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Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor, c. 315-386
Cyril is thought to have been the son of Christian parents and, if not born in Jerusalem, he certainly was raised there. He received an excellent education from his parents which helped to prepare him for his coming trials.
Ordained by St. Maximus, the bishop of Jerusalem, one of Cyril’s first duties was to instruct the catechumens as they prepared for the reception of the sacraments at the Easter vigil (what we call the period of Purification and Enlightenment) and during the Easter season after the sacraments have been received (Mystagogy). Much of what we know about the way the catechumens were prepared for baptism in the early Church has been gleaned from the writings of Cyril, and his work has been instrumental in developing the Rite of Christian Initiation as it is used today.
Cyril succeeded St. Maximus as bishop of Jerusalem. The Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ, was rampant through most of the Christian world in the mid-fourth century and nowhere had it hit harder than in Palestine. It should be noted that during this time, the young and growing Church was still in the process of defining itself. Beliefs that we take for granted today were not so sharply determined in the fourth century. The Council of Nicaea was called in 325 specifically to counter the Arian heresy, but, as with many Church councils, it was many years before the full effects were felt.
Cyril’s troubles began when Acacius, the Arian bishop of Caesarea, claimed jurisdiction over Jerusalem as metropolitan of Caesarea, and tried to advance the Arian heresy in Cyril’s episcopate. When Cyril disputed both the claim and the heresy, open warfare broke out. Acacius called a synod of Arian bishops and accused Cyril of being rebellious against authority. When the Arian bishops condemned Cyril, he was driven out of Jerusalem until, two years later, his appeal absolved him and he was reinstated to his see.
When Cyril finally returned to Jerusalem in about the year 387, he found chaos reigned. Schisms and heresy abounded and party factions were literally at war with each other. When Cyril requested help from the Council of Antioch, St. Gregory of Nyssa was sent to assist him, but this saint found that it was more than he could handle and soon left Jerusalem. Gregory did report back to the council, however, that, while major problems existed in Jerusalem, Cyril’s faith was orthodox.
In 381, Cyril and Gregory both attended the Council of Constantinople where an amended Nicene Creed was adopted. At this council, many of his contemporaries praised Cyril as a champion of orthodoxy against Arianism.
An optional memorial honors St. Cyril on March 18. In 1882, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church.
Cyril’s message today: Cyril took a strong stand for what he believed in. At the cost of placing ourselves in the middle of controversy, we too must sometimes stand up for what we believe.