Bright Friday (2019)

Bright Friday

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:3-11)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem comments on being baptized into Christ:

O strange and incredible thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised; our imitation was in an image, but our salvation was real. Christ was truly crucified, and buried and raised up, and all these things he graciously gave to us, so that by imitation of his passion we might gain participation in salvation in reality. O surpassing love of humanity! Christ received the nails in his pure hands and suffered, and to me grants salvation without my suffering and pain, through sharing [his suffering]. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 101)

Baptisms in the early church were done on Lazarus Saturday or Holy Saturday, having used Lent as a time of preparation for baptism – studying God’s Word and through fasting and prayer opening the heart of the candidates to God’s saving action in the world. Baptism was called illumination, and all the candidates were given candles to hold as symbols of their new life in Christ.  St Macarius the Great writes:

“As many torches and burning lamps are lit from a fire, though the lamps and torches are lit and shine from one nature, so too is it that Christians are enkindled and shine from one nature; the divine fire, the Son of God, and they have their lamps burning in their hearts, and they shine before him while they live on earth, just as he did. This is what it means when it says: ‘So God has anointed you with the oil of gladness’” (Ps 45.7). (Illumined in the Spirit, p. 86)

Christ is risen!  Truly, He is risen!

A Theology of Woman


From one of Cyril [of Jerusalem]’s statements, we might cull a starting point for a theology of woman:

At first, the feminine sex was obligated to give thanks to men, because Eve, born of Adam but not conceived by a mother, was in a certain sense born of man. Mary, instead, paid off the debt of gratitude: she did not give birth by means of a man, but by herself, virginally, through the working of the Holy Spirit and the power of God.


Cyril seems to want to say that the Blessed Virgin restored woman’s dignity, reestablishing her position of equality with regard to man and ennobling her role as mother. Mary’s response to God, who spoke to her through the mouth of an angel, reminds women that they, too, are partners, not only of men, but of God himself.


The prestigious catechist of the Jerusalem Church, through his simple, spontaneous, and lively style, tries to make his disciples understand that the figure of Mary is essential to understanding the mystery of Christ. God, incarnate and made man, appears in all his mysterious divine-human reality and in his glory as the Savior of men only if he is presented alongside his Mother, from whom he received the body that made him Emmanuel, God-with-us.”

(Luigi Gamero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 139)

All That Is Within Me, Bless His Name

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
(Psalms 139:13-16)

Fetus at 6 months

On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part…   (1 Corinthians 12:22-24)

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  (Psalms 103:1)

St Cyril of Jerusalem writes:

Look within yourself. From your own nature you can learn something of your Maker.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in your body. If you are in control of its members, they are not in the slightest evil. Adam and Eve in paradise were naked at first and their bodies did not appear shameful or disgusting. Our limbs do not cause sin, but the wrong use of them does. The Creator of our bodies knew what he was doing.

Who makes the secret parts of the mother’s womb able to bear children? Who gives life to the lifeless fruit of conception? Who shapes the sinews and bones, who covers all with flesh and skin? When the baby comes to the light, who gives the milk that it can suck? How does the newborn infant grow to become a child, then an adolescent, then an adult, and then in the end an old person?

Who imposes on the heart the regularity of its beat? Who protects so skilfully our eyes with their eyelashes? Who makes our whole bodies able to be kept alive by our breathing?

Look at your Maker. Admire your wise Creator. The greatness and the beauty of his creatures will help you to contemplate him.

(Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, p. 60)

Let us Lift Up Our Hearts

Let us lift up our hearts.

We lift them up unto the Lord.

(From the Divine Liturgy)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem writing in the 4th Century describes a portion of the Divine Liturgy which is basically the same as we Orthodox are still doing today.

After the priest cries out, “Lift up your hearts.”

For truly that awe-filled hour it is necessary to have our hearts up toward the Lord, and not below with regard to the earth and earthly activities. For this reason the priest exhorts you with authority in that hour to leave behind all everyday cares and household worries and to have your hearts in heaven with the God who is the lover of humanity. Next, you answer, “We have lifted them to the Lord,” having made by this your agreement with him according to what you confessed. But let not such a one enter who with the mouth says, “We have lifted them up to the Lord,” but whose thoughts in the mind are focused on everyday cares. Always, then, keep God in mind! But if, on account of human weakness, you are not able to do this, try to do it especially in that hour. (Lectures on the Christian Sacraments, p. 123)

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim … now lay aside all earthly cares as we receive the King of All who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts.  (Cherubimic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy)

The Incarnation is No Illusion

“Believe that for our sins this only begotten Son of God came down to earth from heaven, assumed this humanity with feelings like ours, and was born of holy Virgin and of Holy Spirit, since the incarnation took place, not through an illusion or mirage, but in reality. He did not only pass through the Virgin, as through a channel, but actually took flesh from her, actually ate as we do, actually drank as do, and was actually nourished with milk. For if the incarnation was an illusion, salvation is also an illusion.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: Vol.56, Num.2,2012, p 152)

The Theophany of Christ (2016)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) taught about the Theophany of Christ:

“Jesus sanctified baptism when he himself was baptized.

Who then is in a position to belittle baptism and still retain the faith after the moment in which the Son of God was baptized?  He was immune from sin. So he did not submit to baptism to obtain the forgiveness of sins. Despite being free from sin, he submitted to baptism in order to bestow grace and dignity on those who would be baptized after him. He shared our flesh and blood in order that we might be partakers not only of his bodily existence but also of his divine grace.

And in the end he conquered death so that all of us might win salvation and be enabled to say: ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ [1 Cor. 15:55]  In fact, the sting of death has been destroyed by means of baptism. When you go down into the water to be baptized, you take with you your sins. But the grace which is called down upon you marks your soul in a new way. You go down dead because of your sins: you come up given new life by grace. For if you were planted in the likeness of the Savior’s death, you were also thought worthy of resurrection.” (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary by Thomas Spidkik, pp 331-332)

Making the Sign of the Cross

Making the sign of the cross is something Orthodox Christians do frequently, and sometimes mindlessly.  There are a number of references to this practice from the early church.  The early church fathers are clearly aware of the practice, though they don’t describe the mechanics of it, so we don’t know exactly how they did it.  But the power wasn’t in how it was done, but in the cross itself.

One of the earliest references to making the sign of the cross comes from Tertullian (d. 225 AD).  He writes:

“At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign. For these and such like rules, if thou requires a law in the Scriptures, thou shalt find none: tradition will be pleaded to thee as originating, custom as confirming, and faith as observing them” (The Chaplet 3).

Tertullian is defending what has been established as tradition among the early Christians.  He admits that making the sign of the cross is not attested to in scripture, but no matter, for there is the living faith of the Christians: the things Christians can be observed to do.  Making the sign of the cross is for Tertullian something Christians do multiple times during the course of their ordinary, daily lives.

St. Cyril  of Jerusalem (d. 386AD), writing more than 100 years after Tertullian teaches the new Christian converts to continue this tradition which has come down through the centuries:

“Let us not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Let us boldly make the cross as our seal upon our brow on all occasions: over the bread we eat, over the cups we drink; in our comings and in our goings; before sleep; on lying down and rising up; when we are on the way and when we are still. It is a powerful safeguard; it is without price, for the sake of the poor; without toil, because of the sick; for it is a grace from God, a badge of the faithful, and a terror to demons; for “He made a public display of them, triumphing over them in the cross” [Col 2:15]. For when they see the cross, they are reminded of the Crucified.”  A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc.  Loc. 3498-3503)





The Resurrection and Baptism

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) offers to the newly baptized Christians an explanation of what they had experienced through the Paschal services and their own baptisms.

“After this you were led to the holy pool of the divine baptism, as Christ was carried from the cross to the sepulcher that is before our eyes. Each of you was asked whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and you made this confession and descended into the water three times, and ascended again; here again quietly pointing by way of a figure to the burial of Christ for three days. For as our Saviour passed three days and nights in the heart of the earth, so you in your first coming out of water represented the first day of Christ under the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is the night sees no more, but he who is in the day stays in the lights, so in descending you saw nothing, as in the night, but in coming up again you were as in the day. At one and the same moment you died and were born; the water of salvation was your grave and your mother at once. What Solomon spoke of others may be applied to you. He said: ‘There is a time to bear and a time to die’ (Eccles. 3:2); but to you on the other hand the time of death is also the time to be born.

One and the same season brings both of these about; and your birth and your death go hand in hand. O what a strange and inconceivable thing it is! We did not really die, we were not really buried; we were not crucified and raised again; our imitation of Christ was but in a figure, while our salvation is truth. Christ actually was crucified and buried, and truly rose again; and all these things have been transmitted to us, that we might by imitation participate in his sufferings, and so gain salvation in truth.” (The Time of the Spirit: Readings Through the Christian Year, p 90)

Lazarus Saturday (2015)

When we come to the end of Great Lent, we enter into another special season in the church – from Lazarus Saturday to Holy Saturday.   In this time we are especially thinking about death and resurrection – not only of our Lord Jesus Christ, but of our own. The raising of Lazarus is celebrated in Orthodoxy as prefiguring the universal resurrection at the end of time. Additionally, this liturgical season is and was especially devoted to a time for baptism, uniting new believers to the Savior. Liturgically, we personally experience and enter into the death and resurrection of Christ as we are buried with Him in baptism and then raised up from that watery grave to a new life. We participate in Christ’s death on earth and in being raised with him in baptism we anticipate what is awaiting us in the life of the world to come.

Baptism is also about faith, and we encounter faith in the first event commemorated during this special 8 day week in Christ’s raising his friend Lazarus. Lazarus has died, but does he have faith that Jesus is the Christ who can resurrect him from death?

“Then there is the death of Lazarus. Four days had passed. His dead body was already decomposing. How could one who had been dead for so many days believe and himself ask for the Deliverer? He could not possibly do so, but his sisters provided the faith for him. When they met the Lord, one sister fell down at his feet. He asked, ‘Where have you laid him?’ The other sister said, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a bad smell.’ Then the Lord said, ‘If you believe you will see the glory of God.’ As if to say, ‘As regards faith, you must take the place of the dead man.’ And the faith of the sisters succeeded in calling Lazarus back from the hereafter. [John 11:1-44]

So if these two women by believing in place of the other were able to secure his resurrection, how much more certainly will you be able to secure it for yourself by your own faith?

Perhaps your own faith is feeble. Nevertheless, the Lord who is love will stoop down to you, provided only you are penitent and can say sincerely from the depths of your soul: ‘Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.’ (Mark 9:23]” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem – d. 386AD, DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, pp 152-153)

The community of faith believes in Christ, believes he does raise the dead. This is why we in faith bring others to Christ to be baptized. When we become a member of the Body of Christ in baptism, we join in believing with all other Christians that Jesus is Lord.

In the Baptism Liturgy the candidates prepared for baptism are given chance to bear witness to what they believe:

Priest: Have you united yourself to Christ?

Candidate: I have united myself to Christ.

Priest: Do you believe in Him?

Candidate: I believe in Him as King and God.

It is Christ’s kingship and kingdom we then celebrate on Palm Sunday as we commemorate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, God’s holy city.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Believe the Resurrection

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) offers some thoughts for those who have a difficult time believing in the resurrection of the dead:

“Use your body, I beseech you, with moderation. Remember, with this body you will be raised from death when you come to be judged. Perhaps you have some doubt whether this could happen. If so, reflect in detail on what has already happened within your own self. Tell me, where were you a hundred years ago? Cannot the Creator who gave existence to a person that did not exist bring to life again a person that did exist but is now dead? Every year he makes the corn spring to life that had withered and died after it was sown. Do you suppose that he who raised himself from the dead for our sake will have any difficulty in raising us to new life? Or look at the trees. For a number of months they remain without fruit, even without leaves. But once the winter is past, they become green, they become green all over, new, as if risen from the dead. With better reason, and with greater ease, shall we be called to new life. Do not listen to those who deny the resurrection of the body. Isaiah testifies: ‘The dead shall live again: the bodies of those who have died shall live.’ (Isa. 26:19) And according to the word of Daniel, ‘Many of those who sleep beneath the earth shall awaken, some to life eternal, the rest to eternal ruin.’ (Dan. 12:2)”  (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, pp. 82-83)