St. Cyril himself gives us the date of his “Catecheses” as fully seventy years after the emperor Probus that is about 347 A.D, providing that he is accurate. The catecheses, or catechetical homilies (lectures), are genuine and are of the greatest interest, both for the history of the Christian faith concerning dogmas, and the true understanding of the liturgy and catechetical methods of the ancient Church.
Undoubtedly, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem is one of the most important sources we have for how the church celebrated the Divine Liturgy and Mysteries (see Mystagogical Catecheses) during the first few decades after the legalization of Christianity.
In particular, in these 24 homilies, Saint Cyril instructs new Christians in the days immediately before and after their initiation into the life of the Church. In these homilies we find very strong insistence on the value and efficacy of the mystery of baptism as well as heavy emphasis on the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the mystery of the Divine Communion.
They include an introductory homily, the “procatechesis”, followed by eighteen instructions delivered in Lent to those who were preparing for baptism, and five “mystagogical” instructions given during Easter week to the same persons after their having been baptized. They contain interesting local references to the finding of the Holy Cross, the position of Golgotha in relation to the walls of the Holy City, to the other holy places, and to the great basilica of the Resurrection built by Constantine in which these conferences were delivered in 348 A.D or 350 A.D. They seem to have been spoken extempore, in the first place, and written down afterwards.
Briefly, the Catechetical Homilies are among the most valuable remains of Christian antiquity and especially for an Orthodox Christian they speak volumes of the continuity of the authentic faith throughout the centuries. According to Cyril, the faith is to be proved out of Divine Scripture. That is why his text is rich in scriptural references. Also, he gives us the canon of the Scripture according to his understanding (Concerning the Divine Scriptures, Cat 4, 33-37). It is noteworthy that at that time the canon had not been officially defined by the Church. Additionally, St. Cyril gives us an account of the heresies of the time (Concerning Heresies, Cat 6, 12-36).
In particular, the material of the Catechetical Homilies is divided as follows:
Eighteen Catechetical Homilies to those who are to be Enlightened:
Homily 1. An Introductory Homily to those who had come forward for Baptism
Homily 2. On Repentance and Remission of Sins and Concerning the Adversary
Homily 3. On Baptism
Homily 4. On the Ten Points of Doctrine
Homily 5. On faith
Homilies 6-18. On the Articles of the Creed
Five Mystagogical Catecheses:
Homily 1: To the Enlightened
Homily 2: On Baptism
Homily 3: On Chrism
Homily 4: On the Body and Blood of Christ
Homily 5: On the Mysteries. On the Divine Liturgy and Communion.
Saint Cyril’s Catecheses are included in Patrologia Graeca, Volume 33.
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