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April 9, 2017

Homily for Palm Sunday (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

Sermon 130

Commentary on Luke

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

Luke 19:28-40. And when He had said these things, He went onwards, going up to Jerusalem. And it came to pass, that when He was come close to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called Olives, He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village over against us, in which at your entering you shall find a colt, tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose, and bring it. And if any man ask you, 'Why do you loose it?' thus shall you say to him, 'It is wanted for the Lord.'" And when they that were sent had gone their way, they found even as He had said to them. And as they loosed the colt, the owners thereof said to them, "Why do you loose the colt?" And they said, "It is wanted for the Lord." And they brought it to Jesus. When they had cast their garments upon the colt, they made Jesus ride thereon. And as He went, they spread their garments before Him on the way. And when He had now arrived at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began with joy to praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest." And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said to Him, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." And He answered, and said to them, "I tell you, that if these be silent, the stones will cry out."

The disciples praise Christ the Savior of all, calling Him King and Lord, and the Peace of heaven and earth. Let us also praise Him, taking, so to speak, the Psalmist's harp, and saying; "How great are your works, O Lord, in wisdom have You made them." For there is nothing whatsoever of the works wrought by Him that is not in wisdom; for He guides all useful things each in its proper manner, and assigns to his acts that season which suites them. As long then as it was fitting that He should traverse the country of the Jews, endeavoring to win by lessons and admonitions superior to the law many to the grace that is by faith, He ceased not so to do: but inasmuch as the time was now at length calling Him to that Passion which was for the salvation of the whole world, to free the inhabitants of the earth from the tyranny of the enemy, and abolish death, and destroy the sin of the world, He goes up to Jerusalem, pointing out first to the Israelites by a plain fact, that a new people from among the heathen shall be subject to Him, while they themselves are rejected as the murderers of the Lord.

What then was the sign? He sat upon a colt, as we have just heard the blessed Evangelist clearly telling us. And yet perchance some one will say, that when He traversed the whole of Judaea (for He taught in their synagogues, adding also to His words the working of miracles) He had not asked for an animal to ride upon. For when He might have purchased one, He would not, though wearied often by His long journeys on the way. For when traversing Samaria, He was "wearied with His journey," as it is written. Who therefore can make us believe, that when He was going from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, places separated from one another by so short an interval, that He would require a colt? And why, when the colt was accompanied by its dam, did He not rather take the mother, instead of choosing the colt? For that the ass also, that bore the colt, was brought to Him, we learn from the words of Matthew, who says, "that He sent the disciples to a village over against them; and said to them, that you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose and bring them to Me. And they brought the ass and the colt with her."' We must consider therefore what is the explanation, and what the benefit which we derive from this occurrence, and how we make Christ's riding upon the colt a type of the calling of the Gentiles.

The God of all then created man upon the earth with a mind capable of wisdom, and possessed of powers of understanding. But Satan deceived him, though made in the image of God, and led him astray even until he had no knowledge of the Creator and Artificer of all. He humbled the dwellers upon earth down to the lowest stage of irrationality and ignorance. And the blessed prophet David knowing this, and even, so to speak, weeping bitterly for it, says, "Man being in honor understood it not. He is to be compared to the beast without understanding, and has become like one." It is probable therefore that that older ass contains the type of the synagogue of the Jews, which, so to speak, had become brutish, because it had paid but small heed to the law given by Moses, and had despised the holy prophets, and had added thereto disobedience to Christ, Who was calling them to faith, and the opening of their eyes. For He said, "I am the light of the world; he that believes in Me shall not walk in darkness, but possesses the light of life." But the darkness which He speaks of is undoubtedly that of the mind, even ignorance and blindness, and the malady of extreme irrationality.

But the colt, which as yet had not been broken in, represents the new people, called from among the heathen. For it also was by nature destitute of reason, having wandered into error. But Christ became its wisdom, "for in Him are all the treasures of wisdom, and the secret things of knowledge."

The colt therefore is brought, two disciples having been sent by Christ for this purpose. And what does this signify? It means that Christ calls the heathen, by causing the light of truth to shine upon them, and there minister to him for this purpose two orders of His subjects, the prophets, namely, and the apostles. For the heathen are won to the faith by means of the preachings of the apostles; and they always add to their words proofs derived from the law and the prophets. For one of them even said to those who have been called by faith to the acknowledgment of the glory of Christ, "And we have the more sure prophetic word, to which you do well to look, as to a torch that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the morning star arise in your hearts." For before the coming of the Savior, the predictions of the law and the prophets concerning Christ, were as some torch in a dark place. For the mind of the Jews was always gross, and, so to speak, full of thick darkness. For they understood not in the least what was said concerning Christ. But when the day dawned, when the light that is of truth arose, henceforth the prophetic word is no small torch, but resembles rather the bright rays of the morning star.

And next the colt is brought from a village, in order that He may by this means also point out the uncivilized state of mind of the heathen, who, so to speak, had not been educated in the city, nor in lawful habits, but, on the contrary, lived boorishly and rudely. For constantly those who dwell in villages live in this way. But they did not continue in this uncivilized state of mind, but, on the contrary, were changed to peacefulness and wisdom. For they became subject to Christ, Who teaches these things.

The ass then was rejected, for Christ rode not thereon, although it had been broken in already, and practiced to submit itself to its riders: but He took the colt, although it was untrained and unproved in carrying a rider, and in yielding to the reins. For, as I said, He rejected the synagogue of the Jews, although it had once borne a rider in the law, nor was obedience a thing to which it was untrained. Still He refused it as aged, and spoiled, and as having gone astray already into willful disobedience to God over all; but He accepted the colt, a people, that is, taken from among the Gentiles.

And this is the meaning of the praise rendered by the voice of the Psalmist to Christ the Savior of all, where he says of those that were in error, "With bridle and bit shall You restrain the jaws of them that draw not close to You." And it is easy to see from sacred Scripture, that the multitude of the Gentiles was also summoned to repentance and obedience by the holy prophets. For God thus spoke in a certain place, "Be assembled and come: take counsel together, you who are saved from among the Gentiles."

Christ therefore sits upon the colt, and as He had now come to the descent of the Mount of Olives, close, that is, to Jerusalem, the disciples went before Him, praising Him. For they were called to bear witness of the wonderful works which He had wrought, and of His Godlike glory and sovereignty. And in like manner we also ought always to praise Him, considering Who and how great He is Who is praised by us.

But another of the holy Evangelists has mentioned, that children also, holding aloft branches of palm trees, ran before Him, and, together with the rest of the disciples, celebrated His glory; so that by their means also we see the new people, gathered from among the heathen, represented as in a painting. For it is written, that "the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord."

And the Pharisees indeed murmured because Christ was praised; and drew near and said, "Rebuke your disciples." But what wrong action have they done, O Pharisee? What charge do you bring against the disciples, or how would you have them rebuked? For they have not in any way sinned, but have rather done that which is praiseworthy. For they extol, as King and Lord, Him Whom the law had before pointed out by many figures and types, as well as the company of the holy prophets had preachers of old; but you have despised Him, and grieve Him by your numberless envyings. Your duty rather it was to join the rest in their praises; your duty it was to withdraw far from your innate wickedness, and to change your manner for the better; your duty it was to follow the sacred Scriptures, and to thirst after the knowledge of the truth. But this you did not do, but transferring your words to the very contrary, you desired that the heralds of the truth might be rebuked. What therefore does Christ answer to these things? "I tell you, that if these be silent, the stones will cry out."

For it is impossible for God not to be glorified, even though those of the race of Israel refuse so to do. For the worshipers of idols were once as stones, and, so to speak, hardened; but they have been delivered from their former error, and rescued from the hand of the enemy. They have escaped from demoniacal darkness; they have been called to the light of truth, they have awakened as from drunkenness, they have acknowledged the Creator. They praise Him not secretly, and in concealment; not in a hidden manner, and, so to speak, silently, but with freedom of speech, and loud voice; diligently, as it were, calling out to one another, and saying, "Come, let us praise the Lord, and sing psalms to God our Savior." For they have acknowledged, as I said, Christ the Savior of all; by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.