Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Cyril of Alexandria
(For 7th Sunday of Easter)
As Jesus blessed them he was carried up to heaven. (Jn 13:34)
If there had not been many dwelling places in the house of God the Father, our Lord would have told us that he was going on ahead to prepare the dwelling places of the saints. He knew, however, that many such dwelling places already prepared were awaiting the arrival of those who love God.
Therefore he did not give this as the reason for his departure, but rather his desire to open the way for our ascent to those heavenly places and to prepare a safe passage for us by making smooth the road that had previously been impassible. For heaven was then completely inaccessible to us—human foot had never trodden that pure and holy country of the angels.
It was Christ who first prepared the way for our ascent there. By offering himself to God the Father as the firstfruits of all who are dead and buried, he gave us a way of entry into heaven and was himself the first human being the inhabitants of heaven ever saw.
The angels in heaven, knowing nothing of the sacred and profound mystery of the incarnation, were astonished at his coming and almost thrown into confusion by an event so strange and unheard of. “Who is this coming from Edom?” they asked; that is, from the earth.
But the Spirit did not leave the heavenly throng ignorant of the wonderful wisdom of God the Father. Commanding them to open the gates of heaven in honor of the King and Master of the universe, he cried out: “Lift up your gates, you princes, and be lifted up you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in.”
And so our Lord Jesus Christ has opened up for us a new and living way, as Paul says, “not by entering a sanctuary made with hands, but by entering heaven itself to appear before God on our behalf.” For Christ has not ascended in order to make his own appearance before God the Father. He was, is, and ever will be in the Father and in the sight of him from whom he receives his being, for he is his Father’s unfailing joy.
But now the Word, who had never before been clothed in human nature, has ascended as a man to show himself in a strange and unfamiliar fashion. And he has done this on our account and in our name, so that being like us, though with his power as the Son, and hearing the command, “Sit at my right hand,” as a member of our race, he might transmit to all of us the glory of being children of God.
For since he became man it is as one of us that he sits at the right hand of God the Father, even though he is above all creation and one in substance with his Father, having truly come forth from him as God from God and Light from Light.
As man then he appeared before the Father on our behalf, to enable us whom original sin had excluded from his presence once more to see the Father’s face. As the Son he took his seat to enable us as sons and daughters through him to be called children of God.
So Paul, who claims to speak for Christ, teaching that the whole human race has a share in the events of Christ’s life, says that “God has raised us up with him and enthroned us with him in heaven.”
To Christ as the Son by nature belongs the prerogative of sitting at the Father’s side; this honor can rightly and truly be ascribed to him alone.
Yet because his having become man means that he sits there as one who is in all respects like ourselves, as well as being as we believe God from God, in some mysterious way he passes this honor on to us.
On John's Gospel 9: PG 74, 182-183
Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch in 412. Until 428 the pen of this brilliant theologian was employed in exegesis and polemics against the Arians; after that date it was devoted almost entirely to refuting the Nestorian heresy. The teaching of Nestorius was condemned in 431 by the Council of Ephesus at which Cyril presided, and Mary’s title, Mother of God, was solemnly recognized. The incarnation is central to Cyril’s theology. Only if Christ is consubstantial with the Father and with us can he save us, for the meeting ground between God and ourselves is the flesh of Christ. Through our kinship with Christ, the Word made flesh, we become children of God, and share in the filial relation of the Son with the Father.
**From Saint Louis University