A READING FROM A COMMENTARY ON ISAIAH BY ST CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA.
Let the thirsty land rejoice, let the wilderness exult and flower like the lily. The desert regions of the Jordan shall blossom and be glad. The glory of Lebanon is given to it and the honour of Carmel. My people shall see the glory of the Lord and the majesty of our God.
In inspired Scripture it is usually the church drawn from the Gentiles that is described as barren and sterile; the church, that is, which once existed among the pagans, the church which had not received Christ, her spiritual bridegroom from heaven, and was still deprived of every blessing. Dry and thirsty, she was like ground that brings forth thorns. Then Christ came to her. She took him to herself through faith, and the divine stream that flows from him enriched her, for he is the fountain of life and a torrent of delight. It was he himself who said through one of the prophets: Behold, 1 visit them like a river of peace and like a torrent pouring out on them the glory of the nations. After that she was no longer sterile and barren, but had a husband and many children and bloomed with spiritual flowers.
Let her who used to thirst rejoice greatly, says Scripture; let her flower like the lily and put forth blossoms both beautiful and fragrant. We know from Paul that this was Christ’s fragrance, for he wrote: To God, we have the fragrance of Christ.
The desert regions of the Jordan of which Scripture speaks are those bordering the river. The river Jordan has been given to us Gentiles, or at least to those among us who have believed, and it is in our territory. We have been baptized in it, and so as I said this sacred stream is ours.
To this desert, then, formerly parched but now watered by the renowned river Jordan, the glory of Lebanon and the honour of Carmel have been given. Lebanon and Carmel are names often used for Jerusalem and the temple of God itself. But the glory which once belonged to the holy city and the temple of God has been given to the Church drawn from the Gentiles, and in it we have seen the glory of the Lord and the majesty of God. The Jews treated the Lord as a mere man in no way superior to other men but we have seen the majesty of his glory. We know that he is God - by divine dispensation God made man, but nevertheless still God.
A pure highway shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way. By a pure highway, the prophet means either the power of a life lived according to the Gospel or, alternatively, the purification accomplished by the Spirit. For the Spirit cleanses human souls of their stains, frees them from sins, and gives them mastery over whatever could pollute them. It is therefore rightly called a holy and pure way. It is a way inaccessible to those as yet unpurified, for no one can live according to the Gospel who has not first been enriched by the purification of holy baptism; nor therefore can any unbeliever.
St Cyril of Alexandria, In Is. Lib. 3, t. 3 (PG 70, 749-754), from Word in Season 1