May 30, 2024

Liturgy of St. Cyril


The polls don’t paint a flattering picture of Christians. The characteristics most associated with people like us are “hypocrisy” and “judgmental.” Hmmm. It bears a striking resemblance to the critique Jesus levied against religious rulers in his day. The early church father Tertullian (160-225) wrote a defense of Christianity to rulers of the Roman Empire in the autumn of 197AD. He charged detractors that the persecution of Christians was based on fallacious rumors that Christians practiced incest, human sacrifice, and treason against the empire. He challenged Roman rulers to give proof of these rumors, citing the well-known Roman proverb, “Among all evils, none flies so fast as a rumor.” He buttressed his defense with the claim that Christians honor Roman society through their love of one another and their fellow Romans. “We are a body knit together by a common religious profession, by uniting in discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.” He then referenced what was commonly said about Christians (in quotes) as compared to the behavior of the population at large (as indicated by the parentheses), “Look, they say, ‘how they love one another’ (for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred) and ‘how they are ready to die for one another’ (for they themselves will someone put to death).” I count at least fifty instances in the New Testament where Jesus and his apostles instruct believers of their mutual responsibilities to one another. Love one another. Honor one honor. Serve one another. Be kind to one another. Forgive one another. What are we to make of all this one-another-ing? Jesus said, “This is how they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13.35). O, that people would say of us, “Look, how they love one another.” We pray a 4th-century Coptic Liturgy of St Cyril for a heart to love one another:

O God of love, who has given a new commandment
through thine only begotten Son,
that we should love one another,
even as thou did love us,
the unworthy and the wandering,
and gave Thy beloved Son
for our life and salvation;
we pray Thee, Lord, give to us,
Thy servants, in all time of our life
on this earth,
a mind forgetful of past ill-will,
a pure conscience and sincere thoughts,
and a heart to love our brethren;
for the sake of Jesus Christ,
Thy Son, our Lord and only Savior.

Prayers of the Early Church, edited by J. Manning Potts
Shane Cems, “The Apology of Tertullian: Then and Now”

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.