St. Cyril of Alexandria – Homily on the Reception of Christ in the Temple.
Original text of this homily was formed as a result of integrating 3rd and 4th homilies of the "Commentary on the Gospel of Luke" (PG 77, 1039-1050) – Ed.
[Sermons 3 on Luke 2:21-24]
Very numerous indeed is the assembly, and earnest the hearer: – for we see the Church full: – but the teacher is but poor. He nevertheless Who giveth to man a mouth and tongue, will further supply us with good ideas. For He somewhere says Himself, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." Since therefore ye have all come together eagerly on the occasion of this joyous festival of our Lord, let us with cheerful torches brightly celebrate the feast, and apply ourselves to the consideration of what was divinely fulfilled, as it were, this day, gathering for ourselves from every quarter whatsoever may confirm us in faith and piety.
But recently we saw the Immanuel lying as a babe in the manger, and wrapped in human fashion in swaddling bands, but extolled as God in hymns by the host of the holy angels. For they proclaimed to the shepherds His birth, God the Father having granted to the inhabitants of heaven as a special privilege to be the first to preach Him. And to-day too we have seen Him obedient to the laws of Moses, or rather we have seen Him Who as God is the Legislator, subject to His |19 own decrees. And the reason of this the most wise Paul teaches us, saying, "When we were babes we were enslaved under the elements of the world; but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born 19 of a woman, born under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." Christ therefore ransomed from the curse of the law those who being subject to it, had been unable to keep its enactments. And in what way did He ransom them? By fulfilling it. And to put it in another way: in order that He might expiate the guilt of Adam's transgression, He showed Himself obedient and submissive in every respect to God the Father in our stead: for it is written, "That as through the disobedience of the One man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the One, the many shall be made just." He yielded therefore His neck to the law in company with us, because the plan of salvation so required: for it became Him to fulfil all righteousness. For having assumed the form of a slave, as being now enrolled by reason of His human nature among those subject to the yoke, He once even paid the half shekel to the collectors of the tribute, although by nature free, and as the Son not liable to pay the tax. When therefore them seest Him keeping the law, be not offended, nor place the free-born among the slaves, but reflect rather upon the profoundness of the plan of salvation.
Upon the arrival, therefore, of the eighth day, on which it was customary for the circumcision in the flesh to be performed according to the enactment of the law, He receives His Name, even Jesus, which by interpretation signifies, the Salvation of the people. For so had God the Father willed that His Son should be named, when born in the flesh of a woman. For then especially was He made the salvation of the people, and not of one only, but of many, or rather of every nation, and of the whole world. He received His name, therefore, on the same occasion on which He was circumcised.
But come, and let us again search and see, what is the riddle, and to what mysteries the occurrence directs us. The blessed Paul has said, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing." To this it is probable that some may object, Did the God of all then command by the all-wise Moses a thing of no account to be observed, with a punishment decreed against those that transgressed it? Yes, I say: for as far as regards the nature of the thing, of that, I mean, which is done in the flesh, it is absolutely nothing, but it is pregnant with the graceful type of a mystery, or rather contains the hidden manifestation of the truth. For on the eighth day Christ arose from the dead, and gave us the spiritual circumcision. For He commanded the holy Apostles: "Having gone, make ye disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." And we affirm that the spiritual circumcision takes place chiefly in the season of holy baptism, when also Christ makes us partakers of the Holy Ghost. And of this again, that Jesus of old, who was captain after Moses, was a type. For he first of all led the children of Israel across the Jordan: and then having halted them, immediately circumcised them with knives of stone. So when we have crossed the Jordan, Christ circumcises us with the power of the Holy Ghost, not purifying the flesh, but rather cutting off the defilement that is in our souls.
On the eighth day, therefore, Christ is circumcised, and receives, as I said, His Name: for then, even then, were we saved by Him and through Him, "in Whom, it saith, ye were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands in the putting off of the fleshly body, with Christ's circumcision, having been buried together with Him in baptism, wherein also ye were raised with Him." His death, therefore, was for our sakes. as were also His resurrection and His circumcision. For He died, that we who have died together with Him in His dying unto sin, may no longer live unto sin: for which reason it is said, "If we have died together with Him, we shall also live together with Him." And He is said to have died unto sin, not because He had sinned, "for He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth," but because of our sin. Like as therefore we died together with Him when He died, so shall we also rise together with Him.
Again, when the Son was present among us, though by nature God and the Lord of all, He does not on that account despise our measure, but along with us is subject to the same law, although as God He was Himself the legislator. Like the Jews, He is circumcised when eight days old, to prove His descent from their stock, that they may not deny Him. For Christ was expected of the seed of David, and offered them the proof of His relationship. But if even when He was circumcised they said, "As for This man, we know not whence He is;" there would have been a show of reason in their denial, had He not been circumcised in the flesh, and kept the law.
But after His circumcision, the rite was done away by the introduction of that which had been signified by it, even baptism: for which reason we are no longer circumcised. For circumcision seems to me to have effected three several ends: in the first place, it separated the posterity of Abraham by a sort of sign and seal, and distinguished them from all other nations. In the second, it prefigured in itself the grace and efficacy of Divine baptism; for as in old time he that was circumcised, was reckoned among the people of God by that seal, so also he that is baptized, having formed in himself Christ the seal, is enrolled into God's adopted family. And, thirdly, it is the symbol of the faithful when established in grace, who cut away and mortify the tumultuous risings of carnal pleasures and passions by the sharp surgery of faith, and by ascetic labours; not cutting the body, but purifying the heart, and being circumcised in the spirit, and not in the letter: whose praise, as the divine Paul testifies, needs not the sentence of any human tribunal, but depends upon the decree from above.
After His circumcision, she next waits for the time of her purification: and when the days were fulfilled, and the fortieth was the full time, God the Word, Who sitteth by the Father's side, is carried up to Jerusalem, and brought into the Father's presence in human nature like unto us, and by the shadow of the law is numbered among the firstborn. For even before the Incarnation the firstborn were holy, and consecrated to God, being sacrificed to Him according to the law. O! how great and wonderful is the plan of salvation! "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" He Who is in the bosom of the Father, the Son Who shares His throne, and is coeternal with Him: by Whom all things are divinely brought into existence, submitted nevertheless to the measure of human nature, and even offered a sacrifice to His own Father, although adored by all, and glorified with Him. And what did He offer? As the firstborn and a male a pair of turtles, or two young doves, according to what the law prescribed. But what does the turtle signify? And what too the other, the dove? Come, then, and let us examine this. The one, then, is the most noisy of the birds of the field: but the other is a mild and gentle creature. And such did the Saviour of all become towards us, shewing the most perfect gentleness, and like a turtle moreover soothing the world, and filling His own vineyard, even us who believe in Him, with the sweet sound of His voice. For it is written in the Song of Songs, "The voice of the turtle has been heard in our land." For Christ has spoken to us the divine message of the Gospel, which is for the salvation of the whole world.
Turtles, therefore, and doves were offered, when He presented Himself unto the Lord, and there might one see simultaneously meeting together the truth and the types. And Christ offered Himself for a savour of a sweet smell, that He might offer us by and in Himself unto God the Father, and so do away with His enmity towards us by reason of Adam's transgression, and bring to nought sin that had tyrannized over us all. For we are they who long ago were crying, "Look upon me, and pity me."
[Sermons 4 on Luke 2:25-35]
The prophet Isaiah says, "Beautiful are the feet of them that bring good tidings of good:" and what could there be so sweet to learn as that God has saved the world by the mediation of the Son, in that He was made like unto us? For it is written, "that there is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the Man Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself a ransom for us." For of His own accord He descended to our poverty, that He might make us rich by our gaining what is His. Behold Him therefore as one in our estate presented unto the Father, and obedient to the shadows of the law, offering sacrifice moreover according to what was customary, true though it be that these things were done by the instrumentality of His mother according to the flesh. Was He then unrecognised by all at Jerusalem, and known to none dwelling there? How could this be the case? For God the Father had before proclaimed by the holy prophets, that in due season the Son would be manifested to save them that were lost, and to give light to them that were in darkness. By one too of the holy prophets He said, "My righteousness approacheth quickly, and My mercy to be revealed, and My salvation shall burn as a torch. But the mercy and righteousness is Christ: for through Him have we obtained mercy and righteousness, having washed away our filthy vileness by faith that is in Him. And that which a torch going before them is to those in night and darkness, this has Christ become for those who are in mental gloom and darkness, implanting in them the divine light. For this reason also the blessed prophets prayed to be made partakers of His great grace, saying, "Shew us Thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us Thy salvation."
Christ therefore was carried into the temple, being yet a little child at the breast: and the blessed Symeon being endowed with the grace of prophecy, takes Him in his arms, and filled with the highest joy, blessed God, and said; "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all the nations, the Gentiles' light for revelation, and a glory of Thy people Israel." For the mystery of Christ had been prepared even before the very foundation of the world, but was manifested in the last ages of time, and became a light for those who in darkness and error had fallen under the devil's hand. These were they "who serve the creation instead of the Creator," worshipping moreover the dragon, the author of evil, and the impure throng of devils, to whom they attach the honour due unto God: yet were they called by God the Father to the acknowledgment of the Son Who is the true light. Of them in sooth He said by the voice of Isaiah, "I will make signs unto them, and receive them, because I will ransom them, and they shall be multiplied, as they were many: and I will sow them among the nations, and they who are afar off shall remember Me." For very many were they that were astray, but were called through Christ: and again they are many as they were before; for they have been received and ransomed, having obtained as the token of peace from God the Father, the adoption into His family and the grace that is by faith in Jesus Christ. And the divine disciples were sown widely among the nations: and what is the consequence? Those who in disposition were far from God, have been made near. To whom also the divine Paul sends an epistle, saying, "Now ye who some time were afar off have been made near in the blood of Christ." And having been brought near, they make Christ their glorying: for again, God the Father has said of them, "And I will strengthen them in the Lord their God, and in His Name shall they glory, saith the Lord." This also the blessed Psalmist teaches, speaking as it were unto Christ the Saviour of all, and saying, "Lord, they shall walk in the light of Thy countenance, and in Thy Name shall they exult all the day, and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted: for Thou art the glorying of their strength." And we shall find also the prophet Jeremiah calling out unto God, "Lord, my strength and my help, and my refuge in the day of my evils, to Thee shall the heathen come from the end of the earth, and say, Our fathers took unto themselves false idols, in which there is no help."
Christ therefore became the Gentiles' light for revelation: but also for the glory of Israel. For even granting that some of them proved insolent, and disobedient, and with minds void of understanding, yet is there a remnant saved, and admitted unto glory through Christ. And the firstfruits of these were the divine disciples, the brightness of whose renown lightens the whole world.
And in another sense Christ is the glory of Israel, for He came of them according to the flesh, though He be "God over all, and blessed for evermore, Amen."
And Symeon blesseth also the holy Virgin as the handmaid of the divine counsel, and the instrument of the birth that submitted not itself to the laws of human nature. For being a virgin she brought forth, and that not by man, but by the power of the Holy Ghost having come upon her.
And what does the prophet Symeon say of Christ? "Behold This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be spoken against." For the Immanuel is set by God the Father for the foundations of Sion, "being a stone elect, chief of the corner, and honourable." Those then that trusted in Him were not ashamed: but those who were unbelieving and ignorant, and unable to perceive the mystery regarding Him, fell, and were broken in pieces. For God the Father again has somewhere said, "Behold I lay in Sion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, and He that believeth on It shall not be ashamed; but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will winnow him." But the prophet bade the Israelites be secure, saying, "Sanctify the Lord Himself, and He shall be thy fear: and if thou trust upon Him, He shall be thy sanctification, nor shall ye strike against Him as on a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence." Because however Israel did not sanctify the Emmanuel Who is Lord and God, nor was willing to trust in Him, having stumbled as upon a stone because of unbelief, it was broken in pieces and fell. But many rose again, those, namely, who embraced faith in Him. For they changed from a legal to a spiritual service: from having in them a slavish spirit, they were enriched with That Spirit Which maketh free, even the Holy Ghost: they were made partakers of the divine nature: they were counted worthy of the adoption of sons: and live in hope of gaining the city that is above, even the citizenship, to wit, the kingdom of heaven.
And by the sign that is spoken against, he means the precious Cross, for as the most wise Paul writes, "to the Jews it is a stumbling-block, and foolishness to the heathen." And again, "To them that are perishing it is foolishness: but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God unto salvation." The sign therefore is spoken against, if to those that perish it seem to be folly; while to those who acknowledge its power it is salvation and life.
And Symeon further said to the holy Virgin, "Yea, a sword shall go through thy own soul also," meaning by the sword the pain which she suffered for Christ, in seeing Him Whom she brought forth crucified; and not knowing at all that He would be more mighty than death, and rise again from the grave. Nor mayest thou wonder that the Virgin knew this not, when we shall find even the holy Apostles themselves with little faith thereupon: for verily the blessed Thomas, had he not thrust his hands into His side after the resurrection, and felt also the prints of the nails, would have disbelieved the other disciples telling him, that Christ was risen, and had shewed Himself unto them,
The very wise Evangelist therefore for our benefit teaches us all things whatsoever the Son, when He was made flesh, and consented to bear our poverty, endured for our sakes and in our behalf, that so we may glorify Him as our Redeemer, as our Lord, as our Saviour, and our God: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father and the Holy Ghost be the glory and the power for over and ever, Amen.