Rehearsing the whole of the faith

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48).

Picture the scene in Jerusalem in the late fourth century:

“Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Matryrium …. The bishop [teaches them the law] in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning. In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of the faith. This is called catechetics” (134*).

These are the words of Egeria, a Spanish woman who spent a year in Jerusalem on pilgrimage and wrote letters home about everything she saw and how the Church in Jerusalem worshiped.

It’s entirely possible that the bishop she saw on the throne teaching the catechumens (those who were preparing for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter) was Cyril himself.

Cyril taught his fellow-Christians about living in the way of the cross, about repentance and forgiveness, dying and rising, and he helped develop the doctrines that became the Nicene Creed.

Cyril wrote about the way of the cross in his Catechetical Instructions, saying that “Jesus never sinned; yet he was crucified for you. Will you refuse to be crucified for him, who for your sake was nailed to the cross? You are not the one who gives the favor; you have received one first. For your sake he was crucified on Golgotha. Now you are returning his favor; you are fulfilling your debt to him” (136).

Christians then and now walk in the way of the cross during Holy Week, putting ourselves imaginatively in the places where Jesus himself was arrested, carried his cross, stumbled and fell, and was crucified. We will observe Stations of the Cross in Solidarity with the Persecuted Church at St. Thomas on Palm Sunday and three times on Good Friday.

The pattern of dying and rising that we rehearse through Holy Week and Easter is the pattern of the Gospel and of life in Christ.

We learn through experience that repentance and forgiveness are the way forward in relationships, that falling and rising again move us toward deeper union with God and each other, that our failing and falling lead us into greater dependence on God “who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to the end that none should perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Sometimes it’s the Church that teaches us this pattern, but often it’s a mentor or support group or teacher or 12-Step program.

Jesus himself not only teaches but embodies this pattern. “Then he opened [the disciples’] minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:45-48).

Cyril and the believers in Jerusalem kept Holy Week by walking the Way of the Cross from place to place in Jerusalem, from the Martyrium to Golgotha, from the Mount of Olives to the Holy Sepulchre, and Cyril spent his time and energy with catechumens, “opening their minds to understand the scriptures.”

He taught them that “in learning and professing the faith, you must accept and retain only the Church’s present tradition, confirmed as it is by the Scriptures. Although not everyone is able to read the Scriptures … we have gathered together the whole of the faith in a few concise articles … this summary of the faith was not composed at any human whim; the most important sections were chosen from the whole Scripture to consitute and complete a comprehensive statement of the faith” (447).

So as we prepare ourselves to walk the Way of the Cross during Holy Week …

As we reflect on the falling and failing in our lives and see God at work to redeem and raise us …

As we open each other’s minds to understand the Scriptures …

Let’s follow Cyril’s example “in learning and professing the faith,” and let’s also join Cyril and Egeria and our fellow pilgrims in rehearsing “the whole of the faith in a few concise articles.”

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The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen. (BCP 358)

* Page numbers for the passages from Cyril and Egeria refer to J. Robert Wright’s Readings for the Daily Office From the Early Church (Church Publishing, 1991, 2013).

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