Orthodox America

   My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord...

By Saint Cyril of Alexandria

About the author:

St. Cyril of Alexandria As a youth, this great apologist of the Faith spent some years in the Egyptian desert of Nitria as a disciple of the wise Serapion before returning to his native Alexandria where, in 421, he was elected to succeed his uncle as patriarch.   It was a time of turmoil. To protect his flock, Cyril banished from the city first the heretical Novatians-who basically denied the efficacy of repentance after baptism-and then the Jews, whose hatred for the Christians had erupted in fighting and bloodshed. The dust had barely settled when the Church was confronted by a still greater danger, a new heresy skillfully propagated by its founder, the erudite and eloquent Nestorius, who insisted that Jesus Christ was born not as the God-Man but simply as man, and only later was He clothed with Divinity; he therefore refused to acknowledge the Holy Virgin as Theotokos (Bearer of God), calling her simply Christotokos.  As one of the most active opponents of this heresy, St. Cyril was chosen to preside over the Ecumenical Council which the Emperor convened in Ephesus (431) to determine the true Orthodox teaching.  One of Nestorius' sympathizers so maliciously slandered Cyril that he was threatened with exile and imprisonment.  But he remained steadfast, and at length the truth was vic-torious. Nestorious was excommunicated and St. Cyril returned to his diocese.

St. Cyril had his weaknesses.  He had inherited from his uncle a shameful antipathy towards St. John Chrysostom, whose reputation he continued to malign even after Chrysostom's death. But after a vision in which he saw St. John with the Mother of God among the saints, he thoroughly repented and entered St. John's name into the Church's list of recognized saints.

He peacefully reposed in the year 444, leaving behind a rich concentration of writings, including many letters against Nestorius, commentaries on several books of the Old and New Testaments, and teachings concerning the Holy Trinity.  He is commemorated by the Church on June 9.

In saying that the Apostles were eyewitnesses of the substantial and living Word, the Evangelist agrees with John who says, that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) (John 1:14).   For the Word became capable of being seen by reason of the flesh, which is visible and tangible and solid; whereas in Himself He is invisible.  And John again in his Epistle says, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; For the Life was manifested (I John 1:1-2).  Hearest thou not that he speaks of the Life as capable of being handled?  This he does that thou mayest understand that the Son became man, and was visible in respect to the flesh, but invisible as regards His divinity.

He hath showed strength with His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.

The "arm" enigmatically signifies the Word that was born of her.   By "the proud" Mary means the wicked demons who with their prince fell through pride; and the Greek sages, who refused to receive the folly, as it seemed, of what was preached; and the Jews who would not believe,and were scattered for their unworthy imaginations concerning the Word of God.  And by "the mighty" she means the Scribes and Pharisees, who sought the chief seats. Even more precisely, however, it also refers to the wicked demons who openly claimed mastery over the world, and whom the Lord scattered by His coming, and transferred those whom they had made captive into His own dominion.  For these things all came to pass according to her prophecy, that

He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree.

Great used to be the haughtiness of these demons whom He scattered, and of the devil, and of the Greek sages, as I said, of the Pharisees and Scribes. But He put them down, and exalted those who had humbled themselves under their mighty hand, having given them authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19); and made the plots of these high-minded beings against us of none effect.  The Jews, moreover, once gloried in their empire, but were stripped of it for their unbelief; whereas the Gentiles, who were obscure and of no reputation, were for their faith's sake exalted.

He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

By the hungry, she means the human race; for, with the exception of  the Jews, they were pining with famine.  The Jews, however, were enriched by the giving of the Law and by the teaching of the holy Prophets.  For to them belonged the giving of the law, the adoption of sons, the worship, the promises (Rom. 9:4). But they became wanton with high feeling, and too elated at their dignity, and having refused to draw near humbly to the Incarnate One, they were sent away empty, carrying nothing with them, neither faith nor knowledge, nor the hope of blessings.  For they truly became both outcasts from the earthly Jerusalem and aliens from the glorious life that is to be revealed, because they received not the Prince of Life and even crucified the Lord of Glory; they abandoned the fountain of living water and set at nought the bread that came down from heaven. And for this reason there came upon them a famine more severe than any other, and a thirst more bitter than any thirst; for it was not a famine of the material bread, nor a thirst of water, but a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord (Amos 8:11.  By contrast, the heathen, who were hungering and athirst, their soul wasting away with misery, were filled with spiritual blessings, because they received the Lord.   For the privileges of the Jews passed over to them.

He hath taken hold of Israel His child to remember His mercy.

He hath taken hold of Israel-not the Israel according to the flesh, who prides himself on the bare name, but him who is Israel after the spirit and according to the true meaning of the name-even such as look unto God and believe in Him, and obtain through the Son the adoption of sons according to the Word that was spoken, and the promise made to the prophets and patriarchs of old.  It has, however, a true application also in the carnal Israel, for many thousands and ten thousands of them believed.  But He has remembered His mercy as He promised to Abraham, and has accomplished what he spake unto him: in thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed (Gen. 22:18).

For this promise was not in the act of fulfillment by the impending birth of our common Saviour Christ, Who is the seed of Abraham, in Whom the Gentiles are blessed.  For He took on Him the seed of Abraham (Heb. 2:16), according to the Apostle's words, and so fulfilled the promise made unto the fathers.

He hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.

The word "horn" is used not only for power but also for royalty.  But Christ, Who is the Saviour that hath risen for us from the family and race of David, is both; for He is the King of kings, and the invincible power of the Father.

To perform the mercy promised to our fathers.

Christ is mercy and justice: for we have obtained mercy through Him, and been justified, having washed away the stains of wickedness through faith that is in Him.

The oath which He swore to our father Abraham.

But let no one accustom himself to swear from hearing that God sware unto Abraham.   For just as anger, when spoken of God is not anger, nor implies passion, but signifies power exercised in punishment, or some similar motion; so neither is an oath an act of swearing.  For God does not swear, but indicates the certainty of the event-that that which He says will, necessarily, come to pass.  For God's oath is his own word, fully persuading those that hear and giving each one the conviction that what He has promised and said will certainly come to pass.

And thou, child, shalt be called Prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.

Observe, I pray, this also, that Christ is the Highest, Whose forerunner was John, both in his birth and in his preaching.  What remains, then, to be said by those who lessen His divinity?  And why will they not understand that when Zacharias said, And thou, child, shalt be called prophet of the Highest (Luke 1:76), he meant thereby "of God," of Whom also spoke the rest of the Prophets.  For those under the law and dwelling in Judea, the Baptist was a lamp, as it were, preceding Christ; and God so spake before of him: I have prepared a lamp for My Christ (Psalm 131:17).  In the law he is also typified as a lamp, for the law commanded that a lamp should be ever kept alight in the first tabernacle.  But the Jews, after being for a short time pleased with John, flocking to his baptism and admiring his mode of life, quickly made him sleep in death, doing their utmost to quench the ever-burning lamp.  For this reason the Saviour also spake concerning him, He was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light (John 5:35).

To guide our feet into the way of peace.

For the world, indeed, was wandering in error, serving the creation in the place of the Creator, and was darkened over by the blackness of ignorance. A night, as it were, had fallen upon the minds of all, and permitted them not to see Him, Who is God both by nature and in very truth.  But the Lord of all rose for the Israelites, like a light and a sun.