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Cyril of Jerusalem: exiled again

Cyril of Jerusalem: exiled again

Readings for the feast day of Cyril of Jerusalem, March 18

Psalm 122

Sirach 47:8-10

Hebrews 13:14-21

Luke 24:44-48

Although “Holy Women, Holy Men” makes special mention of Cyril’s skill in preaching, teaching, and the development of catechetical instruction, particularly with regard to creating participatory liturgies for Holy Week, I was more intrigued about another aspect of Cyril’s life–he got exiled a lot.

Mostly, it seems, his exiles were related to the fact that, although he, by all accounts, was essentially adherent to the Nicene orthodoxy, he had a little trouble with totally being on board with God the Father and Jesus being totally consubstantial–he had a hard time coming around to the concept of homoousia. This often put him at odds with people who were coming down hard on bishops who exhibited even a faint whiff of Arianism. Out of his multiple exiles, though, the most interesting one was when he was exiled in 358 for selling some of the church furniture to feed people during a famine.

Cyril’s life and exiles are a reminder of something that still dogs any of us who recite the Nicene Creed each week and on occasion, feel a little itchy about certain parts of its phraseology. Cyril’s own itchiness didn’t stop him from doing what he felt God called him to do–care for the poor in his jurisdiction, and create liturgies for Holy Week that were accessible to people of his day through movement, color, expressive poetry, and beautiful hymnody. Despite his own edginess about a piece of the Nicene Creed, he kept coming back. He kept celebrating the Eucharist. He kept trying to think of new ways to invite people to embrace the Christian experience. He didn’t let the constant charges of heresy stop him from preaching and living the Gospel. He’s a lesson to us to hang in there, and no matter what, keep coming back to the Eucharistic table, and let the Sacraments change our hearts and actions, rather than wrangle with the inconsistencies in our minds to the point we would die in the ditch rather than worship together.

I think about Cyril sometimes in light of what seems to happen every time we get a pile of Anglican bishops together worldwide and it seems some of them want to exclude others of them from the table, or when they start having notions that two X chromosomes make someone incapable of balancing a mitre on one’s noggin. Pretty soon, people start throwing the H word around–heresy. Cyril’s life and ministry reminds us that some of us are called at times, to rub the status quo the wrong way, and to truly follow Christ and obey his teachings, we may well suffer exile for our faithfulness. Time might even show us we were wrong–eventually Cyril capitulated about that whole homoousia business–but even when we are on the wrong side of an issue, it doesn’t have to be a deterrent to our going about our business as a person who builds up the Body of Christ.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid


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Maria L. Evans

Thanks for the comment. It’s interesting to think about how folks in that time argued about this like we might argue politics or the news, and the weight they put on it. I sort of imagine Cyril as the sort of guy, who, after another exile, went, “Fine! I’ve been kicked out of better places than this before!” and then he just went off and kept working on what he felt called to do in his new locale.

Robert Morris

Nice twist on Cyril! Odd that so many of the Bishops from the homeland of Christianity were nervous about the “homoousia” clause. Or perhaps not so odd. Eusebius of Caesarea was too, but he “conformed” to Nicea, with his fingers crossed a bit. The Arians believed Christ was divine and human, just that the Word was actually Wisdom,’created first of all,’ yet possessing divine immortality, etc. For them it was not a novel doctrine, but the faith they believed came from the Apostles. Would that their spirit of accommodating the Athanasians without whipping up a battle would prevail in our sadly partisan days.

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