St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 17:5-10

St Cyril appears to have preached three sermons encompassing Luke 17:1-19, unfortunately, these sermons have survived only as fragments. The surviving excerpts below are on verses 5 and 7.

17:5. The Apostles said to the Lord, Increase our faith.

That which necessarily gives joy to the soul of the saints is not the possession of transitory and earthly goods; for they are corruptible, and easily lost; but of such rather as render those that receive them reverend and blessed, even the spiritual graces which are God’s gift. And of these one of special value is faith, by which I mean the having been brought unto a belief in Christ, the Saviour of us all: which also Paul recognised as being the chief of all our blessings; for he said, that “without faith it was impossible ever to have pleased (God): for by it the elders obtained their testimony.” Observe therefore the holy apostles emulating the conduct of the saints of old time. For what do they ask of Christ? “Increase our faith,” They do not ask faith simply, lest you should imagine them to be without faith; but they rather ask of Christ an addition to their faith, and to be strengthened therein. For faith partly depends upon ourselves, and partly is the gift of the divine grace: for the commencement of it depends upon ourselves, and to maintain confidence and faith in God with all our power; but the confirmation and strength necessary for this comes from the divine grace: for which reason, because all things are possible with God, the Lord says, that “all things are possible to him that believes.” For the power which comes unto us through faith is of God. And knowing this, the blessed Paul also says in the first Epistle to the Corinthians: “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom: and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit: and to another faith in the same Spirit.” You see that he has placed faith also in the catalogue of spiritual graces. And this the disciples requested they might receive of the Saviour, contributing also that which was of themselves: and He |536 granted it unto them after the fulfilment of the dispensation, by the descent upon them of the Holy Spirit: for before the resurrection their faith was so feeble, that they were liable even to the charge of littleness of faith.

For the Saviour of all was sailing once, for instance, with the holy apostles upon the lake or sea of Tiberias, and purposely permitted Himself to fall asleep: and when a violent storm agitated the surge, and raised a mighty wave against the vessel, they were greatly troubled, so that they even roused the Lord from sleep, saying, “Master, save us, we perish.” And He, it says, arose, and rebuked the waves, and changed the savageness of the tempest into a calm. But He greatly blamed the holy apostles, saying, “Where is your faith?” For they ought not to have been troubled in any respect whatsoever, when the Sovereign of the universe was present with them, at Whom all His works tremble and shake. And if we must add a further and similar example, I will mention one. He commanded the holy apostles to go on board the vessel, and precede Him unto the opposite side of the lake: and they of course did so. And when they had rowed, it says, about thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and were greatly terrified, imagining that they saw a spectre. But when He called out unto them, saying, “It is I: be not afraid;” Peter said, “If it is You, bid me come unto You on the water: and He said, Come,” And having leaped down from the ship, he began to walk unto Him. But when, it says, he saw the wind and the wave, he was terrified: and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, help me:” and He saved him in his danger, but again rebuked him, saying, “O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?” And that at the season of the passion, when the band of soldiers, and wicked officers, came to seize Jesus, they all forsook Him and fled, and Peter also denied Him, being terrified at a maidservant, is well known.

You have seen the disciples while still possessed of but little faith: now wonder at them when they had obtained an increase |537 of their faith from Christ, the Saviour of us all. He commanded them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise,” until they should be clothed with power from on high. But when the power from on high had descended upon them in the shape of fiery tongues, even the grace which is through the Holy Spirit, then indeed they became bold and manly and fervent in the Spirit, so as even to despise death, and to count as nothing the dangers with which they were threatened from unbelievers; yes, and then too they became able to work miracles.

But that to be confirmed in the faith is a great and special grace, the Lord shows by saying, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, hot, that is, and fervent, you might have said to the sycamine tree, Be you uprooted in the sea, and it would have obeyed you.” For he who confides in Christ trusts not to his own strength, but rather assigns to Him the power of performing all things. From Him then confessedly comes the accomplishment of all good things in men’s souls: but they nevertheless must prepare themselves to receive this great grace. For if the power of faith remove that which is fixed and rooted in the ground, one may say absolutely that there is nothing so immovable as that faith cannot shake it, if its removal be required. The earth accordingly was shaken when the apostles were praying, as the Acts of the Apostles record: and so, on the other hand, faith stays those things which are in motion, as the rapid course of a running river, and the ceaseless way of the lights which move in heaven. This, however, we must carefully notice, that God does not excite an empty astonishment or vain wondering, but that such things are far from the divine Substance, Which is free from pride and boasting, and altogether true, for the solo good and safety of mankind. And this I say, that no one may expect from sacred faith and the divine power useless changes, for instance, of the elements, or the removal of mountains and plants; nor give way to impiety, as though the word were not true, if these things come not so to pass: nor again count faith weak, if it cannot accomplish such things. Let the thing be but useful for some real benefit, and the power will not be wanting. |538

17:7. But which of you having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle.

In the verses which precede a long and important discourse has been addressed to us by the Lord, to show unto us the paths which lead unto honour, and to manifest the glories of the blameless life, that making progress therein, and advancing zealously unto whatsoever is admirable we may attain unto “the prize of our high calling.” But since it is the nature of the mind of man ever to be carried away unto vaingloriousness, and to be afflicted most readily with a tendency thereto; and since a pretext for this fault is often given by the being distinguished before God for some of the noblest virtues; and since it is a sin grievous and hateful unto God:—-for the serpent, the author of evil, leads men sometimes into such a state of mind, as for them to imagine perhaps that God even owes them the highest honours, when their life is glorious and distinguished: —-to draw us away from such passions, He sets before us the purport of the lessons which have just been read, teaching us thereby, under the form of an example, that the might of sovereign authority demands everywhere of its slaves subjection as a debt. For the lord, He says, will not acknowledge any gratitude to the slave, even if all that is due be done by him, according to what becomes the condition of a slave.

Here observe, I pray, that the disciples, yes, all who are subject to the sceptre of Christ the Saviour of us all, are encouraged unto industry, but that, not as though they rendered unto Him their service as a favour, but as discharging the debt of obedience incumbent upon slaves. And hereby the accursed malady of vainglory is done away. For if you do that which is your due, why do you pride yourself? Do you not see that if you don’t discharge your debt, there is danger: and that if you do discharge it, no gratitude is owed you? Which truth that admirable servant Paul having well learnt and understood, says, “If I preach the gospel, I have no cause of boasting; for a necessity is laid upon me: but woe unto me if I preach not the gospel.” And again, “I am a debtor, he says, of the preaching of the doctrine, both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and foolish.” If therefore you have done well, and have kept the divine commands, and have obeyed |539 your Lord, ask not honour of God as your due, but rather draw near, supplicating for the gifts of His bounty. Bear in mind that also among us, masters acknowledge no gratitude when any of their slaves perform their appointed service, though often by their bounty they gain the goodwill of their faithful servants, and so beget in them a more ready alacrity. Similarly God demands of us the service of slaves, using the right of His sovereign authority: but as being good and bountiful. He promises also rewards to those who labour. And the greatness of His bounty far surpasses the labours of His subjects, as Paul shall prove unto you, writing, “The sufferings of the present season are not worthy to the glory about to be revealed upon us.” Yes! though we are slaves, He calls us sons, and crowns us with the honour which becomes children. And observe that each one, having first attended to his own flesh, so must take charge of the good of others: for he “who cannot govern his own house well, how shall he take care of the church?”

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One Response to St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 17:5-10

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

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