Cyril of Jerusalem
Homily on the Dormition
This text is one of the earliest Coptic traditions of Mary's Dormition, almost certainly from before the middle of the sixth century. It reflects much that is typical of the Coptic traditions of the Dormition, particularly in their earliest stages. For instance, there is no miraculous reunion of the apostles, and only a select few actually witness the events of Mary’s final days. Also somewhat typical is the very brief narration of the events of the Dormition, which is preceded by a lengthy digression on (somewhat) related topics. The feast day, 16 January, is also specifically Egyptian.
Translation by E. A. W. Budge, Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, London: British Museum, 1915, 626-650.
DISCOURSE ON MARY THEOTOKOS BY CYRIL
ARCHBISHOP OF JERUSALEM
(Brit. Mus. MS. Oriental, No. 6784)
THE TWENTIETH EXPLANATION WHICH THE HOLY PATRIARCH, APA CYRIL, ARCHBISHOP OF JERUSALEM, COMPOSED ON THE LIFE OF THE HOLY THEOTOKOS MARY. AND HE DECLARED ALSO THAT HER PARENTS WERE A MAN AND A WOMAN, LIKE THE PARENTS OF EVERY OTHER PERSON. AND HE SPAKE ALSO CONCERNING THE DAY WHEREIN SHE WENT TO REST, THAT IS TO SAY, THE TWENTIETH DAY OF THE MONTH OF TOBE (16 January). IN THE PEACE OF GOD! AMEN.
When a rich man of high position wisheth to invite his friends to a breakfast or to a dinner, doth he not first of all sit down before those who are to be bidden are invited, and set out in array the various kinds of food wherewith he may stir up the appetite of those who see them, and make them to taste (i.e. partake) of them? And doth he not then cause his slaves to be summoned, and send them forth to his friends [inviting them] to the feast? And when they have come in, and have laid themselves down [on the cushions], doth not he who hath invited them give unto them first of all fine wine which hath a rich perfume, and which gratifieth the palate? [And after this doth he not make his slaves] bring in all the meats, one after the other, and each one different and the less dainty than the last? Now he who inviteth [p. 627] his friends doeth this so that those who are sitting at meat may not day, 'We have already tasted this [dish].' Even thus is [my] invitation unto you this day, although ye may say concerning the things which I shall declare unto you, 'We have heard this already,' even as Paul saith concerning the Athenians, 'The Athenians wish to hear nothing except some new thing' (Acts 17.21). And although David saith, 'Sing unto the Lord a new song, his blessing is in the church of the saints' (Ps 149.1), yet the Gospel also saith, 'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a rich man' (Cf. Matt 13.45, 52; 22.2). And ye have also heard of the honourableness of the Cross, and of its discovery, and of how the Gentiles and the Jews are coming into the knowledge of Jesus the Christ, and of how Gastor, the Jewish nobleman, hath believed with his whole house. And I Cyril, the least of all men, instructed him in the elements of the Faith, and I baptized him into the great Resurrection of the Christ, and he became a great and righteous and chosen vessel, loving the Faith of the Son of God. And I also baptized a large number of Samaritans, one of whom was Isaac, the handicraftsman (?), and he became a chosen Christian of Christ.
I mention all these, O my beloved, because I have already in times past directed your love to them. But the words of God can never become rusty, and they are sweeter than honey, and [more savory] than salt, according to what our father David said, 'Thy words are sweeter in my throat than honey' (Ps 19.10). Now, therefore, let us remember the pressing liability which is upon us, and let us see that we pay back some small part thereof. And if we are not able to pay back the whole of it, let us give two mites at least, even as did that poor woman who was blessed (Mark 12.42; Luke 21.2), or a denarius, that is to say, a stater, the like of that which Peter found in the mouth of the fish, and which he paid as tribute on behalf of himself and his Lord (Matt 17.27). For if we give only a very little of that which we have we shall be upbraided like him that giveth nothing at all. Let us understand accurately in whose Name we have been invited into this place to-day, and Who it is Who hath invited us: it is Jesus, the God of truth, Who hath invited us, in remembrance of His mother, who became to Him a throne and a place of abode. Since He hath invited us it would be most unseemly for us to shew ourselves sluggish, and not fulfill that which we have promised you in the argument of this commentary. This is the day of the Holy Offering, which is wholly pure in soul and spirit. This is the day wherein the Queen, the mother of the King of Life, tasted death like every other human being, because she was flesh and blood. And, moreover, she was begotten by a human father, and brought forth by a human mother, like every other man. Let Ebion now be ashamed, and Harpocratius, these godless heretics who say in their madness that 'she was a force (or, abstract power) of God which took the form of a woman, and came upon the earth, and was called "Mary," and this force gave birth to Emmanuel for us.' Doth it not follow from thy imaginative words, which are wholly incongruous, that Christ did not take flech upon Himself? Without flesh and without body 'forces' would be beings without bodies, and they could not die like mortal men. Notwithstanding [this], come hither ye deaf and blind and foolish, O Bion and Harpocration, and I will question you. If ye say that Mary is a 'force,' a 'force' will die. Who is it then whose falling asleep the whole of the inhabited world commemorateth by keeping a festival this day? Is it not Saint Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ? But pay attention to me with a tranquil mind and listening ears, and I will entreat the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to illumine my heart with the knowledge of all the Scriptures of God, so that I may explain clearly to you, in gladness, the life of the holy Virgin Mary, and what her race was, and what were the names of her parents according to the first genealogy which is written in the Scriptures. For we are wholly unable to follow the fictitious statements which are found in the fabulous lives of her, and which resemble the writings of the Greek poets, who in their works on theology relate mere myths about their gods; neither will we invent lives of her in order to gratify her. Now every gift of grace is of God. Of what kind is the gift of grace which came to man or to woman from Adam until this day? Understand what happened unto her, O wise virgin, since thou art in heaven, and art [near] the throne of Him who fashioned us. This gift of grace was not given unto the Patriarchs, who enjoyed friendly intercourse with God, and who ate with Him, and they never expected in the smallest degree that He would come in their time. This gift of grace was not given unto the Prophets, but they continued to prophesy the advent of the Word of God until He came and dwelt in the womb of Mary the Virgin, who became the mother of the King Christ. Shew me, [O Paraclete], who their kinsfolk were, and the house of their father, so that I may inform every one concerning the exalted position of their family.
And behold, the Virgin stretcheth out her hand to me, saying, 'O Cyril, if thou wishest to know concerning my family, and concerning the house of my fathers, hearken. I was a child promised to God, and my parents dedicated me [to Him] before I came into the world. My parents who produced me were of the tribe of Judah and of the House of David. My father was Joakim, which is, being interpreted, "Keopa." My mother was Anna, who brought me forth, and who was usually called "Mariham." I am Mary Magdalene, because the name of the village wherein I was born was "Magdalia." My name is "Mary, who belongeth to Kleopa." I am Mary who belongeth to Iakkobos (James), the son of Joseph the carpenter, into whose charge they committed me. Enquire in the Scriptures, and thou shalt find abundant information concerning these things about which thou art asking questions. In ancient days when Joshua, the son of Nun, divided up the land [which he had taken] among the children of Israel, the tribe of Judah obtained for its inheritance Jebuselia, that is to say, Jerusalem and the region about it. From that time each of the Twelve Tribes hath remained in the region of its inheritance. No tribe hath been in the habit of entering into the country of another tribe and of acquiring an inheritance therein. or property therein, and no man hath married a wife, and no woman hath taken a husband, from any tribe except their own, until the time when the Word of the Father was graciously pleased to come and to rescue us from the slavery of sin. And besides this He put on our flesh in a woman according to what He wished, [for] there was none to deliver us.'
Now I have made an examination of the ancient histories of Ioseppos (Josephus) and Eierennaios (Irenaeus), [and] those of the Hebrews which I have searched out for myself, and I am convinced of the correctness of that which I am now going to say. Mary was descended from the Jews, through the tribe of David, according to the blessing which the Lord spake, I mean to Abraham, saying, 'In thy seed all the peoples of the earth shall receive a blessing' (Gen 12.3). Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren. Our Lord was descended from the tribe of Judah, according to the blessing of Abraham, [which was] then and there fulfilled. Inasmuch as each one of you is anxious to know what I am going to say, [I will tell you] what our fathers have taught us, according to what the Psalmist David saith, 'The things which our fathers have declared shall not be hidden from their children of the generation which is to come' (Ps 78.3-4).
At the time when the Virgin was born there was a certain district of Jerusalem which was commonly called 'Magdalia,' and there was situated upon it a small village which people called by this name, and in this village were a few people who were Jews. And among these people was a man who was commonly called 'David,' and he was rich in possessions of every kind. He observed with great diligence the Law of Moses and the Prophets, which was sweeter to him than honey, and he performed manifold acts of charity to those who were in want; and he was awaiting the Redeemer of Israel, Who was to come shortly. And this man was lying on his bed one evening, and he was caught in an ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if some one said unto him, 'O Aaron, the Redeemer of Israel shall spring forth from thy family, for the time hath come when the root shall put forth fruit.' And he said within himself, 'What now is the meaning of this vision which I have seen? But, whatever it may be, whatsoever God wisheth let that happen.' And he had living there with him a woman who was a believer, and her name was Sara; and she bore unto him a man child, and his father called him Kleopa. And his father David gave unto him to wife Anna, the daughter of his brother Aminadab, and the two of them were pleasing before God. And it came to pass that after a time they gave all their possessions to Joakim their son, and to Anna his wife, together with all the village of Magdalia. Now Anna was barren, and she had never borne a son, and the matter was one of anxiety to them. And they said, 'Who then is there to inherit our possessions?'
And it came to pass that after certain days (or, many days) Joakim said unto Anna, 'Let us go to the Temple of the Lord, and let us make supplication unto the Lord, that He may shew mercy unto us, and may grant us our petition which we shall ask of Him.' And they rose up and went into the Temple of the Lord, and they made supplication unto Him, and they paid their vows to the priest, and they prayed unto the Lord with their faces flat upon the earth. And Joakim prayed, saying, 'Lord God Almighty, Who didst hear our father Abraham in his old age, and didst graciously give to him Isaac, his child of promise, hearken Thou unto me also this day, and do Thou give me the seed of men. If this come to pass, and Thou dost give unto us either a man child I or a woman child, we will dedicate him to Thy Temple all his days, and he shall minister unto Thee.' And straightway a voice came to them out of the place of the altar, saying, 'Joakim Kleopa, the prayer which thou hast made to God hath been heard, and thy petition hath been fulfilled. Now therefore arise, and get thee into thy house, for the grace that hath come to thee hath never been [bestowed upon] any of the people of old.' And Joakim thought that it was the priest who was talking to him in the place of the altar, and he answered and said unto him, 'May it be according to thy word, O my lord!' And Joakim and Anna rose up and parted to their house.
And after certain days Joakim visited Anna, and she conceived, and all those who were acquainted with her rejoiced with her. And when the days were fulfilled for her to bring forth she gave birth to a woman child, according to the Providence of God; and the grace of God was upon her face. And her parents called her '...Mary,’ and she increased in beauty (?) every day, and all those who saw her marvelled at her because of the glory of God that surrounded her at all times. And when three years were fulfilled the child was weaned from her mother's milk. And Joakim said unto Anna his wife, 'Let us give unto the Lord what we have vowed to Him, lest He be angry with us.' And they made themselves ready, together with their offerings of first-fruits, and they took them into the Temple with Mary their daughter, and they gave their offerings of first-fruits to the priests who were ruling at that time, that is to say, to Simeon and Zacharias. And they took their daughter Mary and gave her into the hands of the priests, Saying unto them, 'Behold the child whom God hath graciously given unto us. We give her as a votive offering in the Temple of the Lord, so that she may minister unto Him all her days.' And the priests blessed Joakim and Anna, saying, 'According as ye have vowed so have ye paid unto the Lord, Who will bestow His good gifts upon you in such wise that ye shall have a son in the place of this daughter Mary whom ye have given to the Lord, and whose name shall be known throughout the world.' And they said, 'Amen. So be it!' And they returned to their house. And they were in the habit of visiting their daughter once each month, when they carried to her whatsoever things of which she had need. And their little virgin daughter ministered in the Temple with the other women, who were aged virgins, and they taught her to work with her hands. And when she had become somewhat master of herself she used to go alone into the court of the Temple, but no man whatsoever saw her with the exception of the priest and her father. Her food consisted of bread and water and a few green herbs, and she did not fast for long periods at a time; in short, it is [impossible to describe] her beauty of body, and soul, and spirit.
And when she had completed the fifteenth year of her age the Shepherd was pleased to come and visit His sheep, and to snatch them away from the claws of the wolf, and the King was pleased to redeem those who belonged to Him and were in captivity in the hands of the Tyrant. And Gabriel the Archangel was sent from God to the holy Virgin Mary, and he announced to her the glad tidings that the Saviour was coming to her. But peradventure thou wilt say unto me, 'At what time, or in what manner(?), did these things take place? [Tell us] so that we may be certain about the words which thou sayest.' I will answer thy questions according to the Scriptures. God sent Gabriel on the seventh day of the month Xanthikos (April), which is the new moon Parmoute, in the year five thousand five hundred; on this [day] was conceived the Life of all of us, and He was born on the twenty-ninth day of the month Khasileue (November), which is Khoiak, in the fourth year of Augustus, the Emperor of the Romans, in the fifteenth year of the life of Mary. The place wherein He was born was Khabratha, which is Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, in the second year of Herod, the Governor all Judea. When Christ was brought to Egypt he was two years and four months old. But thou wilt in any case say unto me, 'Why did Joseph and Mary depart from Palestine and go so far away as Egypt by themselves, for it is said that there were twenty halting places before they came into Egypt? And how was it that they were able to perform such a wearisome journey which necessitated so many days of difficult travelling? And where could they find food to eat?' I will tell thee, O thou unbelieving and feeble person, the things which thou shalt set in thy remembrance, and I will speak unto thee from out of the Scriptures.
Peradventure thou wilt say unto me, 'The angel took Habakkuk to Babylon from Jerusalem, a road on which there were seventy halting places, and which required a very long time to travel over.' Habakkuk, the Scripture saith, placed the leaves of bread in a basket, and he took them with the wine and the [other] food, and went to the field to carry them to his reapers. And the angel of the Lord lifted him up by the hair of his head under the impulse of his spirit, that is to say, by the strength of his flight, and he carried him straightway to the place that was above the den of lions in Babylon, and he gave food to Daniel, and he and the reapers ate of this food on the same day. If now the power of the angel was great enough to do this, then the Lord of the angels could come to Egypt riding upon a light cloud, and, indeed, it was by means of the light cloud that God came to Egypt. And when the young Child came into Egypt He recalled to mind the works of Egypt, [for] He rode upon the light cloud which transporteth those who are without sin. The spotless Lamb and the old man Joseph came into Egypt under the guidance (or, direction) of that whereupon they rode. And the mountains and the rocks levelled themselves before them, and smooth roads whereon they could walk easily made themselves ready for their feet, and they crossed rivers and streams without the help of ship or sailor. In short, our Saviour came into Egypt by the power of His Father, and He passed three years there, and He proclaimed to the Egyptians what they ought to do whilst He was at the breast of His mother Mary. And when Herod had received the punishment which he deserved for the slaughter of the innocent children whom he had put to death, the words which are written in the prophet, saying; 'I called My Son out of Egypt' (Hos 11.1) were fulfilled. And God sent a message unto His beloved Son, and His mother Mary and Joseph by a ............ guard, and He brought them out of Egypt, and settled them in Nazareth. All these things have I related to you, beloved ones, because of the godless heretics, who say that Mary is a 'force' (or, abstract power). Behold, I have already pointed out to you in the words which I have addressed to you, saying that Mary was flesh like all other folk, and that the Lamb of God, Who took away the sins of the world, took flesh in her.
And now I wish to relate to you an incident that happened to me. There was a certain monk who lived in the neighbourhood of Maioma of Gaza, who had received instruction in the heresy of Bion and of Harpocratius his master, of whose books he obtained possession, and he expounded them publicly, and he became filled with blasphemies and with falsehoods, and he masqueraded with great pride and arrogance, and he deceived all the people who were in that neighbourhood by his pretensions, through those who used to come to the holy places there to pray. And >the things which he proclaimed in his corrupt heterodoxy were repeated to me, and I sent two ministers to the Bishop of Gaza, and I said unto him, 'I beseech thee to seek out on my behalf a certain monk who is in the neighborhood of Maioma, and do thou send him to me, together with his books.'
And when the bishop had received the letter and read it, he caused search to be made for that monk everywhere. And when they had brought him to the bishop he said unto him, 'My son, rise up and go to Jerusalem to the archbishop. If thou dost not go he will send for thee and thy books. He knoweth about thy doctrine, and about thy preaching, and whose it is.' And the monk replied, 'I will take my books and I will go to him in Jerusalem.' And the ministers took him to Jerusalem to the archbishop, who said unto him, 'We have heard, O brother, that thou art teaching a strange doctrine, and that thou art changing the voices of the Holy Gospels.' The monk, [who was called Annarikhus, said unto him, 'My teaching (or, doctrine) is not a strange doctrine, but is that of our Fathers the Apostles, and our own Fathers taught it everywhere as sound doctrine.' And Apa Cyril said unto him, 'Who mere thy Fathers?' And the monk said, 'Sator, and Ebion, who succeeded him.' And the archbishop said unto him, 'Thou hast become a disciple and hast made thyself a mule-like beast under the stupid yoke of the chariot of the Devil.' And the monk said unto him, ' Harpocratius used to cast out devils.' And the archbishop said unto him,' Shew me by what meands thou dost cast out devils, and >in what way thou dost preach the Gospel, and what thou dost say concerning Christ and His Birth according to the flesh, and concerning His mother who brought Him forth, and concerning His death which was full of salvation, and His resurrection from the dead after the third day.'
And that monk replied, 'It is written in the [Gospel] to the Hebrews that when Christ wished to come upon the earth to men the Good Father called a mighty "power" in the havens which was called "Michael'', and committed Christ to the care thereof. And the "power" came down into the world, and it was called Mary and >[Christ] was in her womb for seven months. Afterwards she gave birth to Him, and he increased in stature, and He chose the Apostles, who preached Him in every place. He fulfilled the appointed time that was decreed for Him. And the Jews became envious of Him, they >hated Him, they changed the custom of their Law, and they rose lip against Him and >laid a trap and caught Him, and they delivered Him to the governor, and he gave Him to >them to crucify >Him. And after they had raised Him up on >the Cross the Father took Him up into heaven unto Himself.' And the Patriarch Cyril >said unto the monk, 'Who sent thee about to >teach these things?' And that monk said unto him, 'The Christ said, 'Go ye forth into all the world, and teach ye all the nations in My Name in every place. (Matt 28.19-20)' And Apa Cyril said unto him, 'Dost [p. 638] thou take the Gospels literally?' And the monk said, 'Yea, absolutely, my lord Father.' And the archbishop answered and said, 'Where in the Four Gospels is it said that the holy Virgin Mary, the mother of God, is a " force "?' And the monk answered and said, 'In the [Gospel] to the Hebrews.' And Apa Cyril answered and said, 'Then, according to thy words, there are Five Gospels?' And that monk replied, 'Yea, there are.' And Apa Cyril answered and said, 'What is the name of the fifth Gospel? for I should like to from whence this doctrine concerning Christ is derived, and to understand it. The Four Gospels have written above them: "[The Gospel] according to Matthew"; "[The Gospel] according to Mark"; "[The Gospel according to Luke"; "[The Gospel] according to John." Whose is the fifth Gospel?' And that monk said unto him, 'It is [the Gospel] that was written to the Hebrews.' And Saint Cyril answered and said, 'If thou speakest the truth, O brother, must we not then reject the teaching of the Christ, and follow the misleading doctrine of the Hebrews? God forbid! The Hebrews wish for doctrine of this kind greatly, so that they may cast a blemish upon our purity and honour, even as it was said by the Christ in times of old, "Thou castest out devils by Berzeboul." (Matt 12.24 par.) And is it not written, "He who doth not confess that Jesus the Christ hath come in the flesh is a deceiver and an Antichrist, like thyself"? (2 John 7) And again, "Whosoever shall come unto thee, and bring a doctrine that is different from thine, receive him not into thy house, neither say unto him, Hail!" (2John 10) And again, "If they were of us they would have been like unto us; they came forth from us, but they are not of us." (1 John 2.19) Which meaneth that they utter the Name of Christ with their mouths only and that they make a pretence in their hearts. They heap up wrath for themselves in the day of the Judgement of Truth and the wrath that is from Jesus the Christ. The doctrine of [p. 639] the Jews cannot be joined unto the doctrine of Christ. What connection can there be between the agreement of the [Gospel to the] Hebrews and the agreement of the Holy Gospels? But those heresies must spring up which Epiphanius describes in his work AgkurwtV , saying, "The error in each one of them is different, but evil is implanted in them all.''' And Annarikhus the monk said unto Apa Cyril, 'The night cannot contend against the day, neither can darkness stand before the light. I am vanquished by thy great wisdom, and I know that I have made a mistake. Let thy fatherhood grant repentance unto me! And all these things which I have overthrown I will build up again. But take my books, and burn them in the fire, and my possessions do thou give to the poor. My heart followeth thy words and [those of] the Holy Gospel.'
And when I( i.e. Cyril) had burned his books, I said unto him 'Who...[One leaf wanting]...He to Whom no form can be assigned was born [in the form of] a son. He was the Beginning, and He Who had no beginning was brought forth. Now there was a beginning to that humanity, but the Godhead had no beginning, and was without form. And no addition took place to the Trinity in such wise that the Trinity, which consisteth of Three [Persons], became Four [Persons]. One sunodoV entered one who was of two natures, and one son was brought forth, a unity of the flesh without any diminution. For He was neither changed in His nature, nor reduced in His strength, nor was He separated from His Ancient Begetter, that is to say, the Beginning. But the oneness of the flesh of God received one Nature. As for the coming to us of the Blessed Offspring God the Word, it is the miracle that was hidden in God from eternity, I mean the miracle of God Who made Himself man. An impenetrable mystery is the Nature that abolished the curse and destroyed the sentence of death, and taught us concerning the foundation, which had no beginning, of the Only-begotten One, Jesus the Christ, our Lord, the production, according to the flesh, of the womb of Saint Mary, the perpetual Virgin, in whose holy house we are I gathered together this day to commemorate the day of her death. If thou wilt confess these things with a true and sincere belief then we will prepare to receive thee into the fold of all the sheep of the loving Shepherd Christ. Have no doubt about the matter; thou must either follow the words which I have taught thee or thou must get outside this place.' And Annarikhus opened his mouth and anathematized the heresy of Ebion and Harpocratius, saying, 'Anathema be every heresy; the things which thou [Ebion] hast said unto me are not to be believed. And now, O my father, receive thou me into good fellowship with thyself.' And when I knew that his mind had received the light I baptized him in the name of the Lady of us all, Saint Mary, whose day is this day. Finally he went to a monastery in the Mount of Olives, and he builded upon the foundation of the Apostles until the day of his death.
I have now described unto you the whole of the story concerning the heresy of Ebion who said, 'Mary, the mother of the Lord, is a " force ".' Let us now return to I that which we promised to you >in the introduction to our explanation, that is to say, the [narrative >of] the end of the life of the holy Virgin Mary. And I wish also to go back to what I promised from the beginning, and >to declare it. Tell me, O Gabriel, thou mediator between God and men, what is the history of the kinswoman of Mary, this Elisabeth? I am listening to thee, and I hear thee preaching about her saying, 'Behold, Elisabeth the kinswoman [of Mary] conceived a son in her old age, according to the prophecy in the Gospel. The parents of the Virgin were descended from the tribe of Judah, and Elisabeth was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and Aaron was descended from the tribe of Levi. Thus this matter is twofold, and it reduceth itself to two persons. Judah and Levi were brethren, each of the other, and one father, that is to say, Jacob, and one mother produced them both. Since Elisabeth was a daughter of Levi, and Mary was descended from Judah, they are then daughters of two brethren; are they not then kinswomen, each of the other? I have also stated that the little Virgin Mary was in the Temple, and that she remained by herself before the archangel Gabriel came to her with a sweet odour, and Zacharias, the husband of Elisabeth, spake unto her words of praise concerning the Virgin. I have said that she was in the Temple before the gift of the Lord was given unto her, and that there was no limit to her beauty, and the Temple was wont to be filled with angels because of her sweet odour, and they used to come to visit her for the sake of her conversation. And when Elisabeth heard these things she set out from Dorine and departed to Jerusalem, and she went into the Temple of the Lord. And when she saw Mary she marvelled at the grace of God which was on her face, and they saluted each other and sat down. And Elisabeth said unto Mary, 'Thy soul and body have been joined unto the Lord from thy childhood, and thou hast followed Him with thy whole heart so truly that the redeemer of Israel shall proceed from thee.' And Mary said, 'Blessed be the God of Israel, Who hath appointed me for Himself from my childhood to minister unto Him with perfect service.' And the two women comforted each other from the Law and the Prophets for many days. And afterwards Elisabeth returned to Dorine to her ordinary life, and she made it a habit to visit the Virgin several times that year, and she ministered unto her every need until the day when Gabriel came unto Mary and said unto her, 'Behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman hat conceived.' (Luke 1.36) Behold, moreover, the matter is plain that Mary and Elisabeth were kinswomen, each of the other, from what is written in the Gospel, the which. I have already declared to you.
Behold now, let us return to the previous subject which we left [for a short time], because there is no trouble whatsoever in discussing the queen, who became the mother of the King, and he who listeneth is not wearied by her history. It is like unto one who goeth to draw mater from a spring; as soon as he stretcheth forth his hand to draw therefrom the spring sendeth forth water in great abundance. And this is my own case when I begin [to describe] the life of the Virgin, for the fountain of my speech bubbleth up abundantly, and I cry out with the Prophet, David, and I lift up my voice, saying, 'Thou hast made me wiser than all my teachers,' (Ps 119.99) and again, 'The manifestation of Thy words is what illumineth us.' (Ps 119.130) For I looked round about me, saying, 'Where shall I begin my discourse?' Then I remembered the words which the Saviour spake unto His mother when He was hanging upon the Cross, 'Then woman, behold thy son!' referring to John. Then He turned to John, and said unto him, 'Behold thy mother!' (John 19.26) and from that day the disciple took her into his house and ministered unto her with service of every kind, even as doth a slave who serveth his lord. And she loved him even as a mother loveth her son. And she used to do many mighty works, and perform healings among the people, which were like unto those that were wrought by Jesus our God, but she never permitted the Apostles to know [about them], for she fled from the praise of men. And the Apostles were closely associated with her at all times when they were preaching. She gathered round about her a multitude of virgins, she assisted them, and she made them to rejoice in the benefits of virginity--she who had drawn nigh unto her God, Who at length came and took up His abode in her womb for nine months--and she shewed the way, and that the entrance into heaven, to her beloved Son, was good and without obstacle.
And it came to pass that for ten years after our Lord rose from the dead, according to what the Ancient History of Josephus and Irenaeus and the Hebrew authorities say, John and Mary lived in the same house in Jerusalem. And it came to pass on a certain day, for so he saith, that the holy Virgin Mary called John and said unto him, 'Go and summon to me Peter and James, and let them come to me here in this place.' And John went in haste and summoned them, and they came, and the three [Apostles] sat down before her. And she said unto them, 'Hearken unto me, O ye whom God hath chosen to preach the Gospel throughout the world. Ye have seen with your own eyes the mighty deeds and wonders which God performed in the time when He was in the world with you, and ye have no need of any to bear testimony to you. Ye three did He take up to the Mount of Olives; and your ears did hear the Voice of the Father bearing witness concerning Him, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom is My desire." Ye saw the sufferings which the Jews inflicted upon Him when He was raised upon the Cross, and that they put Him to death, and that His Father raised Him up from the dead on the third day. And I went to the tomb, and He appeared unto me, and He spake unto me, saying, "Go and inform My brethren what things ye have seen. Let those whom My Father hath loved come to Galilee." And He came in to you, the door being closed, and He spake unto you concerning the Kingdom which is in the heavens. And at the end of forty days ye were all gathered together in one place on the Mount of Olives, and he was there with you. And the Lord came again to you, and he said unto you, "I have fulfilled the dispensation which was laid down for Me in the world, and I am now going up to my Father." And ye replied, "Wilt thou depart and leave us I orphans? " And he said, "When I go I will send unto you the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, in My place, after many days, even until Pentecost. But behold, to her who was unto Me a dwelling-place I was a Son in the flesh, and she is under your care now. But I will be with you until the end of the world." And when He had said these things unto us He separated Himself from us a little, and ascended the mountain on the east, and mounted upon the Cherubim, and departed into the heights in the flesh; the which He had received from me. And thousands of thousands, and tens of thousands of tens of thousands [of angels] sang hymns to Him, and they followed Him with their eyes until He entered heaven. And we saw two men who were standing close to him, and they said, "Ye men, why are ye looking up into heaven? This is Jesus Whom they crucified, and Who is being carried up into heaven, and He it is Who shall come to judge the quick and the dead." And after the end of ten days He sent upon you the Holy Spirit, Who gave you power to do mighty works, according to your ability. Put not behind you the commandments of the Son of God; fear ye not the destruction of the kings and governors of the earth in such wise that ye shall put behind you the instructions of our Lord and Master. Now therefore, be not grieved in your hearts at what I shall say unto you.
'The time of my visitation hath drawn nigh, and I must lay down my body so that my soul and my spirit may depart to the Lord, in order that He may give unto me the things which He hath promised to me. For my Lord came unto me on the evening of the Sabbath (?), as I was standing in prayer, and He said unto me, "Dost thou know Me?" And I said unto Him, "Thou art my Lord and my beloved Son; what is it that Thou commandest me to do?" And He said unto me, "Inform Peter and John concerning these things, for it is they who shall lay their hands upon thine eyes. Now three more days have yet to pass before I shall come for thee and take thy soul and thy body into My city of the Jerusalem of heaven. And all My saints shall marvel at the glory which I shall give unto thee in that place, for it is thou who shalt make God and His angels to be reconciled with man. And thou shalt be more exalted than all the saints, and I will make My angels to hymn thee at all times, for thou resemblest them in thy purity and thy virginity. All the angels and all the hosts of heaven shall rejoice when thou comest to meet them. The Patriarchs and the prophets shall come forth to meet thee, and they shall exult because the mother of the Lord hath come to them, for they were not able to see her in the flesh. Behold, when they see her they shall praise her through God the Father. All the virgins who are in the heavens shall rejoice with thee when thou shalt meet them, and those who have preserved their virginity shall come forth to thee, and shall bow in homage before thee, saying, Well hast thou come (i.e. Welcome)! O mother of all virgins! It was time for thee to come unto us, O thou mother! Grieve thou not, O mother, about thy holy body, neither about what shall happen unto it, nor about where they shall lay it. What man is there who hath been begotten by the flesh who shall not taste death, and whose body shall not return to the earth wherefrom I took him? I tasted death, but I rose from the dead on the third day, I destroyed him that held the power of death. I will hide thy body in the earth and I will make My angels to keep it in the earth always, and no man whatsoever shall find thy body in the earth in the place wherein I shall place it, until the day wherein I shall raise it up incorruptible. And a sweet odours shall arise from out of thy body until the day wherein it shall rise up. They shall build a great and glorious church over thy body, and it shall be more splendid than a palace of kings. Haste thee [to do] the commandment; of the Apostles, and give an ordinance to the virgins. I will come with My angels, and I will hide thy body and thy soul; so then thou shalt not be afraid of Death when he shall come to thee." Now therefore call unto us all the virgins, and I will give them an ordinance.
And the Apostles did according to what she told them; and when the virgins had come unto her they saluted her and she said unto them, 'I declare unto you that I am about to depart to the Jerusalem of heaven'; and they paid no attention to the words. And Mary took hold of the hand of one of them who had waxed exceedingly old, that is to say, Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Christ had cast several devils, and she said unto the virgins, 'Behold your mother from this time onwards. Give rest to her spirit, even as she hath given rest to me in my days. Observe the customs which ye arranged to keep with the Christ when ye were with Him.' These things did she say unto the virgins, but she did not inform them about her death. And she turned to the Apostles, and she said unto Simon Peter, 'Simon Peter, whom the Lord loved, and preserved for the kingdom that is in the heavens, be merciful, even as your Father Who Is in the heavens is merciful. James and John, watch over your holy Catholicus, and be kind and gracious to every man. And thou, O Peter, go thou into the house of thy disciple Bibros, and take the pieces of fine linen which thou didst commit to his care, and bring them hither to me.' And Peter did according as she told him, and he brought the pieces of fine linen which had been committed to the care of Bifros (sic). And she said unto James, 'Rise up, take a stater, and go to the sellers of sweet perfumes, and bring its value in spices to me hither'; and he did according as she told him.
And when the day wherein she was to be taken arrived, the Virgin Mary said unto John, 'Rise up, light a great number of lamps, both large and small, for the evening hath come.' And she took the pieces of fine linen, and spread them out upon the ground, and she poured out upon them her sweet spices, and she stood up on them, and said unto the Apostles, 'Lee us pray to I the Lord, so that He may have mercy upon us.' And she spread out her hands towards the east, and she made supplication to the Lord, saying, 'I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord God Almighty, and to Thine Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father, because He came to us, and built for Himself a fleshly tabernacle in my womb, according as He wished. I brought Him forth without pollution, without blemish. I nursed Him (or, reared Him) with anxious care, and it was He Who nourished me. I give thanks unto Him because Thy Holy Spirit came into me. And now, my Lord, the time hath come when Thou shalt draw nigh unto me, and shalt be gracious unto me. Scatter all the stones of stumbling that are before me and [all] obstacles, and let all those that are in my path, both on the left hand and on the right hand, flee before me. Stand Thou near me with gladness. Let the powers of darkness be ashamed, for nothing of theirs hath been found in me; Open unto me the gates of righteousness, and let me go in through them, and I will make manifest Thy holy name, O my God. Let the Dragon flee before me, for have freedom of speech before Thee. May the river of fire be tranquil when I come unto Thee, and may it allow me cross over it, for I unto Thee belongs the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.'
And when she had said these things she lay down upon the pieces of fine linen and the sweet spices, and her face was towards the east. And behold, the Lord Jesus Christ came unto her upon the Cherubim, with the angels before Him, and He came and stood at His mother's head, and He said unto her, 'Be not afraid of Death, for the Life of the whole world is with thee, but it is necessary that at least thou shouldst Glance at him with thine eyes, and he will not come except he be commanded to do so.' And Jesus said unto Death, 'Come, O thou who art in the chambers of the south.' And when Mary saw him she cast her soul into the bosom of her Son, and He wrapped it up in a napkin(?) of delight. And the Apostles laid their hands upon her eyes, and she fell asleep with a good falling asleep on the night of the twentieth day of Tobe, in the peace of God! Amen.
And the Lord said unto the Apostles, 'Take up her bed carefully, and take it to the Valley of Jehosaphat, which is opposite the Mount of Olives, the place where I broke bread in days of old. Set down there the bier whereon is the body, and withdraw yourselves because of the threatening of the Jews, for they will pursue you wishing to slay you. And I will hide the body according as it pleaseth Me.' Thereupon the Apostles took up the body and placed it upon a bier.
And when the morning had come a great multitude was gathered together in the city, and the virgins cried out. And straightway Peter and John lifted up the body to carry out to the place of which the Saviour had told them, and a great multitude of people sang psalms and hymns before it, saying, 'The Lord .......,' and a multitude of angels sang hymns before her. And when they arrived at the Temple of the Jews all the members of the Sanhedrin were gathered together in the Temple on that day, and they heard the singing of the hymns over her holy body. And they said, 'Who is this who hath died in the city this day?' And [the people] said unto them, 'It is the mother of the Nazarene, that is, Jesus, who hath died, and they are taking her out to bury her.' And they passed a decree unanimously, saying, 'We must not let her be buried in the city; lest mighty deeds be worked [at her tomb] similar to those which her Son performed, and lest the people believe in her, and they change our Law.' And the high priests and the scribes said, let us go and burn her body with fire, so that no man will ever be able to find it.' And the Jews lighted a fire, and they pursued [the Apostles] with the bier whereon was the body of the Virgin. And when the Apostles had arrived at the Valley of Jehosaphat they looked behind them, I and they saw the Jews pursuing them, and they dropped the bier upon the ground, for they were afraid that the godless Jews would kill them. And whilst the Jews were rushing on to overtake them the Apostles betook themselves to flight and escaped. Now the body of the holy Virgin they could not find, and all that they found was the wooden bier, and they lighted a fire and threw the bier into it. And they went into every place, saying, 'Perhaps her body hath been carried away secretly,' but they could not find it. And a very strong sweet smell emanated from the place whereon the body of the Virgin had been laid, and a mighty voice came from heaven, saying unto them, 'Let no man give himself the trouble of seeking after the body of the Virgin until the great day of the appearing the Saviour.' And the Jews fled greatly ashamed; and they came to the city and told their neighbours what had happened, and they commended them, saying, 'Tell no man whomsoever what hath happened.'
Now, therefore, O my beloved, these are the things which we were able to discover for our discourse on the life of the holy Virgin Mary. The whole time of her life was sixty years. She gave birth to our Lord when she was fifteen years; she followed the Saviour when He was preaching for three and a half years after she gave Him birth, and after the Saviour rose from the dead she lived eleven years and a half more. She ended her life on the twentieth day of the month Tobe. Our Lord Jesus, the Christ, reigneth over us. And after the righteous Emperors, Constantine and his son, rose up we built a holy church in the name of the holy Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord, on the day of her holy commemoration. And let us send up to her thanksgiving, saying, 'Remember us, O true Queen, and do thou plead on our behalf before God, so that He may shew mercy unto us and so that me may celebrate a festival to Him at all times.' Let us give alms to the poor in the name of the Virgin, [so that] she may not forsake us in the place to which we are going. Let us ascribe glory unto her by the utterances of our lips, and let us say, 'Through thee honours have been bestowed upon the city by our God.' And again, 'The death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord.' (Ps 116.15) And again, 'The sound of rejoicing and salvation is in the habitation of the righteous.' (Ps 118.15) And now the time hath arrived for us to offer up the Holy Offering, the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ, our Lord, and moderation in everything is good. By the Will of God we will give the remainder of the exegesis in the holy shrine. Let us then bring to an end our discourse at this place, and let us ascribe glory to the Holy Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, lifegiving and consubstantial, now and always, and for ever and ever. Amen.
Introduction and html text by © Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ph.D.
Cyril of Jerusalem (Greek Κύριλλος Α΄ Ἱεροσολύμων) was a distinguished theologian of the early Church (ca. 313 – 386). He is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. In 1883, Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII. He is highly respected in the Palestinian Christian Community.