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April 17, 2020

Third Homily for Holy Friday (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on Luke, Sermon 151)

Luke 23:1-5, 18, 19. And the whole multitude arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this man perverting our people, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying of Himself that He is Christ, a King." And Pilate asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And He answered him, and said, "You have said so." Then said Pilate to the chief priests and the multitudes, "I find no cause at all in this Man." But they vehemently asserted, that He perverts the people, teaching in all Judaea, and having begun from Galilee even to this place. And they cried out, the whole multitude at once, saying, "Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas:" who for some sedition made in the city and for murder was cast into prison.

A disgraceful malady, my brethren, is want of understanding and folly of heart, accompanied by the inventions of base thoughts, which lead men on to every thing that is wicked, and often even make us sin against the glory of God. And this we can see was the case with the synagogue of the Jews; for they sinned against Christ, and therefore they have suffered all misery, being condemned by the just sentence of God to that fate to which they brought Him, Who would have raised them up to life. For they led Jesus to Pilate, and were themselves too delivered up to the hosts of the Romans, who took all their land captive, and stormed also their city which previously had been the holy and the noble, and gave those who were dwelling therein as a prey to sword and fire. In them therefore were fulfilled the predictions of the holy prophets: for one says, "Woe to the wicked: evils shall happen to him, according to the works of his hands." And another, "As you have done, so shall it be done to you: your retribution shall be recompensed upon your head."

But let us see what was the manner of their wickedness, and what also they said to Pilate, when framing their accusations against our common Savior Christ. "We found this man perverting our people, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying of Himself that He is Christ a King." And yet, but a short time before He was tried by you, and of questions such as this no point was raised; only He was asked, whether He were the Christ. This it was which you then sought to learn, and beside it absolutely nothing. And so, meeting your questions, He sought to show both that He is the Christ, and that by nature and truly He is the Son of God the Father. For He said, "You shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power." And tell me, I pray, whose is it to sit with the Father, but His Who by nature is the Son? For of all that is made nothing whatsoever may boast of sitting on the throne of Deity: for every created being is put under the feet of the divine and supreme nature, Which rules over all, and transcends every thing whatsoever which has been brought into being. God the Father alone is set upon the throne high and lifted up, but He shares His seat with the Son, Who is ever with Him, and sprang by nature from Him. You had obtained therefore for yourselves by your question the full assurance that He is the Christ. But in your eagerness to accuse of blasphemy Him Who had revealed to you His glory, you said, "Why need we any further witnesses? for we have heard from His mouth." And how then forgetting all this, or rather in your malice passing by those things for which He was judged by you, make you an array of charges of an entirely different nature, saying, "We found this man perverting our people?" Tell us in what this perversion consisted! What He taught was repentance. Where did He forbid to give tribute to Caesar? In reality you sent certain of your body to Him, with those who are called Herodians, to tempt Him, saying, "Teacher, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" And thereupon Christ said to them, "Show me a denarius of the poll tax: and asked, Whose is the image and superscription on the denarius which you have brought? And when they replied; Caesar's, He said, Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Where then did He forbid to give tribute to Caesar? But their sole purpose was to bring down to death Him Who was raising them up to life. This was the object of their stratagems, and of the base deeds which they contrived, and of the falsehoods they invented, and the bitter words which ran from their wicked tongue. And yet the law loudly proclaims to you, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." And again, "The holy and the just you shall not kill."

At language thus unbridled in its violence God in his anger has somewhere said, by one of the holy prophets, "But draw you near, you wicked children, you seed of adulterers and the harlot: at Whom made you merry? and against Whom opened you your mouth? and against Whom sent you forth your tongue? Are you not sons of perdition; and an iniquitous seed?" And the prophet David also somewhere describes them in the Psalms, thus addressing God the Father in heaven, "Scatter them in Your might, and restrain them, O Lord, my helper. The sin of their mouth is the word of their lips, and they shall be taken in their pride." For having given loose to their unbridled tongue against Christ, and, so to speak, "lifted up their horn on high, and spoken iniquity against God," as it is written, they fell in their pride. Surely it was their duty, priding themselves as they did upon their knowledge of the divine laws, to have remembered that God says, "The pious and the just you shall not kill:" but they had no regard whatsoever to the respect due to the law, but being led on by an unrestrainable impetuosity into whatsoever pleased themselves alone, without examination of its nature, they invented numerous charges, heaping up against Christ accusations which were neither true nor capable of being proved. But they were convicted of being even more wicked than an idolater. For Pilate, acquitting Jesus of all blame, openly said, "I find no cause at all in this Man:" and this, not once only, but three times.

"But they vehemently protested, He perverts the people, "teaching in all Judaea, and having begun from Galilee (continues) even to this place." Again they change from their former accusations, and invent pretexts for laying sins to His charge, and gather fresh opportunities for slandering Him. "For He perverts, they say, the people, teaching throughout all Galilee even to this place." But while they accuse Him of teaching, they are silent as to what He taught, being afraid, I imagine, lest perhaps even Pilate himself should be found among the number of the believers. For if he had heard Christ unfold His mystery, he might have ceased perhaps from serving henceforth gods falsely so called, as having admitted the light of the true knowledge of God to dwell within him, and possessing in his mind and heart the medicine of that sacred and saving message which is by Christ. For what were the doctrines of Christ? He called to the true knowledge of God them that were in error, and serving the creature in His stead. Whoever drew near to Him He desired should be resplendent with the glories of righteousness; that they should be irreproachable and good; gentle and merciful; wise and holy; of upright and blameless lives. With great cunning therefore they say that He taught, but were silent as to the nature of His doctrines. But even when so speaking, Pilate rebuked them, excusing himself, and saying, "I find no cause at all in Him." " For you have brought me," he says, "this Man, as one Who upturns the people, and behold, I having tried Him in your presence, have not found in This Man any cause of those things whereof you accuse Him. No, nor yet Herod: for he has sent Him back to us: and, behold, nothing is done by Him worthy of death." Lo! those who know the divine laws, and with haughty countenance say, "We are Moses' disciples," beseech that He may be condemned to death, Who is guilty of no base action, yes, rather Who is the Head and Teacher of all piety, and Who renders those who believe in Him skillful in every virtue: and when he whose duty it was to judge Him acquitted Him, to make their doom of torment more severe, they earnestly beg that He Who was guilty of no base deed might suffer as from them the penalty of death. " For the whole multitude cried out, saying, Away with this Man: but loose to us Barabbas." Plainly therefore "they denied the Holy and the Just, and, as the blessed Peter says, asked for a murderer to be granted to them," that they might be sharers of his lot, and partners in his guilt. And this it was their lot to suffer. For they were given up to destruction and slaughter, and perished together with their whole race. "For they cried out, it says, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him." And this their unholy cry the Lord blamed, saying, by the voice of Jeremiah, "I have left My house, I have abandoned My inheritance: I have given My dearly beloved, My soul, into the hand of her enemies. My inheritance has become to Me like a lion in a thicket: it has uttered its voice against Me; therefore I have hated it." It was hated therefore because as a lion it sprang upon Christ, and uttered a cruel and pitiless cry against Him: but we praise Christ, Who for our sakes and in our stead suffered in the flesh: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and over. Amen.