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November 3, 2019

Two Sermons on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

Sermon 111

Luke 16:19-31

"But there was a certain rich, man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every day. And a certain poor man whose name was Lazarus had been laid at his gate, full of sores; and desiring to satisfy himself with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the poor man died, and the angels carried him to Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades, having lifted up his eyes, being in torment, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue: for behold! I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you received your good things in your life time; and Lazarus in like manner his evil things: but now he is comforted here, and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you a great gulf is placed, so that those who would pass from hence to you cannot; nor can those pass who would come from thence unto us. And he said, I pray you, father, to send him to my father's house: I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come unto this place of torment. But Abraham said unto him, They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them. But he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go unto them from the dead they will repent. But he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded even though one rose from the dead."

When Solomon was offering up prayers in behalf of his kingdom, he somewhere said unto God, "Give me wisdom, even that which abides by Your throne." And God praised him for earnestly desiring such blessings as these; for there is nothing better for men than sacred gifts: of which one worthy of our acceptance, and that perfects in blessedness those who have been counted worthy of it, is the wisdom which God bestows. For it is the sight of the mind and heart, and the knowledge of every good and profitable thing.

And it is our duty also to be enamored of such gifts as these: that being counted worthy thereof we may rightly and without error approach the Savior's words. For this is useful for us unto spiritual improvement, and leads unto a praiseworthy and blameless life. Come therefore, that being made partakers of the wisdom which is from above, we may examine the meaning of the parable now set before us.

It is necessary however, I think, in the first place to mention, what was the occasion which led to His speaking of these things; or what Christ intended to illustrate in so excellently sketching and describing the parable set before us. The Savior therefore was perfecting us in the art of well-doing, and commanding us to walk uprightly in every good work, and to be in earnest in adorning ourselves with the glories which arise from virtuous conduct. For He would have us be lovers one of another, and ready to communicate: prompt to give, and merciful, and careful of showing love to the poor, and manfully persisting in the diligent discharge of this duty. And He especially admonished the rich in this world to be careful in so doing, and to guide them into the way winch altogether becomes the saints, He said, "Sell your possessions, and give alms: make you purses that grow not old; a treasure that does not fail for ever in heaven." Now the commandment indeed is beautiful, and good, and salutary: but it did not escape His knowledge, that it is impossible for the majority to practice it. For the mind of man has ever been, so to speak, infirm in the discharge of those duties which are arduous and difficult: and to abandon wealth and possessions and the enjoyment which they give, is not a thing very acceptable to any, inasmuch as the mind is early clothed and entangled, as it were, in indissoluble cords, which bind it to the desire of pleasure.

As being therefore good and loving unto men, He has provided for them a special kind of help, lest eternal and never-ending poverty should follow upon wealth here, and everlasting torment succeed to the pleasures of the present time. "For make for yourselves friends, He says, of the unrighteous mammon: that when it has failed, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles.'" And this then is the advice of One providing them with something which they can do. For if, He says, you cannot he persuaded to give up this pleasure-loving wealth, and to sell your possessions, and make distribution to those who are in need, at least be diligent in the practice of inferior virtues." "Make for yourselves friends with the unrighteous mammon:" that is, do not consider your riches as belonging to yourselves alone; open wide your hand to those who are in need: assist those in poverty and pain: comfort those who have fallen into extreme distress: condole with those who are in sorrow, or oppressed with bodily maladies, and the want of necessaries: and comfort also the saints who embrace a voluntary poverty that they may serve God without distraction. Nor shall your so doing be unrewarded. For when your earthly wealth abandons you, as you reach the end of your life, then shall they make you partakers of their hope, and of the consolation given them by God. For He being good and kind to man, will lovingly and bountifully refresh those who have labored in this world: and more especially such as have wisely and humbly and soberly borne the heavy burden of poverty. And somewhat similar advice the wise Paul also gives to those who live in wealth and abundance respecting those in misery: "Your abundance shall be to supply their falling short: in order that also their abundance may supply your falling short." But this is the advice of one who enjoins that simply which Christ spoke; "Make to yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon:" so that the commandment is well worthy of our admiration.

And that our refusal so to act will cause our ruin, and bring us down to the inextinguishable flame, and to an unavailing remorse, He plainly shows by weaving for us the present parable. "For there was a certain rich man, He says, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every day. And a certain poor man whose name was Lazarus had been cast down at his gate, full of sores."

Here observe, I pray, and mark accurately the Savior's words. For while it was easy to have said, "That there was such and such a rich man whoever it might be," He does not say so, but simply calls him a rich man: while He mentions the poor man by name. What conclusion therefore must we draw? That the rich man as being uncompassionate was nameless in God's presence: for He has somewhere said by the voice of the Psalmist, concerning those who do not fear Him, "I will not make mention of their names with My lips:" while, as I said, the poor man is mentioned by name by the tongue of God.

But let us look at the pride of the rich man puffed up for things of no real importance; "he was clothed, it says, in purple and fine linen," that is, his study was to deck himself in beautiful attire, so that his raiment was of great price, and he lived in never-ceasing banquetings; for such is the meaning of his feasting every day: besides which it adds that he feasted sumptuously, that is, prodigally. All the luxury therefore of that rich man consisted in things of this sort: in clothing clean, delicate, and embroidered with linen, and dyed with purple, so as to gratify the eyes of beholders. And what is the result? Differing but little from the figures in statuary and painting, the rich man is indeed admired by those who are destitute of sense, but his heart is full of pride and haughtiness: he has high thoughts of himself and is boastful, and while there is nothing of excellence in his mind, he makes variously colored hues a reason for his empty pride. His delight is in expensive banquets; in music and revellings; he has numerous cooks, who labor to provoke gluttony by carefully prepared meats: his cupbearers are beautifully attired; he has singing men and singing women, and the voices of flatterers. Such were the things in which the rich man lived; for the disciple of Christ certifies us. saying, "that all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of the world."

Meanwhile Lazarus, bound fast by sickness and poverty, was cast down, He says, at his gate. For the rich man dwelt in lofty halls, and spacious mansions nobly built: whereas the poor man was not so much laid as cast down, thrown there in neglect, and not deemed worthy of any account. Cut off from compassion and care, he would have liked, to satisfy his hunger, have gathered the worthless morsels that fell from the rich man's table. He was tormented moreover by a severe and incurable malady; "Yes, even the dogs, it says, licked his sores," and that, as it seems, not to injure him, but rather, so to speak, as sympathizing with him, and tending him: for with their tongues they allay their own sufferings, removing with them that which pains them, and gently soothing the sore.

But the rich man was more cruel than the beasts; for he felt neither sympathy for him nor compassion; but was full of all mercilessness. And what the result was, the outline of the parable teaches us in what follows: but it is too long to tell it now. For lest my discourse should prove more than sufficient for my hearers, and a fatigue beyond due measure to him who speaks, stopping now from a due regard for the good both of myself and you, I will speak to you again upon these things at our next meeting, if Christ our common Savior grant me the ability so to do: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

Sermon 112

Luke 16:19-31

The blessed prophet Isaiah has somewhere introduced those who by faith in Christ have been won unto life, as calling out eagerly, so to speak, unto one another, and saying; "Come, let us go up unto the mountain of the Lord, and unto the house of the God of Jacob, and they shall teach us His way, and we will walk in it." Now by the mountain here we affirm to be meant not any earthly mountain; for to imagine this would be foolish: but rather the church which Christ has rescued for Himself. For it is high and conspicuous to people everywhere, and, so to say, exalted, because there is nothing in it which brings men down to earth. For those who dwell within it care nothing for the things of earth, but rather desire those things that are above: and, as the Psalmist says, "They are exalted far above the earth;" as being altogether brave and courageous, and practicing uninterrupted endeavors after all things whatsoever which please God.

And such we believe you to be; and your earnest desire after instruction is a plain proof thereof. For you have come of course to seek the fulfillment of the promise given unto you: but neither have we forgotten what we promised, but pay our debt, adding on to what has been already said that which is still wanting to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

"For it came to pass, He says, that Lazarus died, and was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried." Observe carefully the Savior's words. For of the poor man, He says, that he was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom: but of the rich man there is nothing of the sort, but only that he died and was buried. For those who have hope towards God find in their departure from the world a deliverance from anguish and pain. And something like this Solomon also has taught us, saying, "In the sight of men they seemed to die, and their departure was considered an injury and their going from among us a breaking to pieces: but they are at peace, and their hope is full of immortality." For there is given unto them a measure of consolation commensurate with their labors: or even perhaps one which surpasses and exceeds their toils: for Christ has somewhere said, that "good measure, pressed down, and heaped up, and running over shall they give into your bosom." For like as ships that sail upon the sea stand the shock of savage waves, and struggle with the violence of mighty winds, but afterwards arriving at tranquil havens fit for their rest, cease there from tossing; so in like manner I think that the souls of men, when they emerge from the turbulence of earthly things, enter the mansions that are above, as into a haven of salvation.

"Lazarus then," He says, "was carried by the holy angels unto Abraham's bosom: but the rich man died and was buried." For to that rich man who had shewn himself harsh and unmerciful the separation from the body was death. For he was going from pleasure to torment: from glory to shame: from light to darkness. Such were the things that the rich man must suffer, who had been voluptuous, and close-handed, and unready for mercy. And to torment him the more now that he dwells in Hades, he beheld, it says, Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham: and made supplication that he might be sent to drop a little water upon his tongue: for he was tormented, it says, as in a fierce flame. And what reply does the patriarch Abraham make? "Son, you received your good things in your life: and Lazarus his evil things." You were enamored, He says, of these temporal things; you were clad in fine linen and purple; you were boastful and haughty; all your time was spent in luxury; you offered up your wealth to your appetite and to flatterers; but you never once called to mind the sick and sorrowful: you had no compassion on Lazarus when you saw him thrown down at your portals. You beheld the man suffering incurable misery, and a prey to intolerable griefs: for two maladies at once possessed him, each worse than the other, the cruel pain of his ulcers, and the want of the necessaries of life. The very beasts soothed Lazarus, because he was in pain; "the dogs licked his sores," but you were more hard-hearted than the beasts. "You have received therefore, He says, your good things in your life, and Lazarus his evil: and now here he is comforted, and you are tormented;" and, as the sacred Scripture says, "they shall have judgment without mercy who have wrought no mercy." You would have been a partner with Lazarus, and a portion of his consolation would have been given you by God, if you had admitted him to be a partner of your wealth. But this you did not do, and therefore you alone are tormented: for such is the fitting punishment of the unmerciful, and of those whose mind feels no sympathy for the sick.

Let us therefore make for ourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon: let us listen to Moses and the prophets calling us unto mutual love and brotherly affection: let us not wait for any of those now in Hades to return hither to tell us the torments there: the sacred Scripture is necessarily true: we have heard, that "Christ shall sit upon the throne of His glory to judge the world in righteousness, and that He shall set the sheep indeed on His right hand, but the goats on His left. And to those on His right hand He shall say, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundations of the world: for I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; and thirsty also, and you gave Me to drink: I was naked, and you clothed Me; in prison, and you came unto Me." But upon those upon the left hand He shall lay a heavy condemnation, saying, "Go to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." And the charge against them is, that they have done the very opposite of that for which the saints were praised. "For I was hungry, and you gave Me not to eat; and thirsty, and you gave Me not to drink: for inasmuch as you did it not, He says, to one of these little ones, you did it not to Me."

But to this perhaps some one will object, that there are many kinds of well living; for virtue is diversified, so to speak, and manifold: why therefore, having omitted those other kinds, does He make mention only of love to the poor? To this we reply, that the act is better than any other kind of well doing: for it works in our souls a certain divine likeness which molds us, so to speak, after God's image. For Christ also has said, "Be you merciful, as your Father also in heaven is merciful," He who is quick to show mercy, and compassionate and kind, is ranked with the true worshippers; for it is written, that "a pure and unpolluted sacrifice to God the Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their poverty, and that a man keep himself unspotted from the world." And the wise Paul also has somewhere written, "But alms and communication forget not: for with such sacrifices God is content." For He loves not the incense of the legal worship, but requires rather the pleasantness of the sweet spiritual savor. But the sweet spiritual savor unto God is to show pity unto men, and to maintain love towards them. This also Paul advises us, saying, "Owe no man anything, but that you love one another:" and the daughter of love is pity for poverty.

Come therefore, you rich, cease from transitory pleasure: be earnest after the hope that is set before you: clothe yourselves with mercy and kindness: hold out the hand to them that are in need: comfort those who are in necessity: count as your own the sorrows of those who are in extreme distress.