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A Commentary Upon The Gospel According To Saint Luke -St. Cyril

THIS HOMILY IS FIT TO BE READ IN A TIME OF STRUGGLE AND PERSECUTION FOR FAITH IN GOD.

And I say unto you, My friends, Fear not them that kill the body, and afterwards have nothing more to do. But I will shew you Whom ye shall fear: fear Him Who after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two halfpence; and not one of them is forgotten before God. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

PATIENCE, and an enduring and courageous mind, form the impenetrable armour of the saints: for they render them approved and resplendent with the praises of piety. For one also of the holy apostles thus spake, at one time; “In patience possess ye your souls:” at another; “Ye have need of patience, that by doing the will of God, ye may receive the promise.” By such manly virtues we become famous, and praiseworthy, and renowned among men everywhere, and worthy of honours and the blessings that are prepared for the saints: even those which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” as wise Paul says. And how must not those things be worth the gaining and admirable, which surpass our understanding and reason? And therefore, as I said, He prepares those who love Him for spiritual fortitude, thus speaking; “I say unto you, My friends.”

His present discourse therefore does not, as it seems, belong to every one absolutely: but, on the contrary, to those only who evidently love Him with all their heart, and can fitly say; “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or perils, or sword?” For those who have as yet no sure and certain and well-founded love of Him, as long as they live in tranquil times, may forsooth possibly preserve their faith in Him: but if distress or persecution harass them a little, they turn away and forsake Him, losing, together with their faith, that which stirred them up to love Him. For just as young plants, which have lately sprung up, cannot endure the violence of too tempestuous a wind, because they have not as yet struck their roots deep; while those which are firmly fixed, and well rooted, remain secure in the ground, even though a gale of fierce winds shake them: so those whose mind is not yet firmly and securely fixed upon Him are very easily drawn aside, and readily desert; while those who have stored up and possess in mind and heart a secure and unwavering love of Him, are unalterable in mind, and unwavering in heart, being superior to all indolence, and looking with contempt upon the most intolerable dangers, and making a mock at terrors, so as even to ridicule the violence of death. The commandment therefore so to act belongs to those who love Him.

But who are those who love Him? They are, so to speak, such as are like-minded with Him, and anxious to follow in His footsteps. And to this His disciple encourages us by saying; “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, do ye for His sake arm yourselves with the same mind.” He laid down His life for us, and was “among the dead as one: free.” For death did not attack Him, as it attacks us, because of sin: for He was and is far removed from all sin, and incapable of iniquity: but of His own will He endured it for our sakes, because of His boundless love toward us. For listen to Him as He plainly says; “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And how then is it not a most base thing not to return to Christ, as a most necessary debt, that which we have received of Him?

And, to put it in another light; as being His friends, we ought not to fear death, but rather imitate the faith of the holy fathers. The patriarch Abraham, when tempted, offered his only-begotten son Isaac, “accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead.” What terror of death, therefore, can assail us, now that “Life hath abolished death?” for Christ is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

And this too we must bear in mind, that the crowns are to be won by labour. It is strong exertion united with skill that perfects those mighty athletes in the games. It is courage and a brave mind that are most serviceable to those who are skilled in battles: while the man who throws away his shield is ridiculed even by the foe: and if the runaway live, he leads a life of disgrace. But he who was steadfast in the battle, and stood stoutly and courageously with all his might against the enemy, is honoured if he win the victory; and if he fall, is looked upon with admiration. And so ought we to reckon for ourselves; for to endure patiently, and maintain the conflict with courage, brings with it great reward, and is highly desirable, and wins for us the blessings bestowed by God: while to refuse to suffer death in the flesh for the love of Christ, brings upon us lasting, or rather never-ending punishment. For the wrath of man reaches at most to the body, and the death of the flesh is the utmost that they can contrive against us: but when God punishes, the loss reaches not to the flesh alone;—how could it?—but the wretched soul also is cast along with it into torments. Let our lot therefore rather be the honoured death; for it makes us mount up to the commencement of an eternal life, to which of necessity are attached those blessings also which come from the divine bounty: and let us flee from and despise a life of shame; a life accursed, and of short duration, and which leads down to bitter and everlasting torment.

And to bestow yet another means of succour upon our minds, He forcibly added; “that five sparrows are scarcely perhaps worth two halfpence, and yet not one of them is forgotten before God.” And further, He said; “that also the separate hairs of your head are all numbered.” Consider, therefore, how great care He takes of those that love Him. For if the Preserver of the universe extends His aid to things thus worthless, and descends, so to speak, to the smallest animals, how can He forget those who love Him, especially when He takes so great care of them, and deigns so to visit them, as to know exactly each particular of their state, and even how many are the hairs of their head?

Where, then, is the vain and senseless babbling of heathen boasting? “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” For some of them entirely deny the providence of God: while others make it reach down as far only as the moon, and set bounds to it, as though they had had this authority committed to them. Unto such we would say: Is the providence of God too weak to reach down to that which is below, and even as far as unto us, or is the Creator of all too weary to see what we do? If then they say that it is too weak, this is mere stupidity, and nothing else. But if they represent the divine nature as subject to indolence, they make it thereby liable also to envy. And this again is blasphemy, and a crime than which none is greater. But they answer, it is giving trouble to the divine and supreme will to impose upon it the care of all these earthly matters. They know not how great is that nature which the mind cannot understand nor speech describe, and which ruleth over all. For to it all things are small: and so the blessed prophet Isaiah teaches us where he says; “If it be true that all the nations are as a drop from a cask, and are reckoned as the turn of a balance, and shall be counted as spittle, to what have ye likened the Lord?” For what is one drop from a cask? and what is the turn of a balance? and what too is spittle?—that is, a single expectoration? If therefore this be the position of all things towards God, how can it be a great matter to Him, or one that occasions Him trouble, to have the care of all things? The noxious sentiments therefore of the heathen are bereft of reason.

Let us therefore not doubt but that with rich hand He will bestow His grace upon those who love Him. For either He will not permit us to fall into temptation: or if, by His wise purpose, He permit us to be taken in the snare, in order that we may gain glory by suffering. He will most assuredly grant us the power to bear it. And of this the blessed Paul is our witness, who says; “God is powerful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of egress, that ye may be able to bear it.” For He Who is the Saviour and Lord of us all, is the Lord of powers: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.








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