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April 30, 2021

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

Fourth Homily for Holy Friday

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on Luke, Sermon 152)

Luke 23:24-31. And Pilate gave sentence that their request should be done. And he released him who for sedition and murder was cast into prison, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus to their will. And as they led Him away, they laid hold upon Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country; and on him they laid the cross to carry it after Jesus. And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him. And Jesus turned Himself to them, and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children. For behold the days come, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave nurture. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall upon us: and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"

"The fear of God is an abomination to evildoers": and the saying is true; for the sacred Scripture cannot lie. For the desire to live in an upright and holy manner is altogether alien from those who love wickedness: and because the violence of their passions attacks thorn like a savage beast, they will not listen to the words of those who admonish them, but reckon as their enemies whoever would instruct them in the duty of living well. It was this feeling which made the Jewish multitudes hate Christ: and yet what He summoned them to was salvation, and the forgiveness of sin: to a mode of life worthy of admiration: to a righteousness superior to the law; and to a spiritual service higher than types and shadows.

They had brought the holy One and the Just to Pilate, uttering against Him language violent and unrestrained, and pouring forth falsely-invented accusations: and so long did they persist in the vehemence wherewith they accused Him, that at length Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they desired, although he had publicly said, "I find no wickedness in this man." But they, it says, cried out, "Away with Him, crucify Him." For this very cry, unmerciful and unlawful, the Lord had reproved them by the voice of the prophet Isaiah; for thus it is written, "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts, a plant new and beloved, is the man of Judah: and I looked that he should do justice, but he wrought iniquity: and not righteousness, but a cry." And in another place He said of them, "Woe to them, in that they have gone far from Me: wretched are they, for they have sinned against Me: but I redeemed them, and they spoke falsely against Me." And again, "Their princes shall fall by the sword, because of the rudeness of their tongue."

Pilate therefore, it says, gave sentence that what they desired should be done: but better for them had it been, if the will of Pilate had prevailed, and the sentence had been, to set the Lord free from all fault, and to deliver the Innocent and the Just from His bonds. But they resisted, and vehemently opposed, and so gained a victory that was the mother of their undoing; that prepared for them the snare; that was the nurse of their ruin; and affianced them to severe and inevitable misery.

Yet here behold, I pray, that rebellious serpent driven from his empire over us all, and digging for himself and the wicked hosts that serve him the pit of destruction. For as the Psalmist says, "The heathen are caught in the destruction they have made: in the snare which they set is their own foot taken. The Lord is known as executing judgments: in the works of his hands is the sinner taken." For the works of his hands proved his snare, and "he fell into the pit that he had made: and his labor returned upon his head, and his iniquity descended upon his own pate:" for he was driven away, as I said, from his pride over us. And this the Savior has taught us: for when He was about to endure for us His saving passion, He said, "Now is the judgment of this world: now is the prince of this world cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, shall draw all men to Me," He led Jesus therefore to the cross, that being lifted up He might draw all men to Him, and that thus he might be left stripped of his worshippers, who in the height of his pride had ventured to say, "The whole world will I hold in my hand as a nest, and as eggs that are left will I take it up, and there is no one shall escape from me, or speak against me." You did not expect then that any one would rise up against you when you were seizing what was not your own. The prophets however dared to do so, though by your instigations the Israelites were incited continually to violence and foul murders. Then there rose up against you and spoke against you the Lord of all, having taken the form of a slave; appearing in prophetic measure, though the Giver of all prophecy and knowledge; in lowliness of glory, though high and transcending all; in weakness such as ours, though the Lord of hosts. And you did not recognize the Savior, and as the prophet Jeremiah says, "You were found and caught, because you stood up against the Lord." And how were you caught? In that those who were in darkness and the ignorance which you caused received light; those who wandered in error were brought into the right way; your harsh and overbearing dominion fell; the sting of sin was done away; and death was slain by Christ's death. Such are the benefits wrought for us by the Redeemer's passion. Lead therefore, yes, lead Jesus to the cross that shall be your ruin: pile up for yourself the inextinguishable flame: dig the pit into which you shall be cast, being trampled under foot of those that fear Him. If you behold Him crucified and hung upon a tree, and laugh therefore; you shall see Him, and that soon, risen from the dead, and then shall you wail for death because it has fallen. Weep without restraint at the sight of destruction overthrown: weep as He refashions man's nature to life; as He reduces sin into subjection which with you had savagely tyrannized over us: and henceforth no more accuse any one who is weak; "for it is God That justifies: who is he that condemns?" and as the Psalmist says, "All iniquity shall stop its mouth."

The Redeemer therefore was led to His saving passion: but they laid His cross, it says, upon Simon the Cyrenian. Another holy evangelist, however, tells us that the Lord Himself carried, the tree: and necessarily both the one and the other are true. For the Savior indeed bore the cross, but in the middle of the way perhaps the Cyrenian met them, and they seized him, and made him carry it instead. And there is an important reason for the fact, that Christ the Savior of all did carry the cross: for it is said of Him by the voice of Isaiah, that "to us a Child is born: a Son also is given us, Whose government is upon His shoulder." For His government was the cross, by which He became King over the world, if so be that it is true that " He became obedient to the Father to death, even the death of the cross: for this reason God also has greatly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and of things under the earth: and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."

And this also, I think, it is important here to observe, that when the blessed Abraham went up to the mountain that had been shown him, that there he might sacrifice Isaac, according to God's command, he laid the wood upon the lad; and he was a type of Christ carrying His own cross upon His shoulders, and going up to the glory of His passion. For that His passion was Christ's glory, He has Himself taught us, saying, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him, If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall immediately glorify Him."

He was going therefore to the place of crucifixion: and there followed Him women weeping, as well as many others. For constantly, so to speak, the female sex is given to tears, and of a disposition ready to sink at the approach of aught that is sorrowful. 'But, O daughters of Jerusalem, He says, stay those tears on My account: cease your wailings: and weep rather for yourselves, and your children: for the days, He says, shall come, in which barrenness shall be preferable to women than to have borne children." How, or in what manner? Because when the war fell upon the country of the Jews, they all perished utterly, small and great: and infants with their mothers, and sons with their fathers, were destroyed without distinction. Then, He says, shall men count it above all price to be crushed under hills and mountains; for in extreme miseries those misfortunes which are less severely cruel become, so to speak, desirable. "For if, says He, they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"

But it is worth our while to see what the Savior's meaning is in these words. For the saying is shaped in the form of a parable, or an example rather, but is pregnant with a spiritual signification: and it intends, I think, to suggest perhaps what follows. He calls Himself the green tree, that namely which has leaves and fruit and flowers. But His fruits were doctrines and exhortations and the manifestation of a godlike power in His divine and ineffable miracles. For which of His works is not more than our admiration can equal? He raised the dead to life, He cleansed lepers, He healed the blind, and the other deeds He wrought are such as arouse in us the most perfect praise. But though these were His works, yet did the Roman officers, or rather Pilate who condemned Him, and passed upon Him an unjust sentence, inflict upon Him these cruel mockeries. When therefore, He says, the Roman commanders have inflicted upon Me such things, though they see Me adorned with such great glory and praise, what will they do to Israel, perceiving him to be a dry and fruitless stock? For in him they will behold nothing admirable, for the sake of which he might perchance have been counted by them worthy of honor and mercy. Plainly they will burn him with fire, without showing him mercy, yes rather he will suffer the cruelties prompted by savage rage. For such were the miseries into which the Israelites fell, when God, Who judges righteously, exacted of them the punishment of their wickedness against Christ. But upon us, who have believed in Him, Christ bestows grace and blessing; by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.