Cyril of Scythopolis

views updated


The biographer of St. Sabas, who made a penitential prostration (metanoia ) before the saint at the age of seven, influenced by his father, John, who had met Sabas in 518 at Scythopolis and as a result of a miracle performed by the saint, resolved to follow him (Vita Sabbae 63). Sabas had frequently visited the home of John and blessed his wife; and on his return in 532, the couple resolved to live a continent life. John was employed in the metropolitan tribunal and given lodging in the episcopal residence. At the urging of St. Sabas he taught his son Cyril the Psalter. The family was occasionally visited by monks from the Great Laura (Mar Saba) and each year sent a gift to the monastery and to St. John the Solitary.

Under this influence Cyril at 18 (in 543) entered clerical orders as a lector, and visited the monastery of Beella (Ain Bala), where he was clothed with the monastic habit by the Hegoumen or Abbot George, who later ordered him to write the Lives of Sabas and of Euthymius. Cyril then departed for the desert of Juda between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea to carry out his vocation as a disciple of Sabas. When passing through Jerusalem (Nov. 21), he assisted at the dedication of the new church of St. Mary and, in accord with his mother's instructions, paid a visit of consultation to John the Solitary in the Great Laura. Despite this non-agenarian's advice, he entered the Laura of Calamon (Qasr-Hadjla) near the Jordan. The physical and moral hardships proved too difficult for his youth, and in a dream he was encouraged to follow a guide who led him to the Laura of St. Euthymius. There he decided to write the lives of the more remarkable ascetics in the Judean desert. He was one of the more fervent orthodox monks chosen to repopulate the New Laura after its Origenistic community was dispersed (Feb. 555). Two years later he was admitted to the Great Laura and began to gather the sayings of St. Sabas and the counsels of George of Beella. He also found the opportunity to visit John the Solitary. After John's death (Jan. 8, 559), Cyril completed his life of John with an account of his death. The signature of three of Cyril's compositions claim that he was a priest; but the incomplete state of the manuscripts indicates that he never had time to form a single, finished corpus for his biographies.

E. Schwartz has published the seven biographies written by Cyril in what appears to be their chronological order: the lives of Saints Euthymius, Sabas, John the Solitary, Cyriacus, Theodosius, Theognius, and Abraham of Crete. The life of Theodosius was taken from a panegyric by Bp. Theodore of Petra pronounced on Jan. 11, 529; that of Theognius from a panegyric written by Paul Helladius, the Solitary of Elousa. The complete text of the Life of Abramius is preserved in an Arabic version translated into German by E. Graf [Byzantinische Zeitschrift 14 (1905) 509518] and Latin by P. Peeters [ Analecta Bollandiana 24 (1905) 349366], and G. Garitte has published 17 lines of the life of John the Solitary narrating his death scene [Analecta Bollandiana 72 (1954) 7584].

One of the better Greek hagiographers, Cyril does not employ a blatant rhetoric but a simple style that reveals his faith and narrational facility; his work is based on the information of his own experiences and the traditions he collected from the monasteries and coenobia. His mention of persons and places gave his contemporaries opportunity to control his statements. Modern scholars who do not appreciate the apparent credulity of his epoch and the theological interests and prejudices of his milieu are nevertheless provided with numerous precious chronological indications.

Bibliography: e. schwartz, ed., Kyrillos von Skythopolis (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 49.2; 1939). e. stein, Analecta Bollandiana 62 (1944) 169186. f. dÖlger, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 40 (1940) 474484. a. j. festugiÈre, ed., Les Moines d'Orient (Paris 1961) v.3. f. diekamp, Die origenistischen Streitigkeiten im sechsten Jahrhundert (Münster 1899); "Zur Chronologie der origenistischen Streitigkeiten im 6. Jahrhundert," Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 21 (1900) 743757. h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 408410. k. baus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 6:711. i. hausherr, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. villier et al. (Paris 1932) 2:268790.

[h. chirat]