A sermon of St. Cyril of Alexandria for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany.
Behold a leper came. The faith of this man who came to Jesus is indeed worthy of all our praise. He testified that Emmanuel can do all things perfectly, and he pleads with Him that by His divine command he might be delivered of his leprosy, although it was an incurable disease. For leprosy is not wont to yield to the remedies of the physicians. For, he says, have I not seen unclean spirits driven forth by divine power, and other men freed from other diseases. I know that this has been done by some divine and invincible hand. I see also that Thou art both good and most kind, and that You show compassion to all that come to Thee. Why then should I not also seek Thy mercy?
What did Christ say to This? He confirmed him in his faith, and by this miracle showed that He approved it. He receives his prayer, and reveals that He can do this, saying to him: I will: be thou made clean. He also bestows on him the touch of His holy and omnipotent hand, and immediately the leprosy leaves him, and his sickness departs.
Let you join with me in awe, beholding Christ at work as both God and man. For it belongs to His divinity so to will that all things are as He wills; it is a human act to stretch forth the hand. In both the one and the other Christ is perceived, since the Word became flesh.
And Jesus saith to him: see thou tell no man. The character of the wonder that was performed, even though the leper remained silent, was enough to reveal to all who had known the leper the power of the One Who had healed him. Nevertheless He bids him tell no man. Why? That they who have received from God the gift of healing may learn that they are not to look for applause from those they heal, nor accept praise from others, lest they fall into pride, which is the wickedest of all sins.
But, Go, show thyself to the priest, and offer… Prudently therefore He counsels the leper to offer a gift to the priests, according to the law of Moses. For though without any doubt He intended to take away the shadows, and to change the figures of the law into the pure spiritual worship, yet, because the Jews did not believe in Him, but still clung to the precepts of Moses, as though the old law still endured, He permits the leper to do this for a testimony unto them.
Why did He do this? The Jews at all times were proclaiming their zeal for the law, and declaring that the great prophet Moses was the minister of the will of heaven, and they strove to belittle Christ the Saviour of all men. And so they said openly: We know that God spoke to Moses: but as to this man, we know not whence he is (Jn. ix. 29). It was therefore necessary to convince them by these signs that the dignity of Moses was below the glory of Christ. Moses was but a faithful servant in the house of God: Christ was the Son in the house of His Father.
And so from the healing of the leper it was clearly evident that Christ, in an incomparable manner, far transcended the law of Moses. For Mary the sister of Moses, because she had murmured against him, was stricken with leprosy. And Moses at this affliction of his sister was profoundly grieved; but since he was unable to banish the disease from the woman, falling down before God he besought Him, saying: O God, I beseech thee heal her (Num. xii. 13).
Now observe carefully. In the one case there is entreaty: with prayer he sought to obtain the divine clemency; but the Saviour of mankind, with authority that was truly divine, says, I will: be thou made clean. This healing of the leper served therefore as a warning to the priests, that from it they should learn that those who gave precedence to Moses were wandering from the truth. Without doubt they should reverence Moses as the minister of the Law, a helper of the grace made known by angels (Gal. iii. 19), but much more is Emmanuel to be praised and glorified, as the true Son of God and the Father.
It may be that someone would like to see here the great and profound mystery concerning Christ, which is related to us in Leviticus. The Law of Moses declared that a leper shall be condemned of uncleanness, and ordered to be driven forth from the camp as unclean. Afterwards, should the sickness leave him, it prescribed that he be received back into the camp. It lays down in what manner he shall be regarded as made clean, saying: This is the rite of a leper, when he is to be cleansed: he shall be brought to the priest: who going out of the camp when he shall find that the leprosy is cleansed, shall command him that is to be purified, to offer for himself two living sparrows, which it is lawful to eat, and he shall command one of the sparrows to be immolated in an earthen vessel over living waters; but the other that is alive he shall dip in the blood of the sparrow that is immolated, wherewith he shall sprinkle him that is to be cleansed seven times, that he be rightly purified. And he shall let go the living sparrow in the field (Lev. xiv). There were accordingly two sound, that is, clean birds, free according to the Law of every defect; of which one is slain over living waters; the other, exempt from slaughter, being sprinkled with the blood of the one that was slain, is then set free.
This figure truly designates the great and ever to be adored mystery of Our Saviour; for He, the Word, was from above, that is, from the Father and from heaven: and so is appropriately compared with the bird. By His Incarnation He came down in the likeness of our nature, and took upon Himself the form of a slave. But even in this He was from above. For which reason, speaking with the Jews, He said openly to them: You are from beneath: I am from above (Jn. viii. 23). And again: And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man (Jn. iii. 13).
For as I have just now said, being made flesh, that is, truly man, He yet was not of the earth, nor of clay like us, but heavenly and supramundane, as God is understood to be. Nevertheless it is truly lawful to see Christ in the figure of the birds, having suffered in the flesh, as the Scripture says (I Pet. iv), yet remaining beyond the reach of suffering; humanly dead, divinely living: for the Word is life. Wherefore it is that the most wise Disciple says of Him, that being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit (I Pet. iii. 18).
But though the Word could not suffer in His own divine nature, nevertheless he truly made His own the passion of His Body. For the living bird was sprinkled with the blood of the one that was slain: and so dyed with its blood, and becoming almost a sharer of its suffering, was sent forth into the desert. For the Only-Begotten Word of the Father has returned to heaven, and with Him the flesh of our lowliness, and there was a strange spectacle in heaven. For the family of heaven were astonished at seeing the King of the earth, the Lord of all powers, appearing as one of us. And they exclaimed: Who is this that cometh from Edom, that is, from the earth? With dyed garments from Bosra, which is interpreted as meaning, flesh, or straitness or affliction. Then shall they say to Him: What are these wounds in the midst of thy hands? And he shall say: with these I was wounded in the house of them that loved me (Zach. xiii. 6).
For as after His resurrection, Christ, showing His hands, most prudently bade the doubting Thomas touch in them the marks of the nails, and likewise the opening in the His side; so also returning to heaven He makes known to the holy angels that Israel had deservedly fallen from His favour and friendship. And for this He shows them His garments dyed with blood, and the wounds in His hands, not because He could not obliterate them, for, risen from the dead He had put off corruptibility, and with it whatsoever arose from it, but that according to the divine plan of the Incarnation the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the Church, which he made in Christ Jesus Our Lord (Eph. iii. 9-11).
But someone may say: Why do you speak of one and the same Christ, since there were two birds offered? Does not the Law here obscurely imply by this that there were two sons and two Christs? They would indeed fall into grievous irreverence who would believe and profess that one is the Christ above, the Word of God the Father, and another He that was born of the house of David. We however here declare to those who because of ignorance believe that this is so: we say, I repeat, what the divine Paul wrote: One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism (Eph. iv. 5). If therefore you should say that there are two Sons, there will then be two faiths, and as many baptisms. He will therefore proclaim what is false who has Christ so speaking in him, as the same Paul says (II Cor. xiii. 3). These things are not true. Far from it. Therefore we know but One Lord the Only-Begotten Incarnate Word of the Father, making no separation between man and God, but declaring that the Word of God the Father became man, continuing in His Godhead at the same time.
Moreover, for argument’s sake, let the adversaries of the truth say: if there are two sons, one born of the stock of David, the other the Word of God the Father; will not the latter then be higher in nature than the son that is born of the family of David? But note what follows. When we were speaking of the two birds, they were in no way different in nature from each other, but rather similar, and without any difference, each exactly as the other. Therefore they must concede that because of the uniform nature of the birds, the Word of God should differ in no way from the man. But here they make no headway; for humanity profoundly differs from the divinity. The figures then must be understood in a manner that confirms with reason. Furthermore we say that even the Law was but a shadow, a figure, and as it were a picture which showed the future to those who were looking towards it.
The Law therefore was a picture, a type, of the things which brought forth truth; so that even though there were two birds, yet by them but one Christ was prefigured, both as suffering and as not suffering; dying, yet above all dying; finally also ascending to heaven, as a second beginning of humanity, reborn to immortality. He in truth has prepared for us a new way to heaven, and we in due time shall follow Him. That one of the birds was slain, and that the other was sprinkled with the blood of the one that was slain, and that being free it escaped slaughter, must all be considered as a figure of the things that now are true. For Christ died for us, and we are baptised in His death, and He by His blood redeemed us, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.