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Cyril of Jerusalem: True Teacher of the Early Christian Faith

On March 18 we celebrate the Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church (Latin Rite). Cyril was born into a Christian family and raised and educated in the faith in Jerusalem.  Responding to the Lord’s call, Cyril was ordained by Maximus, the Bishop of Jerusalem whom he succeeded in office in the year 348. Among the greatest threats to the earliest Church was the denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ which was called Arianism, after a priest who preached it and gathered followers around him.

The division wrought in the early Church due to this error resulted in Cyril suffering expulsions and persecution. He was banished from his leadership of the Church in Jerusalem three times and wrongly accused of teaching error. However, he continued to ardently defend the fullness of the teaching of the Apostles. His Catecheses on the Christian faith explained to the faithful of his time the true teachings of the faith, the Sacred Scripture and the Tradition handed down by the Apostles.  His sermons on the Nicene Creed and the Sacraments have been a constant source of inspiration for two millennia. He died in 386 A.D. at the age of seventy.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem’s instructions to the early Christians is one of our greatest resources for knowing how the early Church celebrated the Divine Liturgy (the Mass) and the Sacraments. These 24 instructions on the faith are still available and are known as the Jerusalem Catecheses. In them he teaches the early Christians preparing for their initiation into the full sacramental life of the Church during the Easter Vigil the fullness of the truth as taught by the Apostles and handed down as a deposit of faith.

In these inspired words we discover the importance the early Church placed upon Baptism and the clear belief that Holy Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. St. Cyril is an early Church father of the undivided Church. He is revered throughout both the Catholic and Orthodox Church. So highly regarded was this early Bishop of Jerusalem that he is one of the earliest to be given the title "Doctor of the Church".

St. Cyril of Jerusalem teaches us of the importance of defending true doctrine in our own age. His fidelity, in the midst of difficulties even from his own brethren, is a reminder that all who seek to follow the Lord will experience difficulties and struggle. The Saints show us how to endure such struggles in the Lord, relying on His grace, and to thereby grow in holiness, reflecting His very Image to a world waiting to be born.

Here is an excerpt from one of his Catechetical Instructions given in preparation for the Feast of Pentecost:

St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the Living Water of the Holy Spirit

“The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

“In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

"The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, and enables another to interpret Holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, and trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

“The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

“As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, thing hitherto undreamed of.”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Pray for us.

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