Saints Cyril, Monk and Methodius, Bishop

Saints Cyril, Monk, and Methodius, Bishop, Patrons of Europe (Feast)

Cyril and Methodius were two Byzantine Greek brothers from a noble family in Thessalonika, a district in north-eastern Greece. Methodius was born about 825 AD, and Cyril (known through most of his life as Constantine) the younger, was born about 827 AD. Though belonging to a senatorial family, they set aside all secular honours and became priests. They were living as monks in a monastery on the Bosphorous, when the Khazars sent a request to Constantinople asking for a Christian teacher (at their height the Khazars controlled much of what is today southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan and large portions of the Caucasus). 

Constantine was chosen, but his brother went with him. They learned the Khazar language and made many converts. Soon afterwards, there was also a request from the Moravians for a preacher of the Gospel (Moravia is today in the east of the Czech Republic). German missionaries had been working there, but because they did not know the local language, met with little success. The Moravians wanted someone who could teach them, and conduct their liturgy in the Slavonic language.

Because of their knowledge of the language Constantine and Methodius were chosen. They went to Moravia in 863 AD and worked there for four and a half years. However, to do their work more effectively, Constantine devised an alphabet, based on the Greek alphabet, but with extra letters to accommodate sounds in the Slavonic language. With the help of his brother, he then translated the Gospels and the needed liturgical books into the Slavonic language which now could also be read using the new alphabet (and the alphabet is called ‘Cyrillic’ after its creator).  

In spite of their success, they were not trusted by the German church. First, because they had come from Constantinople where the church was very divided by schism and, second, because they celebrated the liturgy in the Slavonic language rather than Latin. Because of this, they were called to Rome by Pope Nicholas I, who, however, died before their arrival. They were received kindly by his successor, Pope Adrian II. Having been convinced of their doctrinal orthodoxy, the pope approved of their missionary work, sanctioned the use of Slavonic in the liturgy and ordained Methodius and Constantine bishops. They had arrived in Rome in 868 AD where Constantine entered a monastery, taking the name Cyril, by which he is now remembered. However, he died only a few weeks later on 4 February, 869 and is buried in the Church of San Clemente (now taken care of by Irish Dominicans).

At the request of the Moravian princes and a Slav prince, the people established the Archdiocese of Moravia and Pannonia, and made it independent of the German church. Methodius was its first archbishop. But two years later in 870 AD, Methodius was called to a synod in Ratisbon. There, he was deposed and put in prison.

Three years later he was released on the orders of Pope John VIII and reinstated. However, he was again called to Rome on the allegations of a German priest, Wiching, who questioned his orthodoxy and his use of the Slavonic language instead of Latin. After an enquiry, the use of Slavonic was approved with the proviso that the Gospel had first to be read in Latin before being reading Slavonic. Wiching then became a suffragan bishop under Methodius, but continued to oppose him. One of the last things Methodius did, was to go to Constantinople where, with the help of some priests, he completed the translation of the Bible, with the exception of the Books of Maccabees. Worn out by his labours and struggles, Methodius died on 6 April, 885.

Formerly the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius was celebrated in Bohemia and Moravia on 9 March, but Pope Pius IX changed the date to 5 July. Pope Leo XIII by his Encyclical Grande Munus of 30 September 1880, extended the feast to the universal Church. On 1 October 1999, SS Cyril and Methodius were named Patrons of Europe by Pope John Paul II together with Saints Benedict, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).

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