A Very Patristic Maundy Thursday (Cyril of Alexandria)

I grew up in a church setting in which “communion” was not observed regularly. The few times that it was practiced, we utilized a “fast-food” strategy – efficiently passing out individually packaged cups and crackers. For us, communion was one of many possible ways that we remembered the individual forgiveness which we received because of Jesus’ death.

I’ve since learned that communion is not simply one of many ways to worship Jesus but is instead a central way that believers encounter the transforming presence of Christ. One of my teachers regarding the Eucharist was the church father Cyril of Alexandra. Here are a few excerpts from Cyril’s commentary on Luke 22:17-22:

“Christ dwells in us, first, by the Holy Spirit, and we are His abode, according to that which was said of old by one of the holy prophets. ‘For I will dwell in them and lead them, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.’. . . . 
But He is also within us in another way by means of our partaking in the oblation of bloodless offerings, which we celebrate in the churches, having received from Him the saving pattern of the rite, as the blessed Evangelist plainly shows us in the passage which has just been read. . . . 
Was it right that one who was created for life and immortality should be made mortal, and condemned to death without power of escape? Must the envy of the devil be more unassailable and enduring than the will of God? Not so: for it has been brought to nought; and the clemency of the Creator has transcended the evil effects of his malignity. He has given aid to those upon earth. . . .
In what manner therefore can man upon earth, clothed as he is with mortality, return to incorruption? I answer, that this dying flesh must be made partaker of the life-giving power which comes from God. But the life-giving power of God the Father is the Only-begotten Word, and Him He sent to us as a Savior and Deliverer. . . .
By being born in the flesh of a woman, and tying to Himself that body which He received from her he has implanted Himself in us by an inseparable union so that He might raise us above the power both of death and corruption. . . .
For He was made in our likeness, and clothed Himself in our flesh, that by raising it from the dead He might prepare a way henceforth, by which the flesh which had been humbled to death might return anew to incorruption. For we are united to Him just as also we were united to Adam, when he brought upon himself the penalty of death. And Paul testifies thereunto, thus writing on one occasion, “For because by man is death, by man is also the resurrection of the dead:” and again upon another, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all live.” The Word therefore, by having united to Himself that flesh which was subject to death, as being God and Life drove away from it corruption, and made it also to be the source of life: for such must the body of Life be.”

Notice that for Cyril, the Eucharist is not primarily indicative of death but of life. Not first a means of forgiveness but of immortality. Cyril interprets the passage in the theological context of the Incarnation and the Adam-Christ Typology. Humanity has inherited the death-infested flesh of Adam. It is this same humanity that the Son has united himself with in the Incarnation, driving out all corruption and becoming a source of life. Thus, the body of Christ is, in a sense, the location of salvation for fallen humanity. We come to the table in order to break our bond with Adam and to share in Christ’s life-giving flesh. The Eucharist is thus a sort of resurrection meal, one that is offered to us every time we approach the table.

Today, have yourself a very patristic Maundy Thursday.



4 thoughts on “A Very Patristic Maundy Thursday (Cyril of Alexandria)

  1. Love Cyril! Alexander Schmemann wrote a wonderful essay on patristic theology and the sacrament of the Eucharist in his work “For the Life of the World.” Complements this wonderfully!


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