March 18: Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, 386

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Cyril is the one we have most to thank for the development of catechetical instruction and liturgical observances during Lent and Holy Week. Born in Jerusalem about 315, Cyril became bishop of that city probably in 349. In the course of political and ecclesiastical disputes, he was banished and restored three times. His Catechetical Lectures on the Christian faith, given before Easter to candidates for Baptism, were probably written by him sometime between 348 and 350.

The work consists of an introductory lecture, or Procatechesis, and eighteen Catecheses based upon the articles of the creed of the Church at Jerusalem. All these lectures (the earliest catechetical materials surviving today) may have been used many times over by Cyril and his successors, and considerably revised in the process. They were probably part of the pre-baptismal instruction that Egeria, a pilgrim nun from western Europe, witnessed at Jerusalem in the fourth century and described with great enthusiasm in the account of her pilgrimage. Many of the faithful would also attend these instructions.

Cyril’s five Mystagogical Catecheses on the Sacraments, intended for the newly baptized after Easter, are now thought to have been composed, or at least revised, by John, Cyril’s successor as Bishop of Jerusalem from 386 to 417.

It is likely that it was Cyril who instituted the observances of Palm Sunday and Holy Week during the latter years of his episcopate in Jerusalem. In doing so, he was taking practical steps to organize devotions for countless pilgrims and local inhabitants around the sacred sites. In time, as pilgrims returned to their homes from Palestine, these services were to influence the development of Holy Week observances throughout the entire Church. Cyril attended the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, in 381, and died at Jerusalem on March 18, 386.

Cyril’s thought has greatly enriched the observance of Holy Week in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.


I     Strengthen, O Lord, we beseech thee, the bishops of thy Church in their special calling to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, that they, like thy servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct thy people in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them, may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II     Strengthen, O Lord, the bishops of your Church in their special calling to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, so that they, like your servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct your people in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them, may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 47:8-10

Hebrews 13: 14-21

Luke 24: 44-48

Psalm 122

Preface of the Dedication of a Church

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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7 thoughts on “March 18: Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, 386

  1. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem
    The final sentence begins with the words, “Cyril’s thought.” That is both the strength and the weakness of this commemoration: it is about Cyril’s “thought” – not about Cyril as “Holy Man.…” Surely, the feast belongs in the calendar, but I would hope it could include SOMETHING about Cyril the person, not just Cyril’s “thought” – important as that contribution undoubtedly is. The biographical data in the world- renowned definitive (yet ever changing) authority, “Wikipedia,” is tentative (at best) and, similarly, ours also can be labeled tentative if information about Cyril’s life were included in HWHM, by way of basic background.
    As usual, my main concerns focus on the collect, which assumes a framework in which the individual commemorated, and a small minority of the church (bishops), rather than the whole church, is the focus. We pray:
    Strengthen the bishops – to be teachers and ministers – so THEY (like Cyril) may instruct the people. SO THAT “we” (TAUGHT BY THEM) may enter more fully in celebrating the Paschal Mystery.
    1) It’s a very top-down, Bishops as active and People as receptive, and a Liturgy-bound model of the church (and the Paschal Mystery).
    2) Not to deny that bishops have a teaching role, is that how it works in real life — or are we invoking an unrealistic model of the actual church? Wouldn’t it be better to have in mind a “theologically desired” (baptismal) model of bishop-and-people-as-Christ’s-body?
    3) What’s wrong with asking God to strengthen the bishops along with laity, deacons, and priests? Why would we want only the bishops to be strengthened to be better teachers and ministers?
    4) Why does the intention of the prayer stay bound within “instruction” and “liturgy”? It seems like Christian life needs to be immediately in touch with God’s work embodied in life – i.e., the Paschal Mystery as not only “celebrated,” but experienced, lived, and making a difference in the world. “Instruction” and “formation” are not co-extensive – the latter is more about total being — not just instruction about “stuff” — even “important stuff.”
    Maybe the exclusive focus on Cyril’s “thought” is the problem – causing our reactions to stop short with marveling at his “thought,” rather than carrying through to the embodying of the substance of his faith and faithfulness, as church and people living and being transformed in that Christian faith. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth today (tax not included).
    Sirach 47:8-10 — This is a beautiful, simple, and apt devotional reading about David, regarding his provision for thanksgiving, praise, song, music, enriching and supporting the sanctuary festivals, etc. Had it extended to verse 11, it would also encompass forgiveness of David’s sins, exaltation of David’s throne, and the kingship covenant with the house of David – the latter so important in the understanding of Jesus as king of kings and as promised messiah from the house of David. I would extend this reading to verse 11.
    In addition, I have to ask why this reading is used in the commemoration of Cyril, whose “thought” is so important, but for whom liturgical renewal, music, etc., is in no way featured in the write-up. Is there something equally good that would be a better fit for Cyril’s contributions and circumstances? THIS READING WOULD BE THE IDEAL REPLACEMENT FOR THAT HORRIBLE, TRIVIAL, BORING SELECTION ASSIGNED TO GREGORY THE GREAT! (For whom music and song are MOST apropos, and desperately needed!)
    Psalm 122 is a very good selection, with its reverence for, and solicitation of God’s blessing on Jerusalem
    Hebrews 13 – This seems entirely appropriate, especially its opening and closing emphases, “looking for the city that is to come,” and the final two verses lifting up the resurrection as the context for asking God to bring his people (the church) to perfection in the benevolent working of God’s eternal covenant. This selection is outstanding for Cyril, especially in light of his Easter and Catechesis emphases.
    Luke 24:44-48 — The only thing wrong with this selection is that, in the anxiety to keep it brief, it sacrifices the magnificence of Luke’s final presentation of his gospel’s grand finale. I urge we make it much longer (Luke 24:35-53) in the interest of its intrinsic importance to Christian faith, and in the interest of not reducing it to smaller disconnected bits. Going from verse 35 to 53 includes not only 44-48 (fulfillment of OT messiah passages, including messiah’s rejection, rising from the dead, salvation to all nations beginning from Jerusalem, and witnessing). It also recognizes Jesus in the breaking of bread (Emmaus Road), an additional resurrection appearance, a “shalom” blessing by Jesus, examination of the risen Lord’s crucifixion wounds, additional eating with the risen Lord (a Eucharistic occasion) in verses 35-43. Then after 44-48, with verses 49-53, it includes the promise of “power from on high” (the Spirit, i.e., Pentecost), blessing at Bethany as Jesus ascends (the real “Christ the King” moment), worship of Jesus by the disciples, their return to Jerusalem, joy and continual blessing of God in the temple. THIS IS A RICH SEQUENCE! PLEASE DON’T DEPRIVE THE CHURCH OF IT FOR THE SAKE OF SAVING THE LITURGY AN EXTRA MINUTE OR TWO! IT DOESN’T TAKE LONG TO INCLUDE THESE VERSES.
    SUMMARY: I think this is a good commemoration, and I thank those who gave it to us. The Collect should be re-cast to fit the whole baptismal church, not just the hierarchy-church. The Old Testament should be extended to verse 11 and used for Gregory the Great, and a new lesson found for today. The Gospel passage should be expanded by the verses indicated. And (although I didn’t mention it) “Bishop of Jerusalem” doesn’t say what Cyril’s achievement was: give him credit for more than showing up for his consecration as bishop.

    • I just realized — the Sirach emphasis on liturgical orchestration is about Cyril’s Paschal liturgical enrichments, making the parallel with David’s general music, song, and festival provisions. It makes sense, but I still think this passage belongs with Gregory the Great. (So there.)

      The last sentence in my “summary” paragraph is about the title, which only cites Cyril’s being Bishop of Jerusalem, and nothing more specific about his contributions.

      • Another afterthought regarding collects (not only this particular one). What I DID say here (above) was that collects assume “a framework in which the individual commemorated, and a small minority of the church (bishops), rather than the whole church, is the focus.” What I wish I had included is that God-at-work (doing what God is concerned to accomplish) sometimes isn’t evident in our collects — especially if we’re so focused on the particular’s of someone’s achievements that we don’t look beyond simply that “first level” of accomplishment. There are collects where, instead of thanking God for AB, and AB’s accomplishing xyz, and asking that “following the teaching” (or the example AB, or in the spirit or the steps of AB) we should re-focus on God’s goals (on which AB was focused, and because of which AB did xyz) instead of resting content with emulating AB, or xyz.

        In Cyril’s case (but the point isn’t really about Cyril — he just happens to be the “commemoration du jour”) he was largely associated with developments related to Easter (catechetics, preparation for Baptism, Easter pilgrimage, liturgical forms for catechumens, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, post-Easter mystagogy, Jerusalem’s observances and Eastertide pilgrimage) — all of which HAS to be dear to the heart of SCLM simply because of the “stuff” dealt with. But BEYOND all that particularity, and not minimizing any of it, there is the PURPOSE OF GOD — THE PROVIDENTIAL WORK AND PRESENCE OF GOD AT WORK IN THE WORLD — from creation, throughout Israel’s promises-covenant-and-journey, made flesh in Jesus, embodied in the living of life in the Spirit, and proleptically bringing eschatological fullness into the world as “foretaste” of God’s new creation and eternal kingdom.

        I’m sure this is getting to sound grandiose, but the point is actually simple: the collects are ultimately about what GOD is doing, not simply what so-and-so did, or what we are up to. Period.

        We’re in the story; Cyril is in the story; the Church is in the story; BUT GOD IS IN THE TITLE ROLE!

  2. I suggest the title be “Cyril of Jerusalem”, to distinguish him from Cyril, the brother of Methodius.

    I suggest the subtitle be amended to “Liturgist and Catechetical Writer”. He is not honored here just because he was a Bishop of Jerusalem.

    Line 1, first paragraph: move the summarizing first sentence to line 5, following “times”. (In this way, we learn about where and when he was born before bringing up the reason for his inclusion in the Calendar.)

  3. […] Strengthen, O Lord, the bishops of your Church in their special calling to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, so that they, like your servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct your people in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them, may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Learn more about St. Cyril of Jerusalem. […]

  4. While I appreciate your commentary, John, I think surely there must have been something to appreciate in this brief, but learned, account of Cyril’s life and contribution. Not every collect has to be a smorgasboard. Why can’t we pray for the ministry of Bishops once in a while? I do not think praying for the ministry of Bishops negates the contribution of others in the Church or suggests that Gods’s hand is not paramount. Rather than tearing down what someone else wrote in faith and love, maybe next time you could just say what you would have done instead. I love the Easter litergy. Thank you God (and Cyril).

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