St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Sower of Seeds

In Luke 8:5-15, the Lord Jesus tells the following parable:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.


St. Cyril of Alexandria writes about the types of persons represented by the three types of ground upon which the seed of the word fell. Concerning those of the first kind he says:

No sacred or divine word will be able to enter those who have minds that are hard and unyielding, for it is by the aid of such words that the joyful fruit of virtue can grow. Men of this kind are highways that are trodden by unclean spirits, and by Satan himself, and they shall never be producers of holy fruit, because their hearts are sterile and unfaithful. (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 41)

The second kind have

a religion without roots…when this kind of person goes out of the church, he immediately forgets the holy teachings he has heard there. And as long as Christians are left in peace, he keeps the faith, but as soon as persecution arises, he will be ready to take to flight in search of safety.

This holy Father finally exhorts us not to allow the cares of this world to choke the tender shoots of faith and commitment as soon as they sprout from the soil of our hearts and minds. We must not be deceived, thinking that thorns and new shoots can exist side by side.” (Archbishop Dmitri, The Parables, p. 14)

Charity: The Lenten Discipline

Three great Orthodox saints and teachers offer thoughts that can help us keep Great Lent.    

“Do not consider your riches as belonging to yourselves alone; open wide your hand to those who are in need; assist those in poverty and pain, comfort those who have fallen into extreme distress, console those who are in sorrow or oppressed with bodily maladies and the want of necessities.”  (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

The worst kind of selfishness is not to give transitory things to those who live in poverty.  .  .  .   If you help a poor person in the name of the Lord, you are making a gift at the same time granting a loan. You are making a gift because you have no expectation of being reimbursed by that poor person. You are granting a loan because the Lord will settle the account. It is not much that the Lord receives by means of the poor, but He will pay a great deal on their behalf. They who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord’ (Prov. 19:17).”  (St. Basil the Great)

“Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing…Every family should have a room where Christ is welcomed in the person of the hungry and thirsty stranger. The poor are a greater temple than the sanctuary; this altar the poor, you can raise up anywhere, on any street, and offer liturgy at any hour.” (St. John Chrysostom)

(The Pearl of Great Price: The Wisdom of the Fathers of the Holy Orthodox Church, pp. 58-59)




Becoming Zacchaeus

Great LentThe Gospel lesson of Luke 19:1-10 is about a very short man, Zacchaeus, who wanted to see Jesus.  In the current lectionary of the Russian Orthodox tradition, this is the last Sunday Gospel lesson before the pre-Lenten Sundays (and the Lenten triodion) begin their cycle of scripture pericopes.  (This is one point at which the Russian and Greek Orthodox lectionaries differ resulting in the fact that during the course of the year not all Orthodox read liturgically the same Scriptures every Sunday).  In current practice for those who read the Zacchaeus pericope it has become already associated with the beginning of Great Lent.  This was made certain due to the popular writings of the liturgical theologian, Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 

But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”  Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;  for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Archimandrite Zacharias in one of his books offers these thoughts on the Gospel lesson of Zacchaeus:

“According to Cyril of Alexandria, Zacchaeus was consumed with the desire to know God the Saviour in person and to see His kind. This is the seed of salvation and when this seed falls into the heart of man, he has a great longing to see Who the Lord is. Once he is possessed by this longing he will do certain things which will seem mad in the eyes of the world, but which will in fact prepare the way for his first meeting with the Saviour. Such was the case of Zacchaeus when he began to seek the Lord.

And this was the Lord’s desire, for the Son of God came to save sinners. It is hardly astonishing that He should want to save a chief publican: in every time and place, the Lord seeks out His own. Zacchaeus’ desire made him run ahead and climb a sycamore tree so that he could see the Lord, But what was happening in his heart was visible only to Him Who is both God and Man. The crowd could not see the transformation of his heart, nor could they understand the nature of his desire. But even before Zacchaeus had seen Him, the Lord had perceived the movement of Zacchaeus’ heart in a supernatural way, with the eyes of His divinity. He saw that the wild and greedy heart of the chief publican had now begun to soften and, melting with desire, had become transfigured so that he was ready to bear within himself the image of Christ.

Zacchaeus has ignored his reputation and esteem, which hinder man’s approach to God, and he now attracts public scorn. In his shame he becomes kin to the Lord Jesus Who, at this point in the Gospel, is on His way to be crucified on the Cross of shame in order to deliver the world from the shame of sin. In our desire to see the Lord we too will make fools of ourselves, bearing as much shame as possible in order to achieve our goal: to find our Lord and Saviour. We are indifferent to the opinion of men and any fear of becoming a laughing-stock fades away.

For we know that the Lord will grant us the honor of seeing His Face – which is far more beautiful that we can ever imagine – and our souls will be truly satisfied with His glory. On account on his burning desire, then, Zacchaeus despised all his worldly honors and was pleased to look ridiculous in the eyes of the people, if he could only gain a different kind of honor: that of finding favor with the Lord and being visited by Him.” (Remember Thy First Love, pp 70-72)

Let Us Praise the Virgin Mary

“I salute you, O Mary, Theotokos: through you the prophets speak out and the shepherds sing God’s praises…., the angels dance and the archangels sing tremendous hymns…, the Magi prostrate themselves in adoration…,the dignity of the twelve apostles has been exalted….,John exulted while still in his mother’s womb, and the lamp adored the everlasting light…,grace ineffable came forth…,the true light came into our world, our Lord Jesus Christ…,light shone on those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death….Because of you the Gospels proclaim, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Lk 19:38); through you, the churches of those who possess the orthodox faith have been founded in the cities, in the villages, in the isles….

the Conqueror of death and Destroyer of hell has come forth…He has come, the Maker of the first creation, and he had repaired the first man’s falsehood, he, who governs the heavenly kingdom…Through you, the beauty of the Resurrection flowered, and its brilliance shone out…,the tremendous baptism of holiness in the Jordan has shone out…John and the river Jordan are made holy, and the devil is cast out….Through you, every faithful soul achieves salvation.”

(St Cyril in Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero, pp 244-245)

Why Did God Become Human?

“Why, the author asked the patriarch, did God become a human being? Cyril’s answer was unambiguous. The Incarnation was necessary for the fair conduct of the Last Judgment. For if God had not identified himself with human flesh, the Devil would be able, at the Last Judgment, to challenge God’s right to condemn the heartless who had failed to show pity on the poor. For as God had never been incarnated, so the Devil would claim, he had never himself felt the hunger and thirst of human beings. Why should human beings be condemned by him for having failed to understand the misery of their fellows, if he had not done so? The rich and powerful were entitled to have lived the way they did, as serenely unruffled by human misery as was God himself. Only a God who, in becoming Christ, had taken into his very being the thirst and hunger of humankind, could with perfect sincerity condemn the rich for lack of fellow feeling for the poor.” (Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, pg. 111)