A READING FROM A COMMENTARY ON ISAIAH BY ST CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA
In the book of Isaiah it is written: Behold, the virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel. Yet when blessed Gabriel revealed this mystery to the holy Virgin who was to be the Mother of God, he said: Do not he afraid, Mary, for you have found favour in God’s sight. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins. How is this? Does the message of the holy angel contradict that of the prophet?
By no means. Speaking mysteries in the Spirit, the inspired Prophet foretold that God would be with us, naming him “Emmanuel” in consideration of his divine nature and of the plan whereby he became incarnate. The blessed angel on the other hand called him by a name that signified his function: he has in fact saved his people, and on this account he is called “Saviour” This is how hosts of angels announced the Good News to the shepherds at the time when he humbled himself to be born in the flesh for our sake: Be not afraid, they said; today we bring you good tidings of a great joy for the whole people: a saviour has been born this day in the city of David, and he is Christ the Lord. Rightly then is he named Emmanuel, because being God by nature he became God-with-us when he was made man. And yet he is also named Jesus, because being God, and being made man, he had the task of saving the world.
So when he came forth from his mother’s womb (for according to the flesh he was truly born of her) his name was conferred on him. It was inappropriate for God the Word to be named “Christ” before his birth in the flesh: how should he be called Christ, the Anointed One, when he had not yet been anointed? But when he was born as man, then there was given to him the name that belonged to him in virtue of his human condition.
Scripture says that his mouth was made into a sharp sword, and this is true as well. Elsewhere in the same prophecy of Isaiah we are told, Righteousness will be the belt around his waist, truth will be his vesture, and with the breath of his lips he will destroy the impious. God’s message from heaven, that Good News proclaimed by the mouth of Christ, has become a sharp sword in play against the devil’s tyranny, a sword to slay the rulers of this world of darkness and the spiritual of wickedness. For he dispersed the mist of deceit and irradiated all human hearts with true knowledge of God. He sheared off the sin of the world, justifying the impious by faith, filling those who draw near with the Holy Spirit and making them sons of God. He instilled into them a strong and most valiant purpose, and put into their hands the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, so that they might withstand the foes who had once prevailed and run unhindered toward the prize of their heavenly calling.
St Cyril of Alexandria, Lib. 4, Oratio 4 (PG 70, 1035-1038), from Word in Season 1