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October 11, 2020

Sermon on the Parable of the Sower (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

Sermons on the Gospel of Luke

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

Sermon 41

Luke 8:4-8 - And when a large multitude was gathered together, and some of every city were come to Him, He spake by a parable. "The Sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and was trampled upon, and the birds of heaven devoured it. And other fell upon the rock, and, when it had sprung up, it withered away because it had no moisture. And other fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it. And other fell upon the good ground, and it grew up, and brought forth fruit a hundredfold. While saying these things He cried out, He that hath ears to hear let him hear."

The blessed prophets have spoken to us in manifold ways respecting Christ the Savior of us all. For some proclaimed Him as a Light that was to come: and others as One of royal rank and greatness. For one of them even says, "Blessed is he who hath seed in Zion, and kinsmen in Jerusalem: for lo! her just king shall reign, and princes shall bear rule with judgment. And that man shall be one that hides his words." For the word of the Savior is constantly, so to speak, hidden. So also the blessed Psalmist has brought Him before us saying, "I will open My mouth in parables." See therefore that that which was spoken by Him in old time has come to pass. For a large multitude was assembled round Him of people from all Judaea, and He spake to them in parables. But inasmuch as they were not worthy to learn the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, the word was wrapt for them in darkness: for they had killed the holy prophets, and being guilty of much blood of the righteous, heard themselves thus plainly addressed: "Which of the prophets have not your fathers killed?" And again, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killes the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto her; how often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not. Behold your house is left unto you."

But their wicked acts did not extend merely to the holy prophets, but even mounted up to Him Who is Lord of the prophets: that is Christ. For being insolent, and setting up against Him, so to speak, their haughty neck, they gave not the slightest heed to the duty of receiving faith in Him: and even wickedly resisted His public teaching, and rebuked those who wished to be constantly with Him, and thirsted for His instruction, impiously saying, "He hath a devil and is mad: why hear ye Him?" To them therefore it was not granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but rather unto us, who are more ready to embrace the faith. For He hath given unto us, as being perfect wisdom, the ability "to understand parables, and the dark saying, the words of the wise, and their riddles." For parables we may say are the images not of visible objects, but rather of those cognizable by the intellect and spiritual. For that which it is impossible to see with the eyes of the body, the parable points out unto the eyes of the mind, beautifully shaping out the subtlety of things intellectual, by means of the things of sense, and which are as it were palpable to the touch. Let us see therefore what benefit the Savior's word weaves for us.

The Sower, He says, went out to "sow his seed, and so forth." Concerning whom then did He thus speak? Evidently concerning Himself. For He verily is the Sower of all that is good, and we are His husbandry: and by Him and from Him is the whole harvest of spiritual fruits. And this He taught us when saying, "Without Me ye can do nothing."

In the imaginations therefore of the mind, see, I pray, a husbandman walking along, and everywhere casting seed in the fields: of which some falls on the pathways, and some on the rocks; and some on thorny places: and again some on good, that is, on fertile ground. That however on the |164 pathways was snatched away: and that on the rocks, when it had just sprouted, and scarcely shot up, quickly withered of drought: and that among thorns was choked: hut that which fell on good ground prospered, for it bore fruit, He says, a hundredfold.

Now what the aim is of the discourse, and what the profounder teaching of the parable, we shall learn from Him Who framed it. Before us even the blessed disciples found these things hard to understand, and drew near unto the Revealer of mysteries, supplicating Him and saying, "What is the parable? And what was Christ's reply? "The seed is the word of God: those on the way are they who have heard, and afterwards the devil comes, and takes away the word from their heart, that they may not believe and be saved." And as to the cause of the seed on the pathways being snatched away, we see in a moment that it is the hardness of the ground. A pathway always is hard and untilled, because it is exposed to every one's feet, nor is any seed admitted into it, but lies rather upon the surface, ready for any birds that will to snatch it away. All those therefore, whose mind is hard and unyielding, and so to speak, pressed together, do not "receive the divine seed: for the divine and sacred admonition finds no entrance into them, nor do they accept the words that would produce in them the fear of God, and by means of which they could bring forth as fruits the glories of virtue. They have made themselves a beaten and trampled pathway for unclean demons, yea, and for Satan himself, such as never can bear holy fruit. Let those therefore awake, whose heart is sterile and unfruitful: open your mind, receive the sacred seed, be like productive and well-tilled soil, bring forth unto God the fruits that will raise you to an incorruptible life: guard your mind, shut the entrance against the thief, drive away from your hearts the flocks of birds, in order that the seed may abide with you; that ye may be ground luxuriant in corn, and very fertile, and rich abundantly in bringing forth fruit.

And next, let us also consider those others of whom Christ said, "And those upon the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and they have no root: these for a while believe, and in time of temptation depart away." For there are verily men whose faith has not been proved, depending on words simply, and not applying their mind to the examining of the mystery: of such the piety is sapless and without root. For when they enter the churches, they feel pleasure often in seeing so many assembled, and joyfully receive instruction in the mysteries from him whose business it is to teach, and laud him with praises: but this they do with no discretion or judgment, but with unpurified wills: and when they have gone out of the churches, at once they forget the sacred doctrines, and proceed in their customary course; not having stored up within them any thing for their future benefit. And if the affairs of Christians go on peacefully, and no trial disturb them, they even then scarcely maintain in them the faith, and that, so to speak, in a confused and tottering state. But if persecution trouble them, and the enemies of the truth attack the churches of the Savior, their heart loves not the battle, and their mind throws away the shield and flees, being devoid of zeal, and destitute of love towards God, and ready for desertion. But O ye fearful and infirm, one may well say, why do ye flee from that which would be your glory? and escape from conflicts to which ye have been trained? For hereby those who wish may win for themselves the trophy of victory. Do ye also struggle: twine the chaplet of manliness, thirst for the rewards of perseverance, for the honors of patience.

I think too that I may rightly bring forward the following argument: they who glitter on lofty thrones, and govern earthly things, when is it they see the steadfast soldier, whose desire is set on victory? Is it in times when peace smiles, and the din of arms is still? Or is it rather when he goes courageously against those who are marshaling for the attack? As I imagine, it is the latter case that is true rather than the former. Therefore as the prophet Jeremiah has said, "Take up arms and shields." Especially as the right hand of God our Savior is invincible in the battle, and as most wise Paul has said, "He does not permit men to be tried more than they can bear, but with the trial will make also the way of egress, that they may be able to endure patiently."

But even if it possibly be our lot to suffer when contending in defense of piety towards Christ, then altogether and in every way are we worthy of envy, and glorious, and possessed of splendid hopes. Moreover, a praised death is incomparably better than an ignominious life. For so also the Saviour said to the holy apostles, "Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Did He therefore command us thus entirely to disregard these extreme dangers, while He Himself remained aloof from similar trials? But lo! He laid down His life for us, and with His blood purchased the world. We are therefore not our own, but His Who bought and redeemed us, and to Whom we owe our lives. For as the divine Paul said, "For this reason Christ died and lived, that He might be Lord of the dead and the living." We ought therefore to possess a mind incapable of being shaken, that especially whenever temptation arrive, we may shew ourselves approved and victorious in the power of patience: and ready with joy to undergo conflicts, and seize the opportunity of suffering for piety's sake towards Christ.

Thus much then being disposed of and explained, let us next consider the thorns among which the divine seed is choked. What again says the Savior? "But that which fell among the thorns are they who have heard, and by cares, and wealth, and pleasures of the world, go and are choked, and yield no fruit." For the Savior scatters the seed, which having obtained a firm hold in the souls that have received it, and already, so to say, shot up, and just begun to be visible, is choked by worldly cares, and dries up, being overgrown by empty occupations, and as the prophet Jeremiah said, "it becomes a handful, that can produce no meal." In these things therefore we must be like skillful husbandmen: who having perseveringly cleansed away the thorns, and torn up by the root whatever is injurious, then scatter the seed in clean furrows; and therefore one can say with confidence, "that doubtless they shall come with joy, bearing their sheaves." But if a man cast his seed in ground that is fertile in thorns, and fruitful in briars, and densely covered with useless stubble, he sustains a double loss: of his seed first, and also of his trouble. In order therefore that the divine seed may blossom well in us, let us first cast out of the mind worldly cares, and the unprofitable anxiety which makes us seek to be rich, "For we brought nothing into the world, nor can we take any thing out." For what profit is there in possessing superfluities? "Treasures profit not the wicked," as Scripture saith, "but righteousness delivers from death." For immediately upon the possession of affluence, there run up, and, so to speak, forthwith hem us in, the basest wickednesses; profligate banquets, the delights of gluttony, and carefully prepared sauces; music, and drunkenness, and the pitfalls of wantonness; pleasures and sensuality, and pride hateful to God. But as the disciple of the Savior has said, "Every thing that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of the world; and the world passes away, and its lust; but he that does the will of God abides for ever."

This is the good seed, and worthy of admiration: the land rich and well productive, that brings forth fruit a hundredfold. For men say, that the best soils do sometimes under cultivation produce a hundredfold; so that this is a mark of every fertile and productive spot. And of such it has been very justly said by one of the holy prophets at the mouth of God, "And all nations shall congratulate you; because ye are a desirable land." For when the divine word falls upon a mind pure and skillful in cleansing itself from things hurtful, it then fixes its root deeply, and shoots up like an ear of corn, and so to speak, being strong in blade, and well flowered, brings its fruit to perfection.

But I think it may be useful to mention this to you, who wish to learn what is good. For Matthew, when relating this chapter to us, said that the good ground brought forth, fruit in three degrees. "For one, he says, brought forth a hundred, and one sixty, and one thirtyfold." Observe therefore, that just as Christ described three degrees of loss, so similarly the degrees of success are equal in number. For those seeds that fall upon the pathway are snatched away by the birds: and those upon the rocks, having merely shot up, within a little while wither away: and those among the thorns are choked. But that desirable land brings forth fruit in three several degrees, as I said: a hundred, sixty, and thirtyfold. For as most wise Paul writes, "Each one severally of us has his own gift from God, one in one manner, and another in another." For we do not at all find that the successes of the saints are in equal measure. On us however it is incumbent to emulate these things that are better and superior to those of meaner kind; for so will Christ bountifully bestow happiness upon us: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Ghost, forever and ever, Amen.