Born in or near Jerusalem around the year 315 and educated there, Cyril became a presbyter and was entrusted by Maximus, the bishop of Jerusalem, with the instruction of catechumens. These catechetical discourses are his most famous works and were probably written by him between 348 and 350.
This work consists of an introductory lecture, the Procatechesis, and eighteen Catecheses based on the articles of the creed of the Church of Jerusalem, and were given before the Pasch (Easter) to candidates for Baptism. These lectures may have been used many times by Cyril and his successors, and the form of them that we possess today may have been considerably revised from the original. They probably formed at least part of the pre-baptismal instruction that Egeria, a pilgrim nun from Spain, witnessed at Jerusalem near the end of the fourth century and described with great enthusiasm in her Travels.
Cyril’s Five Mystagogical Catecheses are lectures on the sacraments, delivered to the newly baptized after the Pasch, and are now thought to have been composed, or at least revised, by John, Cyril’s successor as bishop of Jerusalem, based substantially on Cyril’s own teaching.
Cyril became bishop of Jerusalem around 349 and soon became involved in controversy with Acacius, the metropolitan bishop of Caesarea and a leading proponent of Arianism, and his claims to precedence and jurisdiction over the Church at Jerusalem and its bishop. Cyril refused to appear before a council of bishops who charged him with contumacy and with having sold church goods to relieve the poor. (Earlier Cyril had secretly sold valuable ornaments, including a particularly valuable episcopal vestment that had been given to the church by the emperor Constantine, in order to feed the poor of Jerusalem in the midst of a drastic food shortage.) Constantius, the emperor at the time, was brought into the dispute, and Cyril was exiled in 357. He was reinstated as bishop in 359 by the Council of Seleucia, which also deposed his opponent Acacius, though Cyril twice suffered banishment later.
Cyril’s orthodoxy had been questioned, both by the Homoousians (the supporters of the Nicene formulation) and by the Arians. It is true that he was earlier doubtful of the term homoousios (of one substance (or being) [with the Father]), as were many of the “conservatives” during the Arian controversy who were uncertain of the creedal use of words not found in the Scriptures (like homoousios), but he later took full part in and consented to the conclusions of the Council of Constantinople in 381, which finally determined the Nicene formulation as the orthodox teaching of the catholic Church. Cyril was probably always orthodox in his intent, if not always in his language.
It is thought likely that Cyril instituted the observances of Palm Sunday and Holy Week during the latter years of his episcopate in Jerusalem. In so doing, he organized devotions for the many pilgrims who thronged Jerusalem during those days as they visited the sacred sites. These observances are described in delighted detail by the pilgrim nun Egeria, again in her Travels, and likely through the influence of pilgrims like her led to the development of Holy Week observances throughout the Church, East and West.
Cyril died at Jerusalem on March 18, 386. He was about seventy years old and served as bishop for thirty-five years, of which about sixteen were spent in exile.
prepared from material in Lesser Feasts and Fast
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
Strengthen, O Lord, the bishops of your Church in their special calling to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, so that they, like your servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct your people in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them, may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.