St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 9:18-26

The following post contains two sermons by St Cyril covering Luke 9:18-22 and Luke 9:23-26.

SERMON 49 ON LUKE 9:18-22

9:18-22. And it came to pass that as He was alone, praying, His disciples were with Him: and He asked them, saying, Whom do the multitudes say of Me that I am? And they answered and said, Some, indeed, John the Baptist: and others, Elijah: and others, that some prophet of those in old time has risen again. And He said unto them; But whom do ye say that I am? And Peter answered and said, The Christ of God. And He charged and commanded them to tell this to no man, saying, The Son of man is about to suffer many things, and to be rejected of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes: and be slain, and rise again the third day.

WELL may we call out to those who would search the sacred Scriptures, “Arouse ye, and awake.” For it is a thing impossible to perceive the exact meaning of the mystery of Christ, if we use for this end a debauched mind, and an understanding drowned, so to speak, in sleep. Need rather is there of a wakeful mind, and a penetrating eye; for the subject is one difficult to comprehend in the highest degree. And this is apparent now that our discourse has come to the explanation of the passage before us. For what says the Evangelist? “And it came to pass that as He was alone, praying, His disciples were with Him; and He asked them, saying; Whom do the multitudes say of Me that I am? Now the first thing we have to examine is, what it was which led our Lord Jesus Christ to propose to the holy apostles this question, or inquiry, For no word or deed of His is either at an unseasonable time or without a fitting reason; but rather, He does all things wisely and in their season. What therefore do we say, or what suitable explanation do we find for His present acts? He had fed in the desert a vast multitude of five thousand men: and how had He fed them? With five loaves! breaking with them into morsels two small fish! And these so multiplied out of nothing, that twelve baskets of fragments even were taken up. The blessed disciples therefore were astonished as well as the multitudes, and saw by what had been wrought, that He is |214 in truth God and the Son of God. And afterwards, when they had withdrawn from the multitude and He was alone, He occupied Himself in prayer, in this too making Himself our example, or rather instructing the disciples how to discharge efficiently their office as teachers. For it is, I think, the duty of those who are set over the people, and whose lot it is to guide Christ’s flocks, constantly to occupy themselves with their necessary business, and openly practise those things with which God is well pleased: even that saintlike and virtuous conduct which gains great admiration, and is certain to profit the people under their charge. For they ought either to be actively engaged in those duties which are to the glory of God: or such as in their retirement bring upon them a blessing, and call down upon them power from on high: of which latter, one and the most excellent is prayer. Knowing which the divine Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.”

As I said, then, the Lord and Saviour of all made Himself an example to the disciples of saintlike conversation, by praying alone, with them only in His company. But His doing so might perchance trouble the disciples, and beget in them dangerous thoughts. For they saw Him praying in human fashion, Whom yesterday they beheld working miracles with godlike dignity. It would not therefore have been entirely without reason, had they said among themselves; Oh, strange conduct! Whom must we consider Him to be? God, or man? If we say man, and like one of us; like one, that is, of the holy prophets; we see from the ineffable miracles which He works, that He far transcends the limits of human nature: for in manifold ways He doeth wonders as God. If we say He is God, surely to pray is unbefitting One Who is God by nature. For of whom can God ask what He wishes to receive? And of what can God at all be in want? To chase away therefore such confusing thoughts, and to calm their faith, which, so to speak, was tempest-tossed, He makes this inquiry; not as though He were at all ignorant of what was commonly said of Him, either by those who did not belong to the synagogue of the Jews, or by the Israelites themselves: His object rather was to rescue them from the general mode of thinking, and implant in them a correct faith, “Whom, therefore, He asks, do the multitudes say that I am? |215

Thou seest the skilfulness of the question. He did not at once say, “Whom do ye say that I am? but refers to the rumour of those that were without, that having rejected it, and shewn it to be unsound, He may then bring them back to the true opinion. Which also happened: for when the disciples had said, “Some John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others, that some prophet of those in old time has risen up;” He said to them, “But ye, whom do ye say that I am?” Oh! how full of meaning is that “ye!” He separates them from all others, that they may also avoid their opinions, and not conceive an unworthy idea of Him, nor entertain confused and wavering thoughts, themselves too imagining that John had risen again, or one of the prophets. Ye therefore, He says, who have been chosen; who by My decree have been called to the apostleship; who are the witnesses of My miracles; whom do ye say that I am?

First before the rest Peter again springs forth, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the whole company, pouring forth the expression of love to God, and giving utterance to a correct and faultless confession of faith in Him, saying, “The Christ of God.” The disciple is unerring: a thoroughly intelligent explainer of the mystery. For he does not simply say, that He is a Christ of God; but “the Christ” rather: for there are many who have been called “Christ,” from having in various ways been anointed of God. For some have been anointed as kings; and some as prophets; while others, having received salvation by That Christ Who is the Saviour of all, even we ourselves, obtain the appellation of christ, as having been anointed by the Holy Ghost. For it is said in the words of the Psalmist, of those in old time, that is, before the coming of our Saviour: “Touch not My christs, and do My prophets no harm.” But the words of Habakkuk refer to us; “Thou hast gone forth to the salvation of Thy people: to save Thy christs.” Christs therefore there are many, and they have so been called from the fact [of having been anointed ]: but He Who is God the Father’s Christ is One, and One only: not as though we indeed are christs, and not God’s christs, but belonging to some other person: but because He and He alone has as His Father Him that is in heaven. Since therefore most wise Peter, confessing the faith correctly and without |216 error, said, “The Christ of God,” it is plain, that distinguishing Him from those to whom the appellation generally belongs, he referred Him to God, as being His sole (Christ). For though He be by nature God, and shone forth ineffably from God the Father as His only begotten Word, yet He became flesh according to the Scripture. The blessed Peter therefore professed faith in Him, lending, as I before said, his words to the whole company of the holy apostles, and acting as spokesman for them all, as being more accurate than the rest.

And this too we ought to observe: that in Matthew’s account we find that the blessed disciple said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God:” but the wise Luke, summing up so to speak the purport, agrees with him in the thoughts, but using fewer words, tells us that he said, “The Christ of God.” Moreover no mention is here made of that which the Saviour spake to him: but in Matthew again we find that He said to Him plainly: “Blessed art thou, Simeon, son of Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father in heaven.” The disciple therefore was verily taught of God; nor did he make this profession of faith for us of his own thoughts merely, but because the divine light shone upon his understanding, and the Father led him to a correct knowledge of the mystery of Christ. What therefore do those mistaken innovators 2 say to this, who unwarrantably pervert the great and adorable mystery of the incarnation of the Only Begotten, and fall from the right way, walking in the path of crookedness? For the wise Peter acknowledged one Christ: while they sever that One into two, in opposition to the doctrines of truth. ‘But yes, he replies, the disciple acknowledged one Christ; and so do we also affirm that there is one Christ, by Whom we mean the Son, even the Word that, is from God the Father 3.’ To this then |217 what do we reply? Is it not plain then, we say, to every one, that Christ asks the holy apostles, not, Whom do men say that the Word of God is? but, who “the Son of man is?” and that |218 it was of Him that Peter confessed, that He is “the Christ of God?” Let them also explain this to us: How is Peter’s confession worthy of admiration, if it contain nothing profound and hidden, and, so to speak, not apparent to the generality? For what verily did God the Father reveal to him? That the Son of man is a man? Is this the God-taught mystery? Is it for this that he is admired, and deemed worthy of such surpassing honours? For thus he was addressed, “Blessed art thou, Simeon, son of Jonah.”

The reason, however, for which he was thus admired is a very just one; for it was because he believed that He Whom he saw as one of us, that is, in our likeness, was the Son of God the Father, the Word, namely, That sprang forth from His substance, and became flesh, and was made man. See here, I pray, the profundity of the thoughts, the importance of the confession, the high and weighty mystery. For He Who was there in the likeness of mankind, and as a portion of creation, was God, Who transcends all created things! He Who dwells in the high and lofty place was abased from His glory to be in poverty like unto us! And He Who, as God, is Lord of all, and King of all, was in the likeness of a slave, and in the measure of a slave! This is the faith the Saviour crowns; to those thus minded He extends His bountiful right hand. For when He had praised Peter, and said that he was taught of God, as one who had obtained the revelation from above, from God the Father, He makes him more assured and more abundantly confirmed in the faith he had professed concerning Him, by saying: “And I say unto thee, that thou art a stone; and upon this stone I will build My church: and I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

For observe how He makes Himself at once the Lord of heaven and of earth. For He promises things that exceed our nature, and surpass the measure of humanity; yea, rather, even that of the angelic rank: and are suitable for that nature only to bestow, Whose glory and sovereignty transcend all. For, first He says that the church belongs to Him; the sacred Scriptures nevertheless distinctly ascribe it rather to God, |219 and to Him only, saying that it is “the church of God.” 4 For they say that “Christ presented it to Himself, having neither spot nor stain, but holy rather, and blameless.” As being God therefore He says that it is His, and promises moreover to found it, granting it to be unshaken, as being Himself the Lord of powers.

And next He says that He gives him the keys of heaven. Who is it then that thus pours forth language appropriate to God? Is it an angel? or some other intelligent power, whether principality, or throne, or dominion? or those holy seraphs? Not at all: but, as I said before, such language belongs to Almighty God alone, Whose is the sovereignty of earth and heaven. Let not, then, these innovators divide the one Christ, so as to say that one Son is the Word of God the Father, and that He Who is of the seed of David is another Son. For Peter made mention of one Christ; even the Only-begotten Who became man and was made flesh: and for this confession was counted worthy of these extraordinary honours.

When, however, the disciple had professed his faith, He charged them, it says, and commanded them to tell it to no man: “for the Son of man,” He said, “is about to suffer many things, and be rejected, and killed, and the third day “He shall rise again.” And yet how was it not rather the duty of disciples to proclaim Him everywhere? For this was the very business of those appointed by Him to the apostle-ship. But as the sacred Scripture saith, “There is a time for everything.” There were things yet unfulfilled which must also be included in their preaching of Him: such as were the cross; the passion; the death in the flesh; the resurrection from the dead; that great and truly glorious sign by which testimony is borne Him that the Emanuel is truly God, and by nature the Son of God the Father. For that He utterly abolished death, and effaced destruction, and spoiled hell, and overthrew the tyranny of the enemy, and took away the sin of the world, and opened the gates above to the dwellers upon earth, and united earth to heaven: these things proved Him to be, as I said, in truth God. He commanded |220 them, therefore, to guard the mystery by a seasonable silence until the whole plan of the dispensation should arrive at a suitable conclusion. For then, when He arose from the dead, He gave commandment that the mystery should be revealed to all the inhabitants of the earth, setting before every man justification by faith, and the cleansing efficacy of holy baptism. For He said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth: Go ye, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in 5 the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and teaching them to observe all those things which I have commanded you. And lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” For Christ is with us and in us by the Holy Ghost, and dwells in the souls of us all: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion and honour with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.

SERMON 50 ON LUKE 9:23-26

9:23-26. And He said to them all, Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross every day, and come after Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall save it. For what is a man profited, who hath gained the whole world, but hath lost himself, or fallen short? For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in His glory, and in His Father’s, and of His holy angels.

MIGHTY generals encourage their trained warriors to deeds of courage, not only by promising them the honours of victory, but even by telling them that the very fact of suffering brings them glory, and gains for them all praise. For it is impossible for those who would win fame in battle not sometimes to have to endure wounds also from their opponents. But their suffering is not without its reward, for they are praised as those who bravely assaulted the enemy; and the very wound bears witness to the courage and valour of their mind. And much the same arguments we see our Lord Jesus Christ also using in a discourse, the occasion of which was as follows; He had just shewn the disciples that it was altogether necessary for Him to endure the wicked enterprizes of the Jews, and be mocked by them, and spit upon in the face, and put to death, and the third day rise again. To prevent them, therefore, from imagining that He indeed for the life of the world would suffer the scorn of those murderers, and the other cruelties which they inflicted upon Him; but that they would be permitted to live quietly, and might without blame avoid the suffering readily for their piety’s sake, and the endurance even of death |222 itself in the flesh, should it so befal, and by so doing would incur no disgrace, He of necessity, so to speak, testifies that those who would be thought worthy of the glory He bestows, must attain to it by proportionate acts of bravery, saying, “He that will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross every day, and come after Me.”

Here, too, we must wonder at the love of Christ the Saviour of us all towards the world; for He not only consented Himself to suffer and bear so great ignominy, humbling Himself even to the cross and death for our sakes, but also rouses His chosen followers to the same excellent desire: even those who were to be the instructors of men every where, and hold the post of commanders-in-chief over the people committed to their care. For those who were appointed to so great a ministry must in very deed be thoroughly brave and valiant, armed with an unshaken mind and invincible courage, so as to dread no difficulties, and even if death befal, to deride its terrors, and set at nought every fear. He who thus acts denies himself, since, so to speak, he resigns this temporal life, and deems its concerns worthy of no regard, inasmuch as his choice is to suffer for the blessedness and love that is in Christ. So does a man follow Christ. For the company of the holy Apostles is, as it were, set before us by the Psalmist’s harp, as crying out unto Christ the Saviour of all: “For Thy sake we are killed every day; we have been counted as sheep for the slaughter.” For in this also they are like unto the Emmanuel, “Who for the joy that He had, endured the cross, having despised the shame.”

He would have those, therefore, who were to be the teachers of all beneath the sun superior to timidity and the base love of the world, laying it down as their duty to suffer for love of Him. And He has Himself taught us what is the character of those of His apostles who love Him, where he said to the blessed Peter, “Simeon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me? Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.” “He was the good Shepherd; He laid down His life for the sheep.” For He was not a hireling; rather, those that were saved were His own: He saw the wolf coming; He made no attempt to flee; He despised not the flock; but, on the contrary, yielded Himself to be torn by it, that He might deliver and save us: “For by His bruises we have been healed,” “and He was |223 afflicted for our sins.” Those, therefore, who would follow Him, and earnestly desire to be like Him, and are set over His intelligent flocks, must undergo similar labours. For numerous savage beasts encircle them, violent, and implacable, and that slay cruelly, and hurry souls to the pit of destruction. For the more learned and skilful of the heathen possess great eloquence, and adorn their false doctrine with beautiful language: and thus they pervert some simple-minded men, making them often wish to share their malady, and depart from the God Who is over all, to worship others in His stead which are no gods. These heaped upon the holy Apostles unendurable persecutions, and exposed them again and again to dangers. For the blessed Paul commemorates the things he had been seen to suffer at Iconium and Lystra, and at Ephesus and Damascus, For at one time he says, “In Damascus the chief captain of Aretas the king watched the city of the Damascenes wishing to seize me, and from a window they let me down from the wall in a basket, and I was delivered from his hands.” And again at another time, “Alexander the smith caused me much evil.” What then is the testimony of this mighty Evangelist, this courageous and valiant champion, who everywhere despised the utmost dangers? “For to me,” he says, “that I live is Christ; and that I die is gain.” And again, “I am crucified with Christ; but henceforth I no more live, but Christ liveth in me: and that which I live here in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me, and yielded up Himself for my sake.”

But the violence of the Jews broke forth frequently against the other apostles also: they persecuted them; they summoned them before their synagogues; they scourged them wickedly, commanding them to keep silence, and desist from their sacred preachings: for they said, “Did we not strictly command you not to speak to any man in this Name?—-even the Name of Christ, the Saviour of us all;—-and behold! ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” But after the disciples had borne their violent accusation for the firm love they had to Christ, they went out “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name.” But had they been timid, and abject, and frightened at words, and overpowered by the terrors of death, how would they have been proved? or how have offered as fruits to God those who were called by their |224 means? For, also, the wise Paul whom no difficulty whatsoever could overpower, when on his way to Jerusalem the prophet Agabus loosed his girdle, and bound his own feet, and said, “So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind that man to whom this girdle belongs,” answered and said, ”What do ye, that ye weep and break my heart? for I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Excellently, therefore, did He command them manfully to prevail over every persecution, and boldly to undergo trials, as being well assured that if thus they will be zealous in His cause, they will become His friends, and share His glory. If, therefore, a man be ready to endure and despise the terrors of death, has he lost himself and departed, and is there nothing more in store for him? By no means: for in that he loses his life, he especially finds it; while to find it is to bring upon himself destruction. What fear, therefore, can the saints now feel, if that which seemed to be hard proves rather joyous to them that bear it; while that which is dear to men, as being exempt from pain, leads them especially downwards to destruction and the snare of hell, according to the Scripture.

But 7 that it is incomparably better, far above the splendour and pleasure of the world, to excel in the love of Christ, He shows us by saying, “For what is a man profited who hath gained the whole world, but hath lost himself, or fallen short?” For when a man looks chiefly to that which is pleasant and profitable for the moment, and therefore avoids suffering, and desires to live joyously, even though he have wealth and abundance of possessions, yet what profit hath he therefrom when he has lost himself? “Treasures profit not the wicked,” but “the fashion of this world passeth away:” and “like clouds those pleasures recede,” and riches flies away from those that possess it: “but righteousness delivereth from death.”

And further, to set plainly before us the reward of our |225 being willing to labour, He says: “For whosoever shall be ashamed at Me and at My words, at Him shall the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in His glory, and of His Father, and of His holy angels.” Much that is both useful and necessary does He effect by these words. For in the first place He shews that entirely and altogether it follows that those who are ashamed 8 at Him and at His words will meet with the reward they merit. And what could so give us joy as this? For if there are some in whose presence the Judge feels shame, as owing them the reward of obedience, and the dignities and crown due to their love and affection for Him, and the honours won by their bravery, how may we not without fear of contradiction say that they most certainly will henceforth live in never-ending honours and praises who have attained to such splendid blessings?

But, next, He also begets in them fear as well, in that he says that He shall descend from heaven, not in His former lowliness and humiliation, like unto us, but in the glory of His Father; even in godlike and transcendent glory, with the holy angels keeping guard around Him. Most miserable, therefore, and ruinous would it be to be condemned of cowardice and indolence when the Judge has descended from above, and the angelic ranks stand at His side. But great and most blessed, and a foretaste of final blessedness is it to be able to rejoice in labours already accomplished, and await the recompense of past toils. For such as these shall be praised, Christ Himself saying unto them: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” May we also be deemed worthy of these rewards by the grace and lovingkindness of Christ the Saviour of us all: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen. (source)

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One Response to St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 9:18-26

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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