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April 30, 2021

First and Second Homily for Holy Friday (St. Cyril of Alexandria)


First Homily for Holy Friday

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on Luke, Sermon 149)

Luke 22:54-62. And they took Him, and led Him away, and brought Him into the high priest's house: and Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the court, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them: and a certain maiden beholding him as he sat at the light, looked earnestly at him and said, "This man also was with Him." But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I know Him not." And after a little while another saw him, and said, "You also are one of them." And Peter said, "Man, I am not." And about the space of an hour after, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Of a truth this man also was with Him: for he is a Galilaean." But Peter said, "Man, I know not what you say." And immediately while he was yet speaking the cock crowed. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter: and Peter remembered the word of the Lord that He had said to him, "Today before the cock crow you shall deny Me thrice." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, to make us careful in whatever holy occupations we undertake, commanded us to offer up our supplications continually, and to make it a portion of our prayer to say, "Lead us not into temptation." For the violence of temptations is often sufficient to shake even a thoroughly steadfast mind, and to humble to wavering, and expose to extreme terrors even a courageous and strong-hearted man. And this it was the lot of the chosen disciple to experience, by whom I mean the sacred Peter. For he proved weak, and denied Christ the Saviour of all. And this denial he made not once only, but thrice, and with oaths. For Matthew has said, that "he began to curse and to swear, I know not the Man." Now there are some who would have us believe that what the disciple swore was, that he did not know that Jesus was a man: but their argument fails them, though their object was to give the disciple loving help. For if he swore, as they say, that he did not know that Jesus was a man, what else did he than deny Him in thus overturning the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh? For he knew that the Only-begotten Word of God was made like to us, that is, a man: for this he openly confessed, saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Now he did not intend in saying this to affirm, that as being one merely such as we are He is the Son of God, but that though he saw Him standing there in the limits of human nature,----Him Who is the Word Which transcends everything that is made, and Who sprung forth from the Substance of God the Father,----even so, I say, he did not shrink from acknowledging and confessing that He is the Son of the living God. It is therefore a thing-very absurd to suppose, that though he knew the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh, he yet said that he did not know that Jesus was a man. What therefore is the fact? He was really infirm: for it was not possible for Jesus to speak falsely, Who forewarned him, that "before the cock crow you shall deny Me three times."

Nor verily do we say, that the denial took place in order that Christ's words might come true, but rather that His object was to forewarn the disciple, inasmuch as what was about to happen did not escape His knowledge. The misfortune therefore happened to the disciple from the cowardice of human nature. For as Christ had not yet risen from the dead, nor death as yet been abolished, and corruption wiped away, the fear of undergoing death was a thing past men's endurance. For that this miserable act arose, as I said, from the malady of human cowardice, and that the disciple was condemned by his own conscience, is proved both by his lamentation immediately afterwards, and by his tears upon his repentance, which fell from his eyes as for a grievous sin. "For having gone out, it says, he wept bitterly," after Christ had looked upon him, and recalled to his remembrance what He had said to him.

But next, it is worth our while observing, in what way his sin was forgiven, and how he put away his fault; for the event may prove of no slight benefit to us also ourselves. He did not then defer his repentance, nor was he careless about it: for as rapid as was his descent into sin, so quick were his tears because of it; nor did he merely weep, but wept bitterly; and as one that had fallen, so bravely did he spring up again. For he knew that the merciful God somewhere says by one of the prophets, "Shall not he that falls arise? and he that backslides, shall he not return?" In returning therefore he missed not the mark: for he continued to be what he had been before, a true disciple. For when he was warned that he should thrice deny before the cock crow, even then he won also the hope of forgiveness: for Christ's words to him were, "And do you also, in time to come, when you are converted, strengthen your brethren." Words such as these belong to One Who again appoints and restores him to apostolic powers: for He entrusts him again with the office of strengthening the brethren; a thing which also he did.

And this too we say; that though we are taught the failures of the saints in the sacred Scriptures, it is not that we may be caught in similar snares from disregarding the duty of steadfastness, but that if it do chance that we prove weak in anything that is necessary for salvation, we may not despair of being able once again to mount up to fortitude, and, so to speak, recover our health after an unexpected illness. For the merciful God has provided for the inhabitants of earth repentance as the medicine of salvation: and this I know not how men endeavor to dispense with, saying of themselves that they are clean, and in their great madness not understanding, that to entertain such an idea of themselves is full of all impurity. For "no man is free from defilement," as it is written. And besides this we say, that it makes God angry for us to imagine that we are free from all impurity: for He is even found saying to one of those who led polluted lives, "Behold I have a lawsuit with you because you say I have not sinned, in that you have acted very contemptuously in repeating your ways." For the repetition of the way to sin is for us, when we are overtaken by offenses, to refuse to believe that we are guilty of the defilement which arises from them.

"But yes, verily!" they say, "the God of all pardons the sins of those who are not as yet baptized, but not so of those who have been already admitted to His grace." And what do we say to this? That if they lay down laws according to their own fancy, their words do not much concern us. But if they cleave to the divinely-inspired Scriptures, when was the God of all unmerciful? Let them hear Him when He cries aloud, "Tell you your former iniquities, that you may be justified." Let them also call to mind the blessed David, who says in the Psalms, "Shall God forget to be merciful: or shall He gather up His mercies in His wrath?" And again, "I said, I will acknowledge against myself my iniquity to the Lord: and You forgave the wickedness of my heart." And besides this, they ought not to forget that before Christ was seized, or Peter denied Him, he had been a partaker of the body of Christ, and of His precious blood. "For He took bread and blessed, and gave to them, saying, This is My body. And in like manner also of the cup, saying, Drink you all of it: for this is My blood of the new covenant." Behold then, manifestly, that after having been a partaker of the mystical eucharist, he fell into sin, and received forgiveness upon his repentance. Let them then not find fault with the gentleness of God: let them not think scorn of His love to mankind, but call to mind Him Who plainly says, "The wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him in the day wherein he turns away from his iniquity." And when God thus offers us conversion on whatever day a man be willing to practice it, why do they not rather crown with grateful praises Him Who aids them, instead of foolishly, and, so to say, contumaciously opposing Him? for by so doing they bring condemnation upon their own heads, and call down upon themselves inevitable wrath. For the merciful God does not cease to be so; since, according to the voice of the prophet, "He wills mercy.'" Let us therefore strive with all our might, lest we fall into sin, and lot a steadfast love to Christ be fixed unchangeably in us while we say in the words of the blessed Paul, "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But if temptation assail us, and so it chance that we prove but weak, let us weep bitterly; let us ask forgiveness of God: for He heals those that are contrite; He raises up the fallen; He stretches out His saving hand to those who have gone astray: for He is 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.

Second Homily for Holy Friday

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on Luke, Sermon 150)

Luke 22:63-71. And the men who held Him mocked and struck Him: and when they had blindfolded Him, they asked Him, saying, "Prophesy, who is he that struck you?" And many other things blasphemously spoke they against Him. And when it was day, the council of the elders of the people, composed of the chief priests and scribes, came together, and they led Him into their assembly: and they said, "If You are the Christ, tell us." And He said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe: and if I also ask you, you will not return Me an answer. But hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God." Then they all said, "Are You therefore the Son of God?" And He said to them, "You say that I am." And they said, "What further need have we of witness? For we ourselves have heard of His mouth."

Here too let the prophet Jeremiah say of the race of Israel, "Who will grant for my head to be waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I may weep for this people day and night?" For what lamentation can suffice for those who fell into the pit of destruction because of their wicked conduct to Christ, and for guilt so great, that not with words only did they grieve Him, and mock Him with blasphemous cries, but even laid sinful hands upon Him, and made ready for Him the snare of death? And so contemptuously did they treat him, wickedly making Him their sport, as even to venture to smite Him: for so we have this day heard the holy evangelist say, "For the men who held Him mocked and struck Him, saying, Prophesy, who is he that struck You?" "But He, when He was reviled, reviled not again: and when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed His cause to Him that judges righteously." Well therefore might we utter that which was said of certain men by one of the holy prophets, "The heavens were astonished thereat, and shuddered very greatly, says the Lord." For the Lord of earth and heaven, the Creator and Artificer of all, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who is of such surpassing greatness in glory and majesty, the foundation of everything, and that in which it exists and abides----"for all things exist in Him"----He Who is the breath of all the holy spirits in heaven, is scorned like one of us, and patiently endures buffetings, and submits to the ridicule of the wicked, offering Himself to us as a perfect pattern of longsuffering, or rather manifesting the incomparable greatness of His godlike gentleness.

Or perhaps even He thus endures to rebuke the infirmity of our minds, and show that the things of men fall as far below the divine excellencies as our nature is inferior to His. For we who are of earth, mere corruption and ashes, attack at once those who would molest us, having a heart full of fierceness like savage beasts. But He, Who in nature and glory transcends the limits of our understanding and our powers of speech, patiently endured those officers when they not merely mocked, but even struck Him. "For when they had blindfolded Him, it says, and afterwards struck Him, they asked Him, Prophesy, who is he that struck You?" They ridicule, as if He were some ignorant person, Him Who is the Giver of all knowledge, and Who even sees what is hidden within us: for He has somewhere said by one of the holy prophets, "Who is this that hides from Me counsel, and shuts up words in his heart, and thinks that from Me he hides them? He therefore Who tries hearts and reins, and Who is the Giver of all prophecy, how could He not know who it was that struck Him? But as Christ Himself said, "Darkness has blinded their eyes, and their minds are blinded." Of them too therefore may one say, "Woe to them that are drunken, but not with wine!" "For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and their tendril of Gomorrah."

But when at the dawn of day their wicked assembly was gathered together, He Who is the Lord of Moses, and the Sender of the prophets, after having been thus lawlessly mocked, was brought into the midst; and they asked if He were the Christ? O senseless Pharisee, if you ask because you know not, surely until you had learnt the truth you ought in no wise to have grieved Him, lest haply you should grieve God: but if you make pretense of ignorance, while really you know well that He is the Christ, you must hear what the sacred Scripture says, "God is not deceived."

But tell me, why do you question Him, and wish to learn of Himself, whether He be the Christ? For it is easy enough to obtain the knowledge of Him from the law and the prophets. Search the writings of Moses: you will see Him depicted there in manifold ways. For He was sacrificed as a lamb: He vanquished the destroyer by His blood: and was prefigured also in many other forms. Examine too the writings of the prophets; you will hear them proclaiming His divine and wonderful miracles. "For then, they say, shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the dumb shall hear: then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be plain." And again, "The dead shall arise, and those who are in the graves shall awake: for the dew from You is healing to them." Since therefore even you yourselves see the perfect clearness of the accomplishment of the prophecies respecting Him, why do you not rather acknowledge Him on the evidence of His divine miracles, and of His ineffable works? And this too Christ Himself said to you; "The works which My Father gave Me to do, those works bear witness of Me that He sent Me." And again, "If I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father." The rulers therefore of the Jews, together with the people under their charge, were in very truth unbelieving, and thoroughly without understanding.

I think, however, that we ought to examine the words used by Christ: for they were a reproof of the want of love to God of which the Scribes and Pharisees were guilty. When therefore they ask whether He is in truth the Christ, and would learn this very thing, He says, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask, you will not return an answer." Come therefore, and let me explain to you, as to men glad to be taught, what the occasion was on which they heard, and would not believe; and that on which they were silent when questioned. When Christ then went up to Jerusalem, He found in the temple people selling sheep and oxen and doves, and moneychangers sitting: and having made, it says, a kind of scourge of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, saying, "Take these things hence: and make not My Father's house a house of merchandise." Because therefore He called God His Father, those who were sacrificing in the temple murmured and attacked Him, saying, "By what authority do You do these things? And who gave You this authority?" And to this Christ replied, "I will also ask you a word, which if you tell Me, I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it, from heaven, or from men? And they, it says, reasoned with themselves, saying, If we say, From heaven, He will say to us, Why did you not believe him? But if we say, Of men, we fear the multitude: for all held John as a prophet. And they answered and said, We do not know. And Christ said thereto, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things."

And on another occasion He asked them, saying, "What say you of Christ? Whose Son is He? And they said, David's. And afterwards the Lord said to them, How therefore does David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit You on My right hand, until I place Your enemies as a footstool under Your feet. If therefore David call Him Lord, how is He his Son?" And to this again they were silent. You see that Christ speaks truly when He says, "And if I ask you, you will not return Me an answer."

You shall see too that the other declaration is equally true: and what is this? "If I tell you, you will not believe." For the blessed John the Evangelist writes, that "it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem, and it was winter: and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. The Jews therefore came round about Him, and said to Him, How long will You lift up our soul? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly. And Jesus answered them, I told you, and you will not believe: the works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me; but you will not believe."

And to make their condemnation more severe, in respect, I mean, of their refusing to believe on Him, He further clearly sets before them His glory, saying, "But hereafter the Son of man shall sit on the right hand of the power of God." When, He says, I was in form like to you, though by nature and in truth the Son of God the Father, you made no account of Me. And yet how was it not right that the excellent art of the dispensation in the flesh should not escape your notice, inasmuch as you are learned in the law, and nurtured in the writings of Moses, nor are the predictions of the holy prophets unknown to you. But since you have brought yourselves to so great want of knowledge, and being filled with utter ignorance, recognize not the mystery concerning Me, I tell you of necessity that there is granted you but a short and narrow season for your pride and wickedness against Me, even until My precious cross. For immediately after this I clothe Myself in honor: I ascend to the glory which I had from the beginning: I am made even in the flesh the partner of God the Father on His throne, and possess sovereignty over all, even though I have taken upon Me your likeness. When Christ was thus speaking, the troop of Pharisees was inflamed with uncontrollable wrath: they catch at the expression as a pretext for blasphemy, and accuse the truth itself: they say, that "no longer need we any testimony," as being themselves the hearers of His words. And what then had they heard Him say? O vile and senseless men, you wanted to learn whether He were the Christ: He taught you therefore that by nature and in truth He is the Son of God the Father, and with Him shares the throne of Deity. Therefore, as you confessed, henceforth you have no need of testimony, for you have heard Him speak: hence might you best have learnt that He is the Christ: and this would have proved for you the pathway to faith, had you only been one of those who would know the truth. But they, making even the pathway of salvation an occasion for their souls' ruin, understand not: senselessly they slay Him, keeping but one aim in view in contempt of all law, and utter disregard of the divine commands: for it is written, "The holy and the just you shall not kill." But they, as I said, paid no regard whatsoever to the sacred commands, but rushed down, as it were, some steep descent, to fall into the snares of destruction.

Such then was their conduct: but we offer our praises to God the Word, Who for our salvation became man; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.