25 May 2010

St Cyril Among the Saracens

I thought this was an interesting story from the ‘For Consideration’ section of yesterday’s Prologue reading. St Cyril, Equal to the Apostles, addresses the question of a Christian pacifism:

They asked St Cyril in the Saracen camp: ‘As a Christian, is it possible to wage war and also to fulfil Christ’s command to pray to God for your enemies?’ To this St Cyril replied: ‘If, in one law, there are two commandments written and given to men to fulfil, which man would the better fulfil the law—he who fulfils one commandment or he who fulfils both?’ To this the Saracens replied: ‘Undoubtedly, he who fulfils both.’ St Cyril continued: ‘Christ our God commands us to pray to God for all those who persecute us, and to do good to them, but He has also said to us: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]. And we therefore submit to the insults that our enemies cast at us individually, and pray to God for them, but as a group we defend one another and lay down our lives for one another, so that you wouldn’t, by enslaving our brothers, take away their souls along with their bodies and kill them off completely.’ [1]

According to Anthony-Emil Tachiaos, St Cyril went among the Saracens mainly as a political diplomat, but true to the tradition we considered yesterday (here), was also caught up in extensive theological conversations. In Tachiaos’s words:

It is apparent from this [passage in St Cyril’s biography] that the discussions took place in the course of lengthy symposia, around a table laden with provender. At first the talk was theological, but it soon encompassed other subjects. The Arabs cross-examined Cyril and were stunned by the extent of his knowledge; and having tried unsuccessfully to impress him with their own knowledge, they were quick to ask him: ‘How do you know all this?’ Cyril replied first with a parable, which brought him to the proud maxim that expressed all the self-assurance of Byzantine thinking: ‘All the sciences started with us’. [2]

[1] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 2, tr. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 167.

[2] Anthony-Emil N. Tachiaos, Cyril & Methodius of Thessalonica: The Acculturation of the Slavs (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2001), p. 32.


Josh said...

Wow - what a beautiful answer.

Mark Christian said...

I was similarly struck this past week with a quotation deeply loved by His Holiness, Patriarch Pavle, found in the writings of the nineteenth century Montenegrin military commander Marko Miljanov:

"Bravery is when I defend myself from my enemy, and righteousness is when I defend my enemy from myself."

Perhaps another way of construing St. Cyril's notion of the two laws?

aaronandbrighid said...

John> Indeed!

Fr Mark> Yes, I think that's an excellent way to restate it, though the emphasis on defending oneself rather than one's neighbour might be suboptimal.