according to Saint Isidore of Pelusium and the historian Socrates, and he was the son of the brother of Patriarch Theophilos of Alexandria. He is among the great Fathers of the Church, who by his way of life and teaching substantially influenced the formulation of Orthodox Theology, and safeguarded against heresies which threatened to distort it.

After receiving a brilliant education, he lived as an ascetic in Nitria under the guidance of Serapion. He was probably a monk for some time in Pelusium, near Saint Isidore of Pelusium, for whom he harbored a profound respect. Returning to Alexandria he was ordained a Deacon then a Priest by his uncle Theophilos. Following the death of his uncle he was elevated to the historic throne of Alexandria, on 18 October 412. As Patriarch of Alexandria, besides his vast literary work, he developed and valued social work. In an exemplary way he organized social welfare and solidarity, as well as established hospitals.

The patriarchate of Saint Cyril lasted thirty-two years and was characterized by intense struggles against heretics and pagans. He chaired the proceeding of the Third Ecumenical Synod in 431, and contributed greatly to the collapse of the cacodoxies of Nestorius, who taught that Christ became "a union of persons according to good pleasure" and that "Mary did not give birth to God, but to a God-bearing man, and with him God externally united," and this is why he denied the title Theotokos and was rather in favor of Christotokos. Saint Cyril expressed the Orthodox teaching that God the Word dwelt in the womb of the Panagia, was incarnate "of her pure blood," and being perfect God He also became perfect man, namely the God-man. In the person of the divine-human Jesus Christ were united the two natures - divine and human - unchanged, unconfused, indivisible, and inseparable, and the Panagia is indeed Theotokos.

He reposed on 27 June 444, but his memory is celebrated on June 9th, and on January 18th with Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.

In a marvelous way the sacred hymnographer summarizes and offers poetically the teaching of Saint Cyril on the two natures of Christ and that the Panagia is the Theotokos:

In his love for mankind, the King of heaven appeared upon earth and dwelled among us. For he took flesh from the pure Virgin, and thus in­carnate he came forth from her. The only Son is He: two‑fold in nature, but not in person. For this reason proclaiming him to be truly perfect man and perfect God, we confess Christ to be our God. Therefore, beseech him, O unwedded Mother, to have mercy on our souls. (Dogmatic Theotokion, Sunday Great Vespers, Plagal of the Fourth Tone)

Also, the Dismissal Hymn of Saint Cyril emphasizes the value of his Theology:

As a heavenly prestige, is your theology, awarding the Church of Christ, with divinizing grace; you set down in writing, the glory of the Trinity, you were seen as an initiate of the Theotokos and champion, and brilliantly glorified, Hierarch Cyril.

"As a heavenly prestige, is your theology."

The theology of Saint Cyril is engulfed with heavenly prestige, since it is not the result of beautiful thoughts and pious reflections, but is the fruit of the vision of God. The Fathers of the Church did not reflect on the mystery of God and the doctrines of the faith, but they were taught by their experiences, describing what they saw and heard.

Here also it should be stressed that the heretics were not impious or immoral people. On the contrary, many of them were strict ascetics, and others, such as Arius and Nestorius, had important positions and offices in the Church. The former was a Priest while the latter was the Patriarch of Constantinople. But they didn't have an empirical knowledge of God, and they didn't accept the experiences of the God-seeing Saints, and instead of being obedient to the Church and theologized based on its teachings, they philosophized and reflected on the mystery of God. In this way they ended up in heresy and found themselves to be outside the Church, and led many people as well to loss.

Of course, in Orthodox Theology "there is reflection, just as science has reflection. In the positive sciences every researcher, to progress in their research, constantly puts forth a hypothesis and dares not adopt this hypothesis and ascribe value to it before they check its correctness empirically, that is, empirical knowledge based on the scientific method. There could not be progress in the positive sciences if there was no reflection upon the acquired knowledge. Based on these reflections, scientists create theories and set forth a hypothesis, which they then check by observation and experiment if it is correct. The reflection that exists in Orthodox Theology constantly diminishes as one progresses in their knowledge of God, because reflection is constantly monitored and limited in light of the revelation of the glory of God. Reflections and assumptions are replaced by knowledge. As one proceeds from purification to illumination, reflection is reduced. The complete abolishment of reflection takes place when a person reaches theosis, that is, when they see the Truth itself, which is revealed to them, and is God Himself" (Fr. John Romanides).

When we follow the teachings of the saints, which is the result of empirical knowledge, we avoid theological errors, which create many problems in the Body of Christ, and in society in general.

Humility is a source of blessing, because by it we are healed of errors and passions, and people are placed within the perspective of progress and salvation.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἅγιος Κύριλλος Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Ἀλεξανδρείας", June 2007. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.