Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on 1 John 5:1-5; John 15:1-8

In the Gospel Jesus compares himself to a vine tree. The passage comes from the long discourse which Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper on the eve of his suffering and death. He begins by saying:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.

This is the last of seven ‘I AM’ statements made by Jesus in the course of John’s gospel.

The ‘I AM’ is the name of God, and makes one think of the time when Moses was before the burning bush from which a voice came telling him to undertake the mission of liberating his people from slavery in Egypt. But Moses objected:

If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ (Exod 3:13-14)

In today’s passage Jesus speaks of himself as the True Vine, or rather as the main stem or trunk of the vine. On the vine there are many branches. Some of these branches are laden down with fruit, while others may not produce any fruit at all. But even the branches which bear fruit will be pruned so that they will produce even more fruit. This pruning can be identified with the trials that even the most committed of Christians is bound to experience in the living of a Christ-centred life. On the other hand, no branch can bear any fruit at all unless it is part of the vine.

It all clearly applies to our relationship with Christ. Separated from him, we are not able to bear fruit. Jesus says he is the source of all our life and of every good thing we do because:

…apart from me, you can do nothing.

A branch that becomes separated from the trunk that is Jesus will wither and die. It will only be of use for the bonfire.

Cyril, as bishop in Jerusalem, faced a good deal of ‘pruning’ in being a fruitful branch on the vine. He endured a great deal of opposition and misunderstanding, but through it all remained faithful to his Lord.

The First Reading is from the First Letter of John. This letter is very much concerned with the thinking of the Gnostics, a group of Christians who wanted to deny the reality of the material body of Christ. So today’s passage begins:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

And the last sentence reads:

Who is it who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

In other words, it is an affirmation that Jesus is truly and fully and in every way the Son of God, who shares in himself the divine nature of God and our own human nature.

In the time of Cyril the prevailing heresy was that of the Arians, whose position was the opposite of the Gnostics. The Arians denied that Jesus shared the divine nature with the Father and that he was only human. The reading from 1 John equally attacks both the Gnostic and Arian positions.

Let us, then, acknowledge the true divinity and the true humanity of Jesus. It is only this that gives the Incarnation its full meaning, so that Jesus becomes the Bridge linking our God with our human selves and the world in which we live. It is through Jesus that God comes to us, and through Jesus and our imitation of him that we go to God.

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