Above: St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (CIRCA 315-MARCH 18, 386)
Bishop, Theologian, and Liturgist
St. Cyril of Jerusalem was a foundational figure in Christianity.
Many of the details of St. Cyril’s life are sketchy. Sources even vary regarding the year and location of his birth. They agree, however, that his birth occurred somewhere in Palestine–perhaps in Jerusalem–in the temporal vicinity of 313-315. Sources also agree that our saint became a priest in 345 and the Bishop of Jerusalem in 349 or 350.
St. Cyril, a staunch opponent of Arianism, experienced hardships because of his orthodoxy. The proposition that Christ was a created being was one he refused to affirm. Our saint’s orthodoxy brought him into conflict with some of his superiors and with two Eastern Roman emperors, leading to three exiles from his diocese: in 357, 360, and 367-379. The last period of exile occurred by the order of Emperor Valens (reigned 364-378), an Arian. The imperial politics of Christology depended on the whims of emperors. Constantius II (reigned 337-361) was an Arian. He removed some prominent critics of Arianism from their episcopal sees and replaced them with Arians. Constantius II also used two regional councils of bishops in 359 to make a moderate form of Arianism official. Officially, Christ was “like the Father.” Valens continued the policy of exiling prominent critics of Arianism and added the execution of some of them to his tactics. Salminus Hermias Sozomen (circa 400-447/448), a historian and a Christian, regarded the death of Valens in battle against Visigoths in 378 to be divine retribution. The accession of Theodosius I “the Great” (reigned 379-395) made the return of St. Cyril to his diocese possible. The Second Council of Constantinople (381), which St. Cyril attended, recognized him as a “Confessor of the Faith” even though he had critics to his right. Our saint never affirmed every detail of Trinitarian theology which emerged from the Council of Nicaea (325). Nevertheless, he was sufficiently orthodox.
Surviving works by St. Cyril provide helpful glimpses into the liturgical life of the Church in and around Jerusalem in the fourth century C.E., or, as he knew it, the latter eleventh and early twelfth centuries A.U.C. (The B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. dating system did not exist yet.) These works prove especially useful in understanding Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. For example, one reads of the washing of the hands of the celebrant, the use of the Lord’s Prayer at the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer, and the receiving of the host in one’s palm, with the left hand supporting the right hand. Such information fascinates those of us who care deeply about liturgy and the development thereof. One also learns that St. Cyril defended the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Our saint influenced the development of rites for Palm Sunday and the other days of Holy Week. He pioneered such rituals at Jerusalem, a center of pilgrimage. Many pilgrims took those rituals back to their homes. Thus similar observances took root elsewhere in Christianity.
The Church remains in St. Cyril’s debt. The Holy Week practices of my denomination, The Episcopal Church, owe much to our saint. The rituals for Holy Week in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) are closer to the rites of St. Cyril than are those in The Book of Common Prayer (1928). Once again, as in many other cases, the break with one tradition constitutes a return to an older tradition. And, when I receive the host, I do so with my right hand supporting my left hand and my left palm open. I know of this consistency with ancient tradition because of St. Cyril.
Unfortunately, Arianism thrives. It lives, for example, among the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
St. Cyril died in Jerusalem on March 18, 386.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 14, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS
THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC
Strengthen, O Lord, the bishops of your Church in their special calling
to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, so that they,
like you servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct your people
in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them,
may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 47:8-10
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 275