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On the Kalendar: Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem

March from Les Petites Heures d'Anne de Bretagne

“March”, kalendar page from Les Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (The Little Hours of Queen Anne of Bretagne), by the Maître des Triomphes de Pétrarque. From Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (France).

Little is known about Cyril’s early life. He acceded to the See of Jerusalem around A.D. 350, and about this time his relations with Metroplitan Acacius of Caesarea became strained. Acacius was reputed to be an Arian (that is, he believed that Jesus was distinct from God, and subordinate to him), and he also seemed to be jealous of the importance of Cyril’s See in the eyes of the Council of Nicaea. Also, Jerusalem was becoming the prime Christian holy place, which was drawing pilgrims away from Caesarea.

So Acacius charged Cyril with selling church property. He probably had done so. Church historians report that, in response to food shortages in the city of Jerusalem, “Cyril secretly sold sacramental ornaments of the church and a valuable holy robe, fashioned with gold thread that the emperor Constantine had once donated for the bishop to wear when he performed the rite of Baptism.” The money was used to keep the people of Jerusalem from starving. It would seem that Acacius valued material goods over people’s well-being.

Perhaps out of obstinacy, Cyril refused to give an account for his actions. A council held under Acacius’s influence deposed Cyril in 357 in his absence, and Cyril was forced to take refuge in Tarsus. In 359, the Council of Seleucia, which was hostile to Acacius, reinstated Cyril and deposed Acacius. Then in 360, the Emperor Constantius reversed this decision, and Cyril was forced back into exile. Cyril regained his See in 361, with the accession of Emperor Julian (notwithstanding the fact that Julian rejected Christianity in favour of Neoplatonic Hellenism, earning him the moniker “Julian the Apostate”).

[On a side note, the name “Acacius” is presumably from a Greek root meaning “thorny” (the same root as in “acacia”, the tree). But in its Russian derivation, “Akaky” (most notably the name of the antihero, Akaky Akakievich, of Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat”), one can clearly recognize the ancient Indo-European root, *kaka, a child’s babbling word meaning, well, “excrement”.]

In one of his letters, Cyril recorded the appearance in A.D. 351 of a cross of light in the sky above Golgotha (witnessed by the whole population of Jerusalem). Cyril interpreted this as a sign of support for Emperor Constantius, who was dealing with a usurper. That didn’t do much to help Cyril a few years later in his dealings with Acacius. Cyril also believed it was a signal of the Second Coming. That didn’t work out, either.

The Greek church celebrates this miracle on May 7, but the general commemoration of Cyril himself is on March 18.

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