Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

March 16, 2018

The Pastor's Page

St. CyrilCyril was born in Jerusalem in 315 AD. Both of his parents were Christian, and they faithfully handed on the gift of faith to their son. Cyril had an exceptional aptitude for learning, and as a young man he emerged a brilliant scholar.

It was a time of great change in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Roman Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 two years before Cyril was born. Construction on new shrines over Calvary and the tomb to commemorate the crucifixion and the Resurrection, the Martyrium and the Anastasis, began in 326 when Cyril was a boy, and the churches were dedicated in 335 as Cyril turned twenty. He studied Sacred Scripture, and was ordained to the priesthood by St. Maximus, the Bishop of Jerusalem, in 345.

Father Cyril’s specialized ministry was to teach the faith to catechumens, those who were preparing for Baptism, and then, after they received the sacrament, to continue their instruction during Mystagogia, the time immediately after Baptism during the Easter season. He wrote eighteen “Catecheses,” catechetical lectures, which provided well-developed explanations of the sacraments, the liturgy, Scripture, doctrine, and tradition; and he wrote five additional lectures, the “Mystagogical Catecheses,” for the newly baptized.

Cyril was ordained a bishop in 350 by Acacius, the Arian bishop of Caesarea, and he succeeded St. Maximus as the bishop of Jerusalem. It was a time of fierce controversy in the Church. The Council of Nicaea had taken place in 325, and it declared that Jesus is homoousios or consubstantial, one in being with the Father, an orthodox teaching that Cyril firmly defended. The Arians taught that Jesus is less than the Father but greater than any human being, a heretical belief espoused by Acacius, and a bitter conflict between the two bishops ensued.

Angered by Cyril’s opposition to Arianism, Acacius claimed jurisdiction over the church in Jerusalem, accused Cyril of insubordination, and had a synod condemn him for selling church property to provide aid to the victims of a famine. Acacius had Cyril removed and sent into exile in 357. After two years in Tarsus, Cyril was allowed to return to Jerusalem in 359, only to be expelled again by the Roman Emperor Constantius at the instruction of Acacius, and when Constantius died, the new emperor, Julius, permitted him to return in 361. Emperor Valens succeeded Julius, reversed his ruling, and banished Cyril from Jerusalem in 367. His third exile lasted from 367 to 378. Cyril spent sixteen of his thirty-five years as bishop in exile.

Bishop Cyril’s troubles continued when the Council of Antioch commissioned St. Gregory of Nyssa to go to Jerusalem in 379 to investigate Cyril on charges that he had vacillated on the homoousios doctrine. St. Gregory found the church in Jerusalem to be embroiled in controversy, but also found Cyril to be staunch in his opposition to Arianism and completely orthodox in his teaching. Vindicated, both St. Gregory of Nyssa and Bishop Cyril attended the Council of Constantinople in 381 which amended and repromulgated the Nicene Creed.

St. Cyril died in 386 at the age of seventy, and because of his catechetical letters, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1883.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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