St. Cyril of Alexandria is best known for his role in the Christological disputes of the fifth century. In recent years, however, scholars have turned their attention to Cyril the exegete. Cyril wrote extensive commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible; in fact, two-thirds of his extant corpus is devoted to biblical interpretation. Yet, despite this strong interest in Cyril as theologian and biblical interpreter, his activity as the Patriarch of Alexandria remains obscure. Doctrinal treatises and biblical commentary reveal little of the daily pastoral duties that occupied Cyril during his years as leader of one of ancient Christianity’s most important sees. This new translation of Cyril’s festal letters will help fill these gaps.
Twenty-nine in all, these letters cover all but three of Cyril’s years as bishop. In Alexandria, festal letters functioned primarily as a vehicle for announcing the beginning of Lent and the proper date for the celebration of Easter. They also served an important catechetical purpose by providing the patriarch with an annual opportunity to present his flock with a pastoral version of the theological issues that found more formal and complex expression elsewhere. Thus, Cyril’s Festal Letters offer the modern reader a glimpse into the issues that Cyril himself considered important enough to proclaim to the entire diocese and a sample of how he prepared these ideas for reception by a less sophisticated audience.
These letters illuminate other aspects of the ancient church in Alexandria, including that church’s complex relationship with the Jews and other religious groups, as well as the ways in which the ascetical movement wound its way into the patriarch’s pastoral program. In short, Cyril of Alexandria’s Festal Letters provides modern readers with a rare opportunity to enter the daily reality of the church in ancient Alexandria.