St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386), whose feast is celebrated March 18th, was bishop of Jerusalem when the Holy Land was a center for Christian pilgrims. Scholars, like St. Jerome and St. Paula, came to pray and study at the places where Jesus was born and died and rose again. After centuries of persecution, ordinary Christians flocked to the place and an age of pilgrimage began. “The whole world is going to an empty tomb,” St. John Chrysostom said.
From then till our time, the church in Jerusalem powerfully influenced the liturgical, catechetical and devotional life in churches throughout the world. The Stations of the Cross originated here. Cyril was an important catechist of the Jerusalem church, honored today by Christian churches of the east and west for his masterful lenten sermons, preparing catechumens for baptism.
Cyril preached and celebrated the liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, recently built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of Jesus where he rose from the dead and calvary where he died. The church still stands today. Here’s an excerpt from one of his catechetical sermons, preached in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, near where the relic of the cross and the tomb of Jesus were honored. See how he uses places and events remembered close by, Siloam and the man born blind, Lazarus from Bethany, the relic of the Cross.
“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. But of what importance is this, when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to those all over the world who were starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman was freed from the bondage of Satan; but are we not all shackled by the chains of our own sins?
“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind!”
The relic of the cross, rescued from the refuse of Calvary, honored by Cyril in the Jerusalem church. was not just a grim reminder of the suffering of Jesus; it was bathed in the glorious memory of Jesus’ resurrection celebrated close by in his empty tomb.
For Morning and Evening Prayers today, 4th week.