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email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

     TALK ON THE LIVES OF

STS. ATHANASIUS AND CYRIL
AND GOSPEL READING FOR 18/1/2009

15th JANUARY 2009

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I like to wish everyone a happy and blessed New Year 2009: May our Lord Jesus Christ grant all our petitions for spiritual progress and enlightenment and may he open our eyes and our hearts that we may understand his New Testament, which he has granted unto us as a Book of Salvation and a guidebook for eternal life.
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Sts. Athanasius and Cyril (Kyrillos): Our Bishop of Limassol Athanasius celebrates his nameday this Sunday – May God grant him many years. The Apostle reading for this Sunday is the reading assigned for their feast, but the Gospel reading for the 12th Sunday of Luke – the Gospel known as the Ten Lepers. As these two saints are two of the Great Fathers of the Church I thought that instead of explaining the Apostle reading we would look at the their lives and then the Gospel reading for Sunday.
Both Athanasius and Cyril have separate Feast days – Athanasius on 2nd May and Cyril on 9th June. This joint Feast on the 18th January was assigned to them in recognition of their teaching and defence of the Orthodox faith.
Saints Athanasius and Cyril were Patriarchs of Alexandria. Athanasius in the Fourth Century and Cyril in the Fifth. They both took part in Ecumenical Councils and through their teachings they defended the Church and the Orthodox faith from the two main heresies of their time – Arianism and Nestorianism.
Saint Athanasius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria, was a great Father of the Church and a pillar of Orthodoxy. He was born around the year 297 in the city of Alexandria into a family of pious Christians. He received a fine secular education, but he acquired more knowledge by diligent study of Holy Scripture.
St. Athanasius seems to have been brought early in life under the immediate supervision of the ecclesiastical authorities of his native city. A story from his childhood tells of how Alexander the Patriarch of Alexandria had invited a number of fellow prelates to meet him at breakfast after a great religious function. While Alexander was waiting for his guests to arrive, he stood by a window, watching a group of boys at play on the seashore below the house. While observing the children he discovered that they were imitating the elaborate ritual of Christian baptism. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates. The young Athanasius, played the part of the bishop and performed the Baptisms, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. The Patriarch having watched everything from his window sent for the children and, in the investigation that followed, he determined that the Baptisms performed by the children were done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the make-believe baptisms as real and sealed them with the sacrament of Chrismation. From that moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasius and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon in 319.
As a deacon St Athanasius accompanied Patriarch Alexander as his secretary to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in the year 325. At the Council, he surpassed everyone there in his zeal to uphold the teaching that Christ is consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, and not merely a creature, as the Arians proclaimed. His speech met with the approval of the Orthodox Fathers of the Council, but the Arians, came to hate Athanasius and persecuted him for the rest of his life.
After the death of Patriarch Alexander, St Athanasius was unanimously chosen as his successor to the See of Alexandria. He refused, accounting himself unworthy, but at the insistence of all the Orthodox people he was consecrated bishop when he was twenty-eight, and installed as the head of the Alexandrian Church.
Bishop Athanasius spent the first years of his patriarchate visiting the churches and people of his territory, which at that time included all of Egypt and Libya. During this period, he established contacts with the hermits and monks of the desert, including Anthony the Great and Pachomius, who would be very valuable to him over the years.
Shortly thereafter, St Athanasius became occupied with the disputes of the Byzantine Empire and the Arian heresy which would occupy much of his life.
Athanasius’ first problem lay with the Meletians, who had failed to abide by the terms of the decision made at the First Council of Nicaea which had hoped to reunite them with the Church. Athanasius himself was accused of mistreating Arians and the followers of Meletius of Lycopolis, and had to answer those charges at a gathering of bishops in Tyre, the First Synod of Tyre, in 335. At that meeting, Eusebius of Nicomedia and the other supporters of Arius deposed Athanasius. On November 6, both parties of the dispute met with the Emperor Constantine I in Constantinople. At that meeting, Athanasius was accused of threatening to interfere with the supply of grains from Egypt, and, without any kind of formal trial, was exiled by Constantine to Trier in the Rhineland.
On the death of Emperor, Athanasius was allowed to return to his See of Alexandria. Shortly thereafter, however, Constantine’s son, the new Roman Emperor Constantius II, renewed the order for Athanasius’ banishment in 338. Athanasius went to Rome, where he was under the protection of Constans, the Emperor of the West. During this time, Gregory of Cappadocia was installed as the Patriarch of Alexandria, usurping the absent Athanasius. Athanasius did however remain in contact with his people through his annual “Festal Letters”, in which he also announced on which date Easter would be celebrated that year.
Pope Julius I wrote to the supporters of Arius strongly urging the reinstatement of Athanasius, but that effort proved to be in vain. He called a synod in Rome in the year 341 to address the matter, and at that meeting Athanasius was found to be innocent of all the charges raised against him. Julius also called the Council of Sardica in 343. This council confirmed the decision of the earlier Roman synod, and clearly indicated that all those present saw St Athanasius as the lawful Patriarch of Alexandria. It proved no more successful, however, as only bishops from the West and Egypt bothered to appear.
In 346, following the death of Gregory, Constans used his influence to allow Athanasius to return to Alexandria. Athanasius’ return was welcomed by the majority of the people of Egypt, who had come to view him as a national hero. This was the start of a “golden decade” of peace and prosperity, during which time Athanasius assembled several documents relating to his exiles and returns from exile in the “Apology Against the Arians”. However, upon Constans’ death in 350, a civil war broke out which left Constantius as sole emperor. Constantius, renewing his previous policies favouring the Arians, banished Athanasius from Alexandria once again. This was followed, in 356, by an attempt to arrest Athanasius during a vigil service. Following this, Athanasius left for Upper Egypt, where he stayed in several monasteries and other houses. During this period, Athanasius completed his work “Four Orations against the Arians” and defended his own recent conduct in the “Apology to Constantius” and “Apology for His Flight”. Constantius’ persistence in his opposition to Athanasius, combined with reports Athanasius received about persecution of non-Arians by the new Arian bishop George of Laodicea, prompted Athanasius to write his more emotional “History of the Arians”, in which he described Constantius as a precursor of the Antichrist.
In 361, after the death of Emperor Constantius, shortly followed by the murder of the very unpopular Bishop George, the popular St Athanasius now had the opportunity to return to his Patriarchate. The following year he convened a council at Alexandria at which he appealed for unity among all those who had faith in Christianity, even if they differed on matters of terminology. In 362, the new Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) began a persecution against Christians. His wrath first fell upon St Athanasius, whom he considered a great pillar of Orthodoxy. He ordered Athanasius to leave Alexandria once again. Athanasius left for Upper Egypt, remaining there until Julian's death in 363. Two years later, the Emperor Valens, who favored the Arian position, in his turn exiled Athanasius. This time however, St Athanasius simply left for the outskirts of Alexandria, where he stayed for only a few months before the local authorities convinced Valens to retract his order of exile. Some of the early reports explicitly indicate that Athanasius spent this period of exile in his ancestral tomb.
St Athanasius guided the Church for forty-seven years, and during this time he endured many persecutions and grief from his antagonists. Several times he was expelled from Alexandria and hid himself from the Arians in desolate places, since they repeatedly tried to kill him. There was a time when he remained as the only Orthodox bishop in the area, a moment when all the other bishops had fallen into heresy. Despite being persecuted for many years, the saint continued to defend the purity of the Orthodox Faith, and he wrote countless letters and articles against the Arian heresy. St Athanasius died in 373, at the age of seventy-six.
Numerous works of St Athanasius have been preserved; four Orations against the Arian heresy; also an Epistle to Epictetus, bishop of the Church of Corinth, on the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ; four Epistles to a Bishop Serapion, about the Holy Spirit and His Equality with the Father and the Son, directed against the heresy of Macedonius.
Other apologetic works in defense of Orthodoxy have been preserved, among which is the Letter to the emperor Constantius. St Athanasius wrote commentaries on Holy Scripture, and books of a moral and didactic character. Probably his best known work is the classic life of St Anthony the Great with whom St Athanasius was very close. It was translated into several languages and played an important role in the spreading of the ascetic ideal in Eastern and Western Christianity. St John Chrysostom advised every Orthodox Christian to read this Life. There are several other works ascribed to him, although not necessarily generally accepted as being his own work. If you remember our first talk of the season on the canonical and apocryphal writings, we mentioned that St. Athanasius is also acknowledged as the first person who proposed a list for canonization of the 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today.
ST. CYRIL
Saint Cyril came from an illustrious and pious Christian family. He was born about 378 in the small town of Theodosios, Egypt, near modern day El-Mahalla El-Kubra. A few years after his birth, his mother's brother Theophilus rose to the powerful position of Patriarch of Alexandria. His mother remained close to her brother and under his guidance, Cyril was well educated. He studied the secular sciences, including philosophy, but most of all he strove to acquire knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and the truths of the Christian Faith. While still young, Cyril entered the monastery of Macarius in the Nitreia hills, where he stayed for six years. His uncle, the Patriarch ordained him as a deacon and entrusted him to preach. Upon the death of Patriarch Theophilus, Cyril was unanimously chosen to the patriarchal throne of the Alexandrian Church. During his time he had to contend with many enemies of the Church. He led the struggle against the spread of the Novatian heresy in Alexandria, which taught that any Christian, who had fallen away from the Church during a time of persecution, could not be received back into it.
Cyril, seeing the futility of admonishing the heretics, sought their expulsion from Alexandria. The Jews appeared a greater danger for the Church, repeatedly causing riots, accompanied by the brutal killing of Christians. The saint long contended with them. In order to wipe out the remnants of paganism, the saint cast out devils from an ancient pagan temple and built a church on the spot, and the relics of the Holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John were transferred into it. But a more difficult struggle awaited the saint with the emergence of the Nestorian heresy.
Nestorius, a presbyter of the Antiochian Church, was chosen in 428 to the see of Constantinople and there he was able to spread his heretical teaching against the dogma on the inseparable union of the two natures in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He divided the person of Christ into two and was unwilling to call the Blessed Virgin Theotokos – Mother of God. He said that Mary could only be called Christotokos - the mother of Christ the man for she did not give birth to the pre-existing, pre-eternal Son of God, who already had a Father with whom He shared His divine nature. Cyril repeatedly wrote to Nestorius and pointed out his error, but Nestorius continued to persevere in it. Then the saint sent out epistles against Nestorianism to the clergy of Constantinople and to the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450), denouncing the heresy. The Pope St. Celestine had heard reports about Nestorius and asked Cyril to send him a detailed report of Nestorius’ doctrine. After examining the report he gave Cyril the power to act on his behalf and send letters to all the bishops informing them of his judgement on the case. Nestorius was to be given ten days to denounce his heresy otherwise he would be deprived of the Episcopate and Communion.
But what the Pope and Cyril didn’t reckon on was the power and influence Nestorius had. He was the Bishop of the royal city and had gained many friends among the bishops and the young Emperor Theodosius and the important great men of the Empire. Almost all the bishops in the east, especially the Patriarchate John of Antioch, were ill disposed to Cyril, and seemed to favour Nestorius. Feelings were divided, and the whole Empire of the East seemed to fluctuate between Cyril and Nestorius. The situation became so aggravated, that it became necessary to call an Ecumenical Council. The Emperor, thus wrote to Cyril, saying” It is our will that the holy doctrine be discussed and examined in a sacred Synod, and that be ratified which appeareth agreeable to the right faith, whether the wrong party be pardoned by the Fathers or no.” We see that the Pope’s judgment on the matter was not enough to remove Nestorius from his Episcopal duties. According to the Ecclesiastical Canons, another judgment, that of a council was still required and that judgment would be decisive and final. So in 431, Cyril, with more than 200 bishops and Nestorius, came to Ephesus for the Universal Council. Cyril was president, representing Celestine, as being appointed by the Pontiff himself to execute his sentence. Nestorius was summoned three times to take his seat with the other bishops in order to answer to what was charged against him, but he refused to come, and chose to have his doors besieged with an armed force, so that no one might approach him. The emperor therefore commanded the proceedings to begin. The charges against Nestorius were read and examined without him being present. He was found guilty of blasphemy, was deposed from his throne and excommunicated.
Nestorius was not the only bishop deposed by this Synod. During the proceedings, about 30 bishops who were loyal to the Patriarch John of Antioch walked out. John as we mentioned before was a close friend of Nestorius. He delayed coming to the Synod. The first session of the Council commenced on June 22. John arrived in Ephesus on the 27th. After being informed that the council had condemned Nestorius without his side being heard, he held his own council at his residence with a total number of 43 bishops. At this council they turned the tables on Cyril and Memnon, the bishop of Ephesus, accusing them of Arian and Apollinarion heresies. John then proceeded to carry out the sentence and had Cyril and Memnon deposed. All those who approved and signed the decree of the pseudo-council were deposed from office by the officially recognized Council of Ephesus.
Cyril guided the Alexandrian Church for 32 years, and towards the end of his life the flock was cleansed of heretics. Gently and cautiously Cyril approached anyone, who by their own simpleness and lack of knowledge, fell into false wisdom.
Cyril died on 9th June in the year 444, leaving behind many works. In particular, the following ought to be mentioned: commentaries On the Gospel of Luke, On the Gospel of John, On the Epistles of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians and to the Hebrews; also an Apologia in Defense of Christianity against the Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). Of vast significance are his Five Books against Nestorius; a work on the Most Holy Trinity under the title Thesaurus, written against Arius and Eunomios. Also two dogmatic compositions on the Most Holy Trinity, distinguished by a precise exposition of the Orthodox teaching on the Procession of the Holy Spirit.
In short these are the lives of these two Great Saints of the Orthodox Church. If anyone would like a more detailed account of their lives there are many websites they can read, but one must be careful to choose sites that are favourable to Orthodoxy as some portray them not as saints but merely as historical figures.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke chapter 17, verses 12-19.
Let’s here the reading:


At that time, as Jesus entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”

12) “At that time, as Jesus entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:”
The number of lepers mentioned is rather unusual because even though they lived as a community of lepers outside the boundaries of the town or village, they didn’t go for walkabouts together in large groups. In this case they must have heard that Jesus was coming their way and decided to meet him and ask for his help. The Gospel reading says that “as Jesus entered into a certain village” but it is unlikely that the lepers met him in the village which they were forbidden to enter according to the law. The meeting must have taken place just outside the village. They stood afar off, at a distance according to the requirements of the law. They were unclean, and it was not lawful for them to come near to those who were in health. In comparison with Christ and his saints we also are unclean like lepers. If we understand our spiritual leprosy then with humility we would not dare to approach and touch Christ but beseech him through our prayers to cleanse us from our defilement. One of the prayers we read before receiving holy Communion makes this comparison of our souls with the disease of leprosy: “As Thou didst not disdain to sit at meat with sinners in the house of Simon the leper, so also consent to enter into the humble dwelling of my soul, leprous and sinful though it be”.
13) “And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
They lifted up their voices agrees with the fact that they stood afar off. They cried out together in a loud voice so that they could attract Jesus’ attention. They may have stood afar off, but they made sure that their cry reached close to Jesus. Many of us stand afar off but we can be sure that when we cry from the depths of our hearts with truth then our cry reaches the ears of our Lord as did the cry of the lepers. And what did they cry? “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” In the Greek the word translated as “Master” is “Επιστάτα”. Luke is the only evangelist that uses this word in the New Testament. It is necessary that whoever seeks help from Jesus, must believe that he is Lord and Master. Only if he is Lord and Master can he also be our Saviour and Deliverer. With the Leper’s cry it is worth noting that they do not ask to be cured of their leprosy, but simply ask for his mercy. It is enough to trust and place ourselves in his mercy believing that he will respond with what is beneficial for our salvation. If we trust in his mercy we have no fear of failure. That is why in all our prayers and petitions we respond with Lord have mercy.
14) “And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.”
Their cry was heard and they drew Jesus’ attention, but he doesn’t immediately cleanse them from their leprosy. He tells them first to go and show themselves to the priests. He did this to test their faith. If they had faith then without hesitation they would have done as he told them believing that they would be cured. But why does he send them to the priests and not to a doctor? The Priests were trained in what to look for to determine whether someone was cured or not. In the Book of Leviticus they are given detailed instructions on how to recognize a contagious leprosy from the colouring of the clothing and skin. But another reason why they had to show themselves to the priests is because everyone cured of the disease was obliged by the law to offer gifts of thanksgiving. The reading tells us that they had to show themselves to the priests and not to just a priest. Each of the ten lepers had to present himself to the priest nearest to his home. Thus they didn’t all walk together to the nearest synagogue, but each went in the direction of their home. The Samaritan therefore had to travel to the priest of Mount Gerizim in Samaria were the Samaritan temple was. The ritual law was still in force and Christ always foresaw to observe it. But maybe there was another reason for sending them to the priests? By having the priests certify their complete cure from the disease he wanted to awaken in the priests and other with them, the need to search for the physician who had such power over the bodily illnesses and having found him to be saved through faith in him.

The faith of the ten lepers is clearly shown by their obedience to the command given them by the Lord and as a result they were cured of their leprosy. The Gospel doesn’t tell us at what distance this happened, but the distance must have been far enough so that their faith was tested, but not so far that their return to the Lord would have been rendered impossible. The Lord did not say to the lepers “you are cleansed from your leprosy” but tested their faith and obedience and sent them to the priests uncured as did the Prophet Elisha with Naaman in the Old Testament when he sent him to wash in the river Jordan seven times. Whoever awaits grace and favours from Christ must be willing to receive them according to the methods and ways that Christ deigns to give them and not expect Christ to reform to what they await and expect is the best for them.
15) “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,”
As the ten lepers were not socially together in their grief and wretchedness, the nine who were Jews must have been thankful when the Samaritan abandoned their company to return to his home. The Jews appeared as ungrateful for the great blessing bestowed upon them, but the Samaritan returned and with a load voice expressed his joy and complete gratitude to the person that cured him. But he doesn’t say thank you or anything like that, but glorifies God because he recognized in Christ a great power and believed that he was from God.
16) “And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”
Prostrating oneself to the ground was a sign of the greatest reverence. In the New Testament except for another occasion in Luke with another leper, prostrating to the ground it is not mentioned except before God. The Samaritan’s prostration teaches us that it is right and proper to show humility not only when we pray and beseech the Lord for something, but also to show humility in our thanksgivings. Now only this Samaritan returned to show his gratitude who was looked down upon by the Jews as a schismatic and a heretic and one would not have expected him to return and show gratitude since the nine Israelites who considered themselves as righteous showed ingratitude.
17) “And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?”
It does not say that Jesus answering said to the Samaritan, but simple that he said because he is not directing himself to the Samaritan, but rather to those that were with him. And here he shows how rich his mercy is. Ten were cleansed and cured completely: a whole hospital of patients received their health with just one word from the Lord. And if there were more than ten his grace would have been more than enough to cure them also. The ingratitude of the nine does not bar Christ from showing mercy on the unworthy neither does it become a reason to recall his blessing and make them lepers again as we with our human reasoning would consider just and deserving. Where are the nine? Ingratitude is a very common evil. From the many that receive God’s mercy only a small majority return to give him glory, in the present case the percentage is one in ten.
18) “There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.”
The Jews didn’t feel the sense of duty to return and show their gratitude. After the return of the Samaritan the Lord quite justly but in vain waited for the others to return and give glory to God before him for the miraculous cure he bestowed upon them. Only this stranger returned. He calls the Samaritan a stranger. In the Greek it is “αλλογενής” meaning an alien or foreigner, someone from another country or race. In fact the Samaritans were part Israelites. They were of a mixed race and mixed religion. Their origins are not clear – there seems to be two versions - their own and that of the Jews, but in both cases they were originally Israelites. The Samaritans insist that they are direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722BC. It is said that the king of the Assyrians then brought people from Babylon and other places and settled them in Samaria. Priests were also sent to teach the new settlers about God's ordinances. The eventual result was that the new settlers worshipped both the God of the land and their own gods from the countries from which they came. In time this mixed religion became the religion of all the Samaritans even though they claim that their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, predating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
In the Gospels whenever they are mentioned, they always appear as extremely grateful and good people. They are shown as a people guided by the light of the own conscience and an unwritten law. This contributes to magnify the ingratitude of the Jews who as people enlightened by the Law and the Prophets and who considered themselves righteous should have appeared far more grateful than an idolatrous Samaritan. This is want Christ is saying when he said “There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.” He is not asking a question so that he might receive information on the whereabouts of the nine Jews, but rather to vividly point out the ingratitude and the thoughtless indifference of the Jews.
19) “And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
If all the ten lepers were cured because they believed and obeyed Jesus’ word to them to go and show themselves to the priests, then what he now says to the Samaritan must be an extra blessing. Something which the Samaritan received and the Jews were deprived off. “Thy faith hath made thee whole” does not only refer to his bodily health, but also to his spiritual salvation. If Christ now reminds the Samaritan that by faith he is made whole, he does this so that the Samaritan can perceive the importance and greatness of faith and how much it will benefit him in his future life. Thus on his return to his country the Samaritan embraced this union formed between himself and Jesus whereas the other nine, because of their ingratitude created not a union but a rupture between their benefactor and themselves.