Glagolitic
Linguistics


Saints Cyril and Methodius

Apostles of the Slavs

Born in Thessalonika, Greece; Cyril in 827, Methodius in 815 (some say 826); died respectively in Rome on February 14, 869 and probably at Stare Mesto (Velehrad, Czechoslovakia) on April 6, 884; feast day formerly on July 7 (or March 9); Pope John Paul II in 1981 declared them joint patrons of Europe with Saint Benedict.

". . . We pray Thee, Lord, give to us, Thy servants, in all time of our life on earth, a mind forgetful of past ill-will, a pure conscience and sincere thoughts, and a heart to love our brethren; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord and only Savior."

--From the Coptic Liturgy of Saint Cyril.

Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born into a senatorial family, who both rose to high positions in the world--Methodius became governor of a colony in the Slav province of Opsikion; Cyril, a leading philosopher at the University of Constantinople. Cyril, the younger of the two, was baptized Constantine and sent at an early age to study at the imperial university at Constantinople under Leo the Grammarian and Photius, was ordained deacon, and in time took over Photius's position at the university. Cyril also served as librarian at the church of Santa Sophia, where he earned the reputation and surname 'the Philosopher.' Methodius was also ordained. Both renounced the life of this world and went to live in a monastery on the Bosphorus.

In 861, Emperor Michael III sent Cyril deep into the Dnieper-Volga regions of Russia to convert the Khazars, who were Jews. His brother accompanied him. Both brothers were brilliant linguists and soon familiarized themselves with the Khazar language. They came back to their monastery after a successful mission, and Methodius became abbot of an important monastery in Greece. 

Almost immediately (863) they were sent by the then Patriarch Photius of Constantinople to convert the Moravians at the request of Prince Rostislav. German missionaries had been unsuccessful in their attempts to convert the Moravians; Cyril and Methodius met with success because of their knowledge of the Slavonic tongue.

They invented an alphabet called glagolitic, which marked the beginning of Slavonic literature (the Cyrillic alphabet traditionally ascribed to Cyril was probably the work of his followers in Bulgaria, although both could have been inventions of Saint Cyril). Cyril, with the help of his brother, translated the liturgical books into Slavonic.

Meanwhile, they incurred the enmity of the German clergy because of their free use of Slavonic in Church services and because they were from Constantinople, which was suspect to many in the West because of the heresy rife in the East. Further, their missionary efforts were hampered by the refusal of the German bishop of Passau to ordain their candidates for the priesthood.

These two brother saints always celebrated Mass and administered the sacraments in the Slavonic language. News of their successful missionary work among the pagan Slavs was carried to Rome along with complaints against them for celebrating the rites of the Church in the heathen vernacular. 

In 868 Saints Cyril and Methodius were summoned to Rome by Nicholas I, but arriving there after his death. They travelled at an unfortunate time; Photius had incurred excommunication (because he had been illegally appointed) and their liturgical use of Slavonic was strongly criticized. However, Nicholas's successor, Adrian II, received them warmly. They presented him with the alleged relics of Pope Saint Clement, which Cyril was said to have miraculously recovered from the sea in Crimea on his was back from the Khazars. 

Adrian was convinced of their orthodoxy, approved their use of Slavonic in the liturgy, and was so delighted and impressed by Cyril and Methodius that he determined that they should be consecrated bishops. It is believed that before this could happen, Constantine became a monk at SS. Boniface and Alexus in Rome and took the name Cyril, but probably died before his consecration as bishop. He was buried in the beautiful church of San Clemente on the Coelian in Rome, where there is an ancient fresco depicting Cyril's funeral. (His earthly remains were discovered in the lower part of the church in 1880 and now lie in a chapel dedicated to him and his brother, set off the right aisle of this church.)

Methodius was consecrated bishop and struggled on alone, often in dangerously hostile lands. He bore a letter from the Holy See commending him as a man of "exact understanding and orthodoxy." At the request of Prince Kosel of Moravia and Pannonia, Pope Adrian revived the ancient archdiocese of Sirmium (now Mitrovitsa), consisting of Moravia and Pannonia, independent of the German hierarchy, and made Methodius archbishop at Velehrad, Czechoslovakia (I don't know which two of the countries this is now part ofSt. Cyril died in Rome in 869 and is buried in the Church of San Clemente. St. Methodius was afterwards consecrated Archbishop of Moravia and Pannonia and returned thither to his missionary work. Later on he was again accused of using the heathen Slavonic language in the celebration of the Mass and in the sacraments. It was a popular idea then, that as there had been three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, inscribed over our Lord on the cross, it would be sacrilegious to use any other language in the service of the Church. St.Methodius appealed to the pope and in 879 he was again summoned to Rome, before John VIII, who after hearing the matter sanctioned the use of the Slavonic language in the Mass and the offices of the Church, saying among other things:

We rightly praise the Slavonic letters invented by Cyril in which praises to God are set forth, and we order that the glories and deeds of Christ our Lord be told in that same language. Nor is it in anywise opposed to wholesome doctrine and faith to say Mass in that same Slavonic language (Nec sanæ fidei vel doctrinæ aliquid obstat missam in eadem slavonica lingua canere), or to chant the holy gospels or divine lessons from the Old and New Testaments duly translated and interpreted therein, or the other parts of the divine office: for He who created the three principal languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, also made the others for His praise and glory (Boczek, Codex, tom. I, pp. 43-44). F)

From that time onward the Slavonic tongue was firmly fixed as a liturgical language of the Church, and was used wherever the Slavic tribes were converted to Christianity under the influence of monks and missionaries of the Greek Rite. The Cyrillic letters used in writing it are adaptations of the uncial Greek alphabet, with the addition of a number of new letters to express sounds not found in the greek language. All Church books in Russia, Servia, Bulgaria, or Austro-Hungary (whether used in the Greek Catholic or the Greek Orthodox Churches) are printed in the old Cyrillic alphabet and in the ancient Slavonic tongue.

Although he was supported by the pope, many German bishops resented his work among the Moravians (and probably the loss of territory). King Ludwig (Louis the German), urged on by the bishops, deposed Methodius at a synod at Ratisbon (Regensburg) and actually imprisoned him for two years in 870. Pope John VIII secured his release and returned him to his see, but thought it politic to forbid his use of Slavonic in the liturgy, although Methodius was authorized to use it in preaching. At the same time John reminded the German bishops that Pannonia and the disposition of sees throughout Illyricum belonged to the Holy See.

During the following years, Methodius continued his work of evangelization in Moravia, but he made an enemy of Rostislav's nephew, Svatopluk, who had driven his uncle out. Methodius rebuked Svatopluk for his wicked ways. Accordingly, in 878, the archbishop was reported to the Holy See for continuing to hold Mass in Slavonic and for heresy, in that he omitted the words "and the Son (filioque)" from the creed, which at that time had not been introduced everywhere in the West, not even in Rome. Methodius was summoned again to Rome in 879. John was convinced that he was not heterodox, and impressed by Methodius's arguments, again permitted the use of Slavonic in the Mass and public prayers.

Finally, Methodius returned to Constantinople to complete a translation of the Bible that he and Cyril had begun together. Methodius's struggle with the Germans continued throughout the balance of his life. Methodius was subjected to serious vexations, especially from his suffragan Bishop Wiching of Nitra, who was so unscrupulous as to forge a papal letter in his own favor. After Methodius's death, Wiching drove out his principal followers, including Saint Clement Slovensky, who took refuge in Bulgaria. 

These two heroes of the faith are considered the "Apostles of the Slavs" or "of the Southern Slavs." Even today the liturgical language of the Russians, Serbians, Ukranians, and Bulgars is that designed by the two brothers. Their feast was extended to the universal Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1880. Methodius is regarded as a pioneer in the use of the vernacular in the liturgy and as a patron of ecumenism (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer, Schamoni, Walsh, White).

In art, the two can be identified as an Oriental bishop and monk (anonymous Russian icon) holding up a church between them.

Sources:

  • St.Patrick's Church, Washington - http://users.erols.com/saintpat/ss/0214.htm#cyri
  • New Advent - Catholic Encyclopedia - Slavovic Language and Liturgy - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14041b.htm

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Created: Sunday, September 09, 2001; Last updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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