Cyrus or Cyrrhus was a town of the district of Syria called after it Cyrestica. The capital of Cyrestica was Gindarus, which Strabo describes as being in his time a natural nest of robbers. Cyrus lies on a branch of the river OEnoparas, now Aphreen, and the site is still known as Koros. A tradition has long obtained that it received the name of Cyrus from the Jews in honour of their great benefactor, but this is more than doubtful. The form Cyrus may have arisen from a confusion with a Cyrus in Susiana. The Cyrestica is a fertile plain lying between the spurs of the Alma Dagh and the Euphrates, irrigated by three streams and blessed with a rich soil. The diocese, which was subject to the Metropolitan of Hierapolis, contained some sixteen hundred square miles and eight hundred distinct parishes each with its church. But Cyrus itself was a wretched little place scantily inhabited. Before it was beautified by the munificence of Theodoret it contained no buildings of any dignity or grace. The people of the town as well as of the diocese seem to have been poor in orthodoxy as well as in pocket, and the rich soil of the district grew a plentiful crop of the tares of Arianism, Marcionism, Eunomianism and Judaism.
Such was the diocese to which Theodoret, in spite of his honest nolo episcopari, was consecrated at about the age of thirty, a.d.423. Of the circumstances of this consecration we have no evidence. Garnerius conjectures that he must have been ordained deacon by Alexander who succeeded Porphyrius at Antioch. He was probably appointed, if not consecrated, to succeed Isidorus at Cyrus, by Theodotus the successor of Alexander on the patriarchal throne of Antioch. In this diocese certainly for five and twenty years, perhaps for five and thirty, with occasional intervals he worked night and day with unflagging patience and perseverance for the good of the people committed to his care, and in the cause of his Master and of the truth. The ecclesiastic of these early times is sometimes imagined to have been a morose and ungenial ascetic, wasting his energies in unprofitable hair-splitting, and taking little or no interest in the every day needs of his contemporaries. In marked contrast with this imaginary bishop stands out the kindly figure of the real bishop of Cyrus, as the modest statements and hints supplied by his own letters enable us to recall him.
As an administrator and man of business he was munificent and efficient. Stripped, as we have already learnt, of his family property by his own act and will, he must have been dependent in his diocese on the revenues of his see. From these, which cannot have been small, he was able to spend large sums on public works. Cyrus was adorned with porticoes, with two great bridges, with baths, and with an aqueduct, all at Theodoret's expense. On assuming the administration of his diocese he took measures, he tells us, to secure for Cyrus |the necessary arts,| and from these three words we need not hesitate to infer that architects, engineers, masons, sculptors, and carpenters, would be attracted |from all quarters| to the bishop's important works. And for this increased population it is interesting to note that Theodoret provided competent practitioners in medicine and surgery, in which it would seem he was not himself unskilled. His keen interest in the temporal needs of his people is shown by the efforts he made to obtain relief for them from the cruel pressure of exorbitant taxation. So unendurable was the tale of imposts under which they groaned that in many cases they were deserting their farms and the country, and he earnestly appeals to the empress Pulcheria and to his friend Anatolius to help them. The tender sympathy felt by him for all those afflicted in body and estate, as well as in mind, is shown in his letters on behalf of Celestinianus, or Celestiacus, a gentleman of position at Carthage, who had suffered cruelly during the attack of the Vandals, and in the admirable and touching letters of consolation addressed to survivors on the deaths of relatives. That these should have been religiously preserved need excite no surprise. Of the terms on which he lived with his neighbours we can form some idea from the justifiable boast contained in his letter to Nomus. In the quarter of a century of his episcopate, he writes, he never appeared in court either as prosecutor or defendant; his clergy followed his admirable example; he never took an obol or a garment from any one; not one of his household ever received so much as a loaf or an egg; he could not bear to think that he had any property beyond his few poor clothes. Yet he was always ready to give where he would not receive, and in addition to all the diocesan and literary work which he conscientiously performed, he spent more time than he could well afford in all sorts of extra diocesan business which his position thrust in his way.
As a shepherd of souls he was unceasing in his efforts to win heathen, heretics and Jews to the true faith. His diocese, when he assumed its government, was a very hotbed of heresy. Nevertheless in the famous letter to Leo he could boast that not a tare was left to spoil the crop. His fame as a preacher was great and wide, and makes us the more regret that of the discourses which in turn roused, cheered, and blamed, so little should survive. The eloquence, so to say, of his extant writings, gives indications of the force of spoken utterances not less marked by learning and literary skill. Two of his letters give vivid pictures of the enthusiasm of oriental auditories in Antioch, once so populous and so keen in theological interest, where now, amid a people numbering only about a fiftieth part of their predecessors of the fifth century, there is not a single church. We see the patriarch John in a frenzy of gladness at Theodoret's sermons, clapping his hands and springing again and again from his chair; we see the heads of the congregation receiving the bishop of Cyrus with frantic delight as he came down from the pulpit, flinging their arms round him, kissing now his head, now his breast, now his hands, now his knees, and hear them exclaiming, |This is the Voice of the Apostle!| But Theodoret had to encounter sometimes the fury of opposition. Again and again in his campaign against heretics and unbelievers he was stoned, wounded, and brought nigh unto death. |He from whom no secrets are hid knows all the bruises my body has received, aimed at me by ill-named heretics, and what fights I have fought in most of the cities of the East against Jews, heretics, and heathen.|