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June 16, 2024

Gospel Commentary for the Seventh Sunday of Pascha - John 17:1 (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

From his Commentary on the Gospel of John (Bk. 11, Ch. 3)

"These things spake Jesus; and lifting up His eyes to heaven He said, Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may also glorify Thee" (Jn. 17:1).

Having given His disciples a sufficiency of things necessary for salvation, and incited them by fitting words and arguments to a more accurate apprehension of His doctrines, and made them best able to battle against temptation, and confirmed the courage of each one, He straightway changes the form of His speech for our profit, and turns it into a kind of prayer, allowing no interval to elapse between His discourse to them and His prayer to God the Father; herein also by His own conduct suggesting to us a type of admirable life. For the man who aims at serving God ought, I think, to bear in mind that he ought at all events either to be fond of discoursing to his brethren of things profitable or necessary for their salvation, or, if he be not so engaged, to hasten to employ the service of the tongue in supplications to God, so as to render it impossible for any random words to slip in between; for in this way the governance of the tongue may be well and suitably ordered. For is it not quite obvious that, in vain conversations, things blameworthy may very readily escape a man? Moreover, a wise man has said: "In the multitude of words thou shalt not escape sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise" (Prov. 10:19).

You may find besides another thing to admire, which is in no small degree profitable for us. The beginning of His prayer has reference to His own glory and that of God the Father, and afterwards, in intimate connexion with this, He introduces His prayer for us. And why is this? The reason is one which convinces the pious man that loves God, and actually disposes the worker of good deeds to prayer. For just as we ought to perform good actions, and do all things, not turning to our own glory our zeal herein, but to the glory of the Father of the Universe, I mean God, for He says: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16); so also it best befits us, when occasion calls us to prayer, to pray for what redounds to God's glory before what concerns ourselves, as indeed Christ also Himself enjoins us when He says: "After this manner pray ye: Our Father Which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done as in Heaven so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:9-11). What Christ here does, then, ought to be to us the pattern of prayer. For it was necessary that not an elder or messenger, but Christ Himself, should manifest Himself to be our Leader and Guide in all good, and in the way which leadeth to God. For we are called, and are in very truth, as the prophet says, taught of God.

And what He says to His Father it is right that we should consider with the greatest care. For I think we ought in a spirit of the most earnest attention to handle the investigation of His words, and most carefully search after the true intent of His teaching. "Father," then, He says, "the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may also glorify Thee." So far as the mere form of His language is concerned, one could think that the speaker had some lack of glory; but any one who considers the majesty of the Only-begotten would, I think, quickly shrink from so grievous a conclusion. For it were great folly to think that the Son has any lack of glory, or falls short of the honour which is His due, though He is the Lord of glory, for so the inspired writings call Him. Especially when in another place we observe Him saying to His Father: "O Father, glorify Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (Jn. 17:5). Then who can any longer doubt, or who is so demented and so far the enemy of all truth as not to know and confess that the Only-begotten is not bereft of Divine glory so far as His own Nature is concerned; but that since being in the form of God, and in perfect equality with Him, He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but nevertheless descended to the humiliation of human nature, and emptied Himself of His glory, wearing this mean body; and from love towards us putting on the likeness of human littleness, now that the fitting time had actually arrived, at which He was destined, after fulfilling the mystery of our redemption, to gird Himself about with His pristine and essential glory; having wrought out the salvation of the whole world, and secured life and the knowledge of God to those that are therein; herein I say He shows that He has God's Will and favour, and makes this speech to Him, saying that He ought to recover the majesty due unto His Nature.

And how does He ascend into heaven? Surely He That even in the flesh showed Himself able to accomplish the deeds of a God was not in this subject to another's power, but ascended of Himself, being the Wisdom and Might of God the Father. For we must think that thus in no other way He accomplishes the words of a God with power. For all things are from the Father, but not without the Son. For how could God the Father perform any of His proper functions, if His Wisdom and Might, I mean the Son, were not with Him, and accomplishing with Him those things in which His power is seen in active operation? Therefore also the wise Evangelist who wrote this book at the beginning of His work says: "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made" (Jn. 1:3). Since then the doctrine of His Consubstantiality compels us by consequence to think that all things proceed from the Father, but wholly through the Son in the Spirit, and that He, having slain death and corruption and taken away from the devil his kingdom, was about to illumine the whole world with the light of the Spirit, and to show Himself thereby henceforth in very deed the true God by Nature, He is impelled to say, "Father, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may also glorify Thee." And no man of sense would maintain that the Son asks glory from the Father as a man from man, but rather that He also promises to give Him glory, as it were, in return. For it would be very unbecoming, nay rather wholly foolish, to have such an idea about God. The Saviour indeed spake these words to show how very necessary His own glory was to the Father, that He might be known to be Consubstantial with Him. For just as it would entail dishonour on God the Father, that the Son who was begotten of Him should not be such as He who is God by Nature and of God ought to be, so I think, to have His own Son invested with those attributes, which He is conceived of as having, and which are predicated of Him, will confer honour and glory upon Him. The Father therefore is glorified in the glory of His Offspring, as I said just now; giving glory to the Son, by considering throughout His earthly career, both from how great, and of what, a Father the Only-begotten sprang; and in turn receiving glory from the Son by the consideration of how great indeed is the Son, of Whom He is the Father. The honour and glory then, which is Theirs essentially and by Nature, will be reflected from the Son on the Father, and in turn from the Father on the Son.

If any man concede that, owing to the degradation of His Incarnation, our Lord here speaks more humbly than His true Nature warrants, for this was His custom, he will not altogether miss arriving at a proper conclusion, but will not quite attain to the truth in the inquiry. For, if He were seeking only honour from the Father, there would be nothing unlikely in setting down the request to the inferiority of human nature; but, since He promises to glorify the Father in turn, does it not follow of necessity, that we should readily embrace the view we have just given?

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