Post #4 For Palm Sunday: St Cyril’s Exegetical Homilies On The Passion Of Luke (22:39-53)

SERMON CXLVI.

22:39-42,45,46. And He came out and went, as He was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. And when He was at the place, He said to them, Pray that you enter not into temptation. And He went apart from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if You will, put away this cup from Me: but not My will, but Yours be done. And He rose up from prayer, and went to the disciples, and found them asleep from sorrow. And He said to them, Why sleep you? Arise, pray that you enter not into temptation.

OUR Lord Jesus Christ requires those who love Him to be accurate investigators of whatsoever is written concerning Him: for He has said, “that the kingdom of heaven is like to a treasure hid in a field.” For the mystery of Christ is deposited, so to speak, at a great depth, nor is it plain to the many: but he who uncovers it by means of an accurate knowledge, finds the riches which are therein, and resembles that wise woman, even Mary, of whom Christ said, that “she had chosen the good part, that should not be taken away from her.” For these earthly and temporal things fade away with the flesh: but those which are divine and intellectual, and that benefit the life of the soul, are firmly established, and their possession cannot be shaken. Let us look therefore into the meaning of the lessons set before us. “By day then the Saviour abode in Jerusalem,” instructing evidently the Israelites, and revealing to them the way of the kingdom of heaven; but when the evening came, He continued with the holy disciples on the Mount of Olives at a spot called Gethsemane: for so the wise Evangelist Matthew tells us. |684

When therefore Christ came thither, as the same Matthew again somewhere says, “He took Peter and James and John, and began to be grieved and sore distressed; and to say to them, My soul is sorrowful even to death. And again, having gone a little forward, He kneeled and prayed, saying, Father, if You will, put away from Me this cup; but not My will, but Yours be done.” Behold here, I pray, the profoundness of the dispensation in the flesh, and the height of that wisdom which no words can tell: fix upon it the penetrating eye of the mind: and if you can see the beautiful art of the mystery, you also will say, “O! the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out.” “He began, it says, to be grieved, and sore distressed.” For what reason, O Lord? Were You also terrified at death? Did You being seized with fear draw back from suffering? And yet did not You teach the holy apostles to make no account of the terrors of death, saying, “Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” And if too any one were to say that the grace of spiritual fortitude is Your gift to the elect, he would not err from the truth: for all strength is from You, and all confidence and heartiness of mind in every more excellent encounter. You are by nature Life, and the cause of life. You we look for as a Saviour and Deliverer, and the Destroyer of corruption. From You all receive their life and being. You have made every thing that breathes. The angels are for You, and from You, and by You, and so is the whole rational creation. Unto You the blessed David spoke concerning us, “You send Your Spirit, and they are created: and You renew the face of the ground.” How therefore are You grieved, and sore distressed, and sorrowful, even to death? For plainly You knew, in that You are God by nature, and know whatsoever is about to happen, that by enduring death in the flesh You would free from death the inhabitants of all the earth, and bring Satan to shame:—-that You would set up a trophy of victory over every evil and opposing power: that You would be known by every one, and worshipped as the God and Creator of all. You knew that You would plunder hell:—-that You would deliver those that are therein, from bonds that had endured for many ages: that You wouldst turn to You all that is under heaven. These things You did Yourself announce to us of old by the holy prophets. We have heard You clearly saying, when You were like to us, “Now is the judgment of this world: now will the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, shall draw all men to Me.” “Verily I say to you, that if a grain of wheat fall not into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit.” For what reason therefore are You grieved and sore distressed? Yes, He says, not unbefittingly am I found thus in anguish. For I know indeed that by consenting to suffer the passion upon the cross, I shall deliver all beneath the heaven from every evil, and be the cause of unending blessings to the inhabitants of the whole earth. I am not unaware of the unloosing of death, and the abolition of corporeal corruption, and the overthrow of the tyranny of the devil, and the remission of sin. But all the same it grieves Me for Israel the firstborn, that henceforth He is not even among the servants. The portion of the Lord, and the cord of My inheritance, will be “the portion of foxes,” as it is written. He Who was the beloved one is greatly hated: he who had the promises is utterly stripped of My gifts: the pleasant vineyard with its rich grapes henceforth will be a desert land, a place dried up, and without water. “For I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” “I will break through its hedge, and it shall be a spoil: and I will beat down its wall, and it shall be trampled under foot.” And tell me then, what husbandman, when his vineyard is desert and waste, will feel no anguish for it? What shepherd would be so harsh and stern as, when his flock was perishing, to suffer nothing on its account? These are the causes of My grief: for these things I am sorrowful. For I am God, gentle, and that loves to spare. “I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his evil way and live.” Right therefore is it, most right, that as being good and merciful, I should not only be glad at what is joyful, but also should feel sorrow at whatsoever is grievous.

But that He pitied Jerusalem, as being well aware of what was about to happen, and that it would have to endure all misery because of its crimes against Him, you may learn even from this. For He went up from Judaea to Jerusalem, and, as the Evangelist says, “When He beheld the city, He wept over it, and said, Would that you, even you, had known the things of your peace; but now they are hid from your eyes.” For as He wept over Lazarus, in pity for the whole race of mankind, which had become the prey of corruption and of death; so we say that He was grieved at seeing Jerusalem all but involved in extreme miseries, and in calamities for which there was no cure.

And that we might learn what was His wish concerning Israel, He told the disciples, that He is in grief and anguish. For it would have been impossible for them to have learnt what was hidden within Him, if He had not revealed by words what His feelings were.

And this too I think it necessary to add to what has been said: that the passion of grief, or malady, as we may call it, of sore distress, cannot have reference to the divine and impassive nature of the Word; for that is impossible, inasmuch as It transcends all passion: but we say that the Incarnate Word willed also to submit Himself to the measure of human nature, by being supposed to suffer what belongs to it. As therefore He is said to have hungered, although He is Life and the cause of life, and the living bread; and was weary also from a long journey, although He is the Lord of powers; so also it is said that He was grieved, and seemed to be capable of anguish. For it would not have been fitting for Him Who submitted Himself to emptiness, and stood in the measure of human nature, to have seemed unwilling to endure human things. The Word therefore of God the Father is altogether free from all passion: but wisely and for the dispensation’s sake He submitted Himself to the infirmities of mankind, in order that He might not seem to refuse that which the dispensation required: yes, He even yielded obedience to human customs and laws, only, as I said, He did not bear ought of this in His own nature.

There is however much, yes, very much, to be added to what has been said; but for the present we hold in our narration, and reserve what is wanting for another meeting, should Christ our common Saviour gather us here once again: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen. |688

SERMON CXLVII.

UPON THE SAME SUBJECT.

ONCE again I am come to pay you what I promised, and to add a fitting conclusion to my discourse concerning Christ. For on all occasions it is dangerous to be guilty of untruth; but when any thing of the kind is committed in those things which are important for our edification, well may we then fear lest we bring down upon us condemnation from on high, and also become an object of general ridicule.

We said therefore at our last meeting, that Christ the Saviour of all was with the holy disciples upon the mount of Olives, while that many-headed serpent, even Satan, was preparing for Him the snare of death; and the chiefs of the Jewish synagogue and the disciple that betrayed Him were, so to speak, leaving nothing undone to gain possession of His person, and had already gathered those who were to seize Him, and who consisted of a band of the soldiers of Pilate, and a multitude of wicked officers. Just therefore as the attempt was about to be made, He was sorrowful, and admonished the disciples to act in like manner suitably to the season, saying, “Watch and pray, that you fall not into temptation.” And that He might not benefit them by words only, but be Himself an example of what they should do, “having gone apart a little, about a stone’s throw, He knelt down, it says, and prayed, saying, Father, if You be willing, remove this cup from Me.” Now some one perhaps may ask, ‘Why did He not pray with the holy disciples, but having gone apart from the rest, prayed by Himself?’ It was that we might learn the pattern of that mode of prayer which is well pleasing to God. For it is not right when we pray that we should expose ourselves to the public gaze, nor seek to be beheld of many, lest perchance, sinking ourselves in the mire of endeavours after pleasing men, we make the labour of our prayers altogether unprofitable. Of this fault the scribes and Pharisees were guilty; for our Lord even once rebuked them for loving to pray in the corners of the streets, and for the long supplications which they offered in the synagogues, that they might be seen of men. But for those whose purpose it is to live uprightly, and who are anxious to hold fast by their love to Him, He lays down the law of prayers in these words: “But you, when you pray, enter your chamber, and close your door, and pray to your Father Who is in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret shall reward you.” Every where therefore we find Him praying alone, that you also may learn that we ought to hold converse with God over all with a quiet mind, and a heart calm and free from all disturbance. For the wise Paul writes, “I will therefore that men pray, lifting up pious hands, without wrath and doubtings.”

He was praying therefore, when already those who were to seize Him were at the door. And let no man of understanding say, that He offered these supplications as being in need of strength or help from another:—-for He is Himself the Father’s almighty strength and power:—-but it was that we might hereby learn, ever to put away from us carelessness when temptation harasses, and persecution presses upon us, and perfidy contrives for us its snare, and makes ready the net of death. For it is the very means of our salvation to watch and fall upon our knees, and make constant supplications, and ask for the aid that comes from above, lest perchance it be our lot to grow weak, and suffer a most terrible shipwreck.

For spiritual bravery is indeed a thing right worthy of the saints: but those who would resist the violence of temptations must, I tell you, have a determined and, so to speak, an unflinching mind: for it is the act of utter ignorance to be over confident in conflicts, nor is a man free from the charge of boastfulness, who is thus disposed: we must therefore, I repeat, unite courage and patience with humbleness of mind; and should any temptation then happen, our mind will be prepared bravely to resist it. Yet let us ask of God the ability to endure manfully: for we are commanded in our prayers to say, “Lead us not into temptation: but deliver us from evil.”

Behold then, yes, see, the pattern for your conduct depicted for thee in Christ the Saviour of us all: and let us also observe the manner of His prayer. “Father, He says, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me.” Do you see that Christ made His prayer against temptation with a reverence befitting man? “For if You be willing, He says, remove it.” And here too remember what the blessed Paul wrote concerning Him; “He Who in the days of His flesh offered up prayers and supplications to Him Who was able to save Him from death, with strong crying and tears, and was heard because of His reverence, even though He was a Son, yet learned obedience by what He suffered, and being made perfect became the cause of eternal life to all them that obey Him.” For as though one of us, He assigns to His Father’s will the carrying out of whatever was about to be done. And if therefore it happen that we also at any time fall into unexpected troubles, and have to endure any mental conflict, let us beseech God not so much that it may end according to our will, but rather let us ask that whatever He knows to be fit and expedient for the benefit of our souls may be brought to pass. “For we know not what to pray for as we ought:” but He is a treasure house of every thing, and to those who love Him He gives whatever is suitable for them.

Now what I have said is, I trust, useful for the benefit of you all; but if we must further contrive some other explanation for the prayer, we may also say, that it rebukes the wickedness of the Jews: and in what way let us now explain. You have heard Christ say, “Father, if You will, remove this cup from Me.” Was then His passion an involuntary act? and was the necessity for Him to suffer, or rather the violence of those who plotted against Him, stronger than His own will? Not so, we say. For His passion was not an involuntary act, though yet in another respect it was grievous, because it implied the rejection and destruction of the synagogue of the Jews. For it was not His will that Israel should be the murderer of its Lord, because by so doing it would be exposed to utter condemnation, and become reprobate, and rejected from having part in His gifts, and in the hope prepared for the saints, whereas once it had been His people, and His only one, and His elect, and adopted heir. For Moses said to them, “Behold, the heavens and the earth are the Lord’s your God: and you has the Lord chosen out of all nations to be His people.” It was right therefore that we should clearly know, that through pity for Israel He would have put from Him the necessity to suffer: but as it was not possible for Him not to endure the passion, He submitted to it also, because God the Father so willed it with Him.

But come and let us examine further this also. ‘Did the decree of God the Father, and the will of the Son Himself, call Him as of necessity to His passion? And if so, and what I have said be true, was it not a matter of necessity for some one to be the traitor, and for the Israelites to proceed to such a pitch of daring as to reject Christ, and put Him to shame in manifold ways, and contrive for Him also the death upon the cross?’ But if this were so, how would He be found saying, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed: good had it been for him if he had not been born?” And what just cause would there have been for Israel to perish, and be condemned to the miseries of war? For how could it oppose God’s decree, and His irresistible purposes? God is not unjust, but weighs what we do with holy judgment. How therefore can He treat as voluntary that which was involuntary? For God the Father had pity upon the dwellers upon earth, who were in misery, caught in the snares of sin, and liable to death and corruption; bowed also beneath a tyrant’s hand, and enslaved to herds of devils. He sent from heaven His Son to be a Saviour and Deliverer: Who also was made in form like to us. But even though He foreknew what He would suffer, and the shame of His passion was not the fruit of His own will, yet He consented to undergo it that He might save the earth, God the Father so willing it with Him, from His great kindness and love to mankind. “For He so loved the world, that He gave even His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” As regards therefore the ignominy of His passion, He willed not to suffer: but as it was not possible for Him not to suffer, because of the cruelty of the Jews, and their disobedience, and unbridled violence, “He endured the cross, despising the shame,” “and was obedient to the Father, even to death, and that the death of the cross. But God, it says, 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 that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Amen.

SERMON CXLVIII.

22:47-53. While He was speaking, behold a multitude; and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. For he had given them this sign, Whomsoever I kiss is He. But Jesus said to him, Judas, do you betray the Son of man with a kiss? But when they that were with Him saw what was about to be done, they said, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? And one of them struck the servant of the chief priest, and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered, and said, Let alone thus far. And He touched his ear and healed him. And Jesus said to those who had come out against Him, and who were the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and elders, Are you come out as against a thief with swords and staves to take Me? When I was daily with you in the temple, you stretched not out your hands against Me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.

MANY and bitter passions wage war with the soul of man, and, attacking it with unendurable violence, humble it to unseemly deeds: but worse than all the rest is that root of all evil, the love of money, into whose inextricable nets that traitorous disciple so fell, that he even consented to become the minister of the devil’s guile, and the instrument of the wicked chiefs of the synagogue of the Jews in their iniquity against Christ.

And this the purport of the evangelic lessons again plainly shows. For the Saviour had forewarned the holy apostles that He should be seized, and endure by the hand of sinners His passion upon the cross. And with this He also commanded, that when temptation pressed upon them they must not be weary, nor sleep at an unseasonable time, but rather must watch and be constant in prayers. When then He was still speaking of these things, “Behold, it says, a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them.” Do you see that the blessed Evangelist grieves, and, so to speak, even faints? For he does not permit himself even to retain in his remembrance the disciple who was so easily bought: he refuses even to name that wicked one: for he says, “he that was called Judas.” For what? did he not know that the man was numbered with the elect, and counted in the company of the holy apostles? But, as I have already said, he hated even his name, and therefore the expression, “he that was called Judas.”

To this, however, he adds, that he was one of the twelve: and this also is a matter of great importance to demonstrate more fully the guilt of the traitor’s crime. For he who had been equally honoured with the rest, and adorned with apostolic dignities; he, the elect and beloved, deigned admittance to the holy table, and the highest honours, became the pathway and the means for the murderers of Christ. What lamentation can suffice for him, or what floods of tears must not each shed from his eyes, when he considers from what happiness that wretched being fell into such utter misery! For the sake of worthless pence he ceased to be with Christ, and lost his hope toward God, and the honour, and crowns, and life, and glory prepared for Christ’s true followers, and the right of reigning with Him.

It will be worth while, however, to see what the nature was of his artifice. He had given then those murderers a sign, saying, “Whomsoever I kiss is He.” Completely had he forgotten the glory of Christ, and in his utter folly imagined perhaps that he could remain undetected when offering indeed a kiss, which is the type of love, but with his heart full of bitter and iniquitous deceit. And yet even when he was accompanying Christ our common Saviour in His journeys with the other apostles, he often had heard Him foretelling what was about to happen: for, as being God by nature, He knew all things, and expressly told him of his treachery; for He said to the holy apostles, “Verily I say to you, that one of you betrays Me.” How then could his purposes remain unknown? No: but there was the serpent within him struggling against God; he was the dwelling-place of the devil: for one of the holy evangelists has said, that as he was reclining at table with the rest of the disciples, the Saviour gave him a piece of bread, having dipped it in the dish: “and after the bread Satan entered into him.” He approaches Christ therefore as one beside himself with wine; and though the instrument of fraud and treachery, he makes a show of extraordinary affection: and therefore Christ very justly condemned him with the greater severity, saying, “Judas, do you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” And Matthew says, that when the traitor drew near to Christ, our common Saviour, he both kissed Him, and added thereto, “Hail, Master.” Do you say hail to Him Who by your instrumentality is made the prey of death? How could such a word possibly be true? So that we see, that inasmuch as that false one, Satan, was within Him, he used falsehood even in saying, Hail. Because of such deeds the prophet somewhere says, “Their tongue is a piercing spearhead: the words of their mouth are deceitful: to his neighbour he speaks things of peace, but in his soul there is enmity.”

But further, we must also call to mind what is written by the divine John respecting this event; for he has related, “that the officers of the Jews drew near to seize Jesus: and He advanced to meet them, saying, Whom seek you? When then the officers said, Jesus of Nazareth, He yielded Himself into the hands of those murderers, saying, I am He. But they, it says, went back; and this happened three times.” What therefore was the purpose of this? and for what reason did the Saviour offer Himself to them, but they fell down when they heard Him say, “I am He?” It was that they might learn that His passion did not happen to Him without His own will, nor could they have seized Him, had He not consented to be taken. For it was not the effect of their own strength that they took Christ, and brought Him to the wicked rulers, but He yielded Himself up to suffer, as well knowing that His passion upon the cross was for the salvation of the whole world.

And the blessed disciples, pricked with the goading of divine love, drew their swords to repel the attack. But Christ would not permit this to be done, but rebuked Peter, saying, “Put up your sword into its sheath: for all who have taken swords shall die by swords.” And herein He has given us also a pattern of the manner in which we must hold fast by our love to Him, and of the extent to which the burning zeal of our  piety may proceed. For He would not have us use swords wherewith to resist our enemies, but rather employing love and prudence, we so must mightily prevail over those who oppose us. And similarly Paul teaches us, saying, “Casting down reasonings and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing captive every thought to obedience to Him.” For the war for truth’s sake is spiritual, and the panoply that becomes saints is intellectual, and full of love to God. “For we must put on the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation; and take the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And so then the Saviour moderates the unmeasured heat of the holy apostles: and by preventing the example of such an act, declares that those who are the chief in His religion have no need in any way whatsoever of swords. And He healed with divine dignity him who had received the blow, so giving to those who came to seize Him this godlike sign also for their condemnation.

But that no one prevailed by force over His power and will, He shows by saying; “Are you come out as against a thief with swords and staves to take Me? When I was daily with you in the temple, you stretched not out your hands against Me.” Does Christ then blame the chiefs of the Jews for not having prematurely contrived for Him the deadly snare? Not such is His meaning, but this rather: when it was easy for you to take Me, as each day I taught in the temple, you seized Me not. And why? Because I did not will as yet to suffer, but rather was waiting for a fitting season for My passion. And this season has now arrived: for be not ignorant that “this is your hour and the power of darkness:” that is, that a short time is granted you during which you have power over Me. But how has it been given you, and in what manner? By the will of the Father consenting thereunto with My will. For I willed that for the salvation and life of the world I should submit Myself to My passion. You have therefore one hour against Me, that is a very short and limited time, being that between the precious cross and the resurrection from the dead. And this too is the power given to darkness: but darkness is the name of Satan, for he is utter night and darkness, and the blessed Paul also says of him. “that the God of this world  has blinded the minds of those that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ should shine to them.” Power therefore was granted to Satan and the Jews to rise up against Christ: but they dug for themselves the pitfall of destruction. For He indeed saved by means of His passion all under heaven, and rose the third day, having trampled under foot the empire of death: but they brought down upon their own heads inevitable condemnation in company with that traitorous disciple. Let them hear therefore the Holy Spirit, Who says by the voice of the Psalmist, “Why have the heathen raged, and the nations meditated vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.” But what follows this? “He that dwells in heaven, it says, shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them.” These wretched beings then involved themselves in the crime of murdering their Lord; but we praise as our Saviour and Deliverer our Lord Jesus Christ: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.

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One Response to Post #4 For Palm Sunday: St Cyril’s Exegetical Homilies On The Passion Of Luke (22:39-53)

  1. Pingback: Year C: Palm Sunday Commentaries on the Processional and Gospel Readings | stjoeofoblog

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