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    painting of herring in a net

    A Ransom for Captives

    Addressing baptismal candidates, a fourth-century bishop tells them of the life that awaits once they submit to Christ.

    By Cyril of Jerusalem

    September 3, 2023

    A certain man in the gospels busily pried into the marriage feast: he took an unbecoming garment, came in, sat down, and ate; for the bridegroom permitted thus far; whereas, when he saw the white robes of all, be ought himself likewise to be taken such another: yet he shared like meats with them, being unlike them in fashion and in purpose. (Matt. 22:12) But the bridegroom, though bountiful, was not undiscerning: and, as he went round to each of the guests and viewed them (not that he was careful how they feasted, but how they behaved), seeing a stranger, not having a wedding garment on, he said to him, Friend, how camest thou in hither? With what stained raiment? With what a conscience? What, though the porter stopped thee not, because of the bountifulness of the entertainer? … Shouldest thou not have made a seasonable retreat, that thou mightest have a seasonable return? But now hast thou turned in unseasonably, that unseasonably thou mightest be thrust out. So he commands his servants, Bind his feet, which have daringly intruded – bind his hands, which were not skilled to robe him in the bright garment; and cast him into the outer darkness; for he is unworthy of the wedding torches. Thou hast seen how he fared then; take heed to thyself.

    For we, the ministers of Christ, have admitted every man, and holding as it were the place of door-keepers, have left the door unfastened. Thou hast been free then to enter with a soul bemired with sins, and a defiled purpose. Entered thou hast: thou hast passed, thou hast been enrolled. Dost thou see these venerable arrangements of the Church? Viewest thou her order and discipline, the reading of the Scriptures, the presence of the religious, the course of teaching? Let then the place affect thee, let the sight sober thee. Depart in good time now, and enter tomorrow in better. If avarice has been the fashion of thy soul, put on another, and then come in: put off what thou hadst, cloak it not over: put off, I pray thee, fornication and uncleanness, and put on the most bright robe of soberness. This charge I give thee, before Jesus the spouse of souls come in, and see their fashion. Thou art allowed a distant day; thou hast a penitence of fortyfootnote; thou hast full time to put off, and to wash thee, to put on, and to enter in. But if thou abide in thy evil purpose, he who speaks is blameless, but thou must not look for grace; for though the water shall receive thee, the Spirit will not accept thee. Whoso is conscious of a wound, let him take the salve; whoso has fallen, let him rise.…

    painting of herring in a net

    Winslow Homer, The Herring Net (detail), 1885

    Perhaps thou comest on another ground. A man may be wishing to pay court to a woman, and on that account come hither: and the same applies to women likewise: again, a slave often wishes thus to please his master, or one friend another. I avail myself of this angler’s bait and receive thee, as one who has come indeed with an unsound purpose, but art to be saved by a good hope. Thou knewest not perchance whither thou wast coming, nor what net was taking thee. Thou art within the Church’s nets, submit to be taken; flee not, for Jesus would secure thee, not to make thee die, but by death to make thee live. For thou must die and rise again; thou hast heard the Apostle saying, Dead indeed to sin, but alive unto righteousness. Die then to thy sins, and live to righteousness: yea, from this day forth, live (Rom. 6:11. 1 Pet. 2:24).

    Great indeed is the baptism which is offered you. It is a ransom to captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; the luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption. But a serpent by the wayside is watching the passengers; beware lest he bite thee with unbelief; he sees so many receiving salvation and seeks to devour some of them. Thou art going to the Father of Spirits, but thou art going past the serpent; how then must thou pass him? Have thy feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace: that even if he bite, he may not hurt thee. Have faith indwelling, strong hope, a sandal of power, wherewith to pass the enemy, and enter the presence of thy Lord. Prepare thine own heart to receive doctrine, to have fellowship in holy mysteries. Pray more often, that God may make thee worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries.

    God is able, who knows your hearts, and perceives who is sincere and who is a hypocrite, both to preserve the sincere, and to give faith to the hypocrite; nay even to the unbeliever, if he give Him but his heart. And may he blot out the handwriting that is against you, and grant you forgiveness of your former trespasses; may he plant you in the church, and enlist you for himself, putting on you the armour of righteousness! (Col. 2:14) And may he fill you with the heavenly things of the New Testament, and give you the indelible seal of the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever! Amen.

    Source: The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Vol. II (Oxford: John Henry Parker; J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1839) 2–3, 8–9.


    1. In some churches this period was of thirty days; in others twenty; in the churches of Italy it seems to have been more than forty days.
    Contributed By CyrilOfJerusalem Cyril of Jerusalem

    Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 313–386) was Archbishop of Jerusalem and a doctor of the church.

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