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Saints Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs

Brothers from Greece
Cyril born in 826, died 14 February 869; Methodius born in 815, died 6 April 885
Proclaimed Patrons of Europe in 1980 by Pope St John Paul II, who wrote about them in his 1985 encyclical Slavorum Apostoli
Feast Day - 14th February

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, Wednesday 17 June 2009 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to talk about Saints Cyril and Methodius, brothers by blood and in the faith, the so-called 'Apostles to the Slavs'. Cyril was born in Thessalonica to Leo, an imperial magistrate, in 826 or 827. He was the youngest of seven. As a child he learned the Slavonic language. When he was 14 years old he was sent to Constantinople to be educated and was companion to the young Emperor, Michael III. In those years Cyril was introduced to the various university disciplines, including dialectics, and his teacher was Photius. After refusing a brilliant marriage he decided to receive holy orders and became 'librarian' at the Patriarchate. Shortly afterwards, wishing to retire in solitude, he went into hiding at a monastery but was soon discovered and entrusted with teaching the sacred and profane sciences. He carried out this office so well that he earned the nickname of 'Philosopher'. In the meantime, his brother Michael (born in about 815), left the world after an administrative career in Macedonia, and withdrew to a monastic life on Mount Olympus in Bithynia, where he was given the name "Methodius" (a monk's monastic name had to begin with the same letter as his baptismal name) and became hegumen of the Monastery of Polychron.

Attracted by his brother's example, Cyril too decided to give up teaching and go to Mount Olympus to meditate and pray. A few years later (in about 861), the imperial government sent him on a mission to the Khazars on the Sea of Azov who had asked for a scholar to be sent to them who could converse with both Jews and Saracens. Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius, stayed for a long time in Crimea where he learned Hebrew and sought the body of Pope Clement I who had been exiled there. Cyril found Pope Clement's tomb and, when he made the return journey with his brother, he took Clement's precious relics with him. Having arrived in Constantinople the two brothers were sent to Moravia by the Emperor Michael III, who had received a specific request from Prince Ratislav of Moravia: "Since our people rejected paganism", Ratislav wrote to Michael, "they have embraced the Christian law; but we do not have a teacher who can explain the true faith to us in our own language." The mission was soon unusually successful. By translating the liturgy into the Slavonic language the two brothers earned immense popularity.
However, this gave rise to hostility among the Frankish clergy who had arrived in Moravia before the brothers and considered the territory to be under their ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In order to justify themselves, in 867 the two brothers travelled to Rome. On the way they stopped in Venice, where they had a heated discussion with the champions of the so-called 'trilingual heresy' who claimed that there were only three languages in which it was lawful to praise God: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The two brothers obviously forcefully opposed this claim. In Rome Cyril and Methodius were received by Pope Adrian ii who led a procession to meet them in order to give a dignified welcome to St Clement's relics. The Pope had also realized the great importance of their exceptional mission. Since the middle of the first millennium, in fact, thousands of Slavs had settled in those territories located between the two parts of the Roman Empire, the East and the West, whose relations were fraught with tension. The Pope perceived that the Slav peoples would be able to serve as a bridge and thereby help to preserve the union between the Christians of both parts of the Empire. Thus he did not hesitate to approve the mission of the two brothers in Great Moravia, accepting and approving the use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy. The Slavonic Books were laid on the altar of St Mary of Phatmé (St Mary Major) and the liturgy in the Slavonic tongue was celebrated in the Basilicas of St Peter, St Andrew and St Paul.

Unfortunately, Cyril fell seriously ill in Rome. Feeling that his death was at hand, he wanted to consecrate himself totally to God as a monk in one of the Greek monasteries of the City (probably Santa Prassede) and took the monastic name of Cyril (his baptismal name was Constantine). He then insistently begged his brother Methodius, who in the meantime had been ordained a Bishop, not to abandon their mission in Moravia and to return to the peoples there. He addressed this prayer to God: "Lord, my God... hear my prayers and keep the flock you have entrusted to me faithful .... Free them from the heresy of the three languages, gather them all in unity and make the people you have chosen agree in the true faith and confession." He died on 14 February 869.

Faithful to the pledge he had made with his brother, Methodius returned to Moravia and Pannonia (today, Hungary) the following year, 870, where once again he encountered the violent aversion of the Frankish missionaries who took him prisoner. He did not lose heart and when he was released in 873, he worked hard to organize the Church and train a group of disciples. It was to the merit of these disciples that it was possible to survive the crisis unleashed after the death of Methodius on 6 April 885: persecuted and imprisoned, some of them were sold as slaves and taken to Venice where they were redeemed by a Constantinopolitan official who allowed them to return to the countries of the Slavonic Balkans. Welcomed in Bulgaria, they were able to continue the mission that Methodius had begun and to disseminate the Gospel in the "Land of the Rus". God with his mysterious Providence thus availed himself of their persecution to save the work of the holy brothers. Literary documentation of their work is extant. It suffices to think of texts such as the Evangeliarium (liturgical passages of the New Testament), the Psalter, various liturgical texts in Slavonic, on which both the brothers had worked. Indeed, after Cyril's death, it is to Methodius and to his disciples that we owe the translation of the entire Sacred Scriptures, the Nomocanone and the Book of the Fathers.

Wishing now to sum up concisely the profile of the two brothers, we should first recall the enthusiasm with which Cyril approached the writings of St Gregory of Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the transmission of the Revelation. St Gregory had expressed the wish that Christ would speak through him: "I am a servant of the Word, so I put myself at the service of the Word". Desirous of imitating Gregory in this service, Cyril asked Christ to deign to speak in Slavonic through him. He introduced his work of translation with the solemn invocation: "Listen, O all of you Slav Peoples, listen to the word that comes from God, the word that nourishes souls, the word that leads to the knowledge of God". In fact, a few years before the Prince of Moravia had asked the Emperor Michael III to send missionaries to his country, it seems that Cyril and his brother Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were already working on the project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in Slavonic. The need for new graphic characters closer to the language spoken was therefore clearly apparent: so it was that the Glagolitic alphabet came into being. Subsequently modified, it was later designated by the name "Cyrillic", in honour of the man who inspired it. It was a crucial event for the development of the Slav civilization in general. Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the individual peoples could not claim to have received the Revelation fully unless they had heard it in their own language and read it in the characters proper to their own alphabet.

Methodius had the merit of ensuring that the work begun by his brother was not suddenly interrupted. While Cyril, the 'Philosopher', was more inclined to contemplation, Methodius on the other hand had a leaning for the active life. Thanks to this he was able to lay the foundations of the successive affirmation of what we might call the 'Cyrillian-Methodian idea': it accompanied the Slav peoples in the different periods of their history, encouraging their cultural, national and religious development. This was already recognized by Pope Pius XI in his Apostolic Letter Quod Sanctum Cyrillum, in which he described the two brothers: "Sons of the East, with a Byzantine homeland, of Greek origin, for the Roman missions to reap Slav apostolic fruit." The historic role they played was later officially proclaimed by Pope John Paul II who, with his Apostolic Letter Egregiae Virtutis, declared them Co-Patrons of Europe, together with St Benedict.

Cyril and Methodius are in fact a classic example of what today is meant by the term 'inculturation': every people must integrate the message revealed into its own culture and express its saving truth in its own language. This implies a very demanding effort of "translation" because it requires the identification of the appropriate words to present anew, without distortion, the riches of the revealed word. The two holy brothers have left us a most important testimony of this, to which the Church also looks today in order to draw from it inspiration and guidelines."

Pope St John Paul II's Prayer
at the end of his encyclical letter, Slavorum Apostoli

O great God, One in Trinity, I entrust to you the heritage of faith of the Slav nations: preserve and bless this work of yours!

Remember, O Almighty Father, the moment when, in accordance with your will, the "fullness of time" arrived for these peoples and nations, and the holy Missionaries from Salonika faithfully fulfilled the command that your Son Jesus Christ had entrusted to his Apostles; following in their footsteps and in those of their successors, they brought into the lands inhabited by the Slavs the light of the Gospel, the Good News of salvation and, in their presence, bore testimony:
- that you are the Creator of man, that you are our Father and that in you us men are all brothers;
- that through the Son, your eternal Word, you have given existence to all things, and have called men to participate in your life without end;
- that you have so loved the world as to grant it the gift of your only begotten Son, who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and by the workings of the Holy Spirit became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was made man;
- and, finally, that you have sent the Spirit of power and consolation so that every man, redeemed by Christ, may in him receive the dignity of son and become co-heir of the unfailing promises which you have made to humanity!

Your plan of creation, O Father, culminating in the Redemption, touches living man and embraces his entire life and the history of all peoples.

Grant, O Father, what the whole Church today implores from you and grant also that the people and the nations which, thanks to the apostolic mission of the holy Brothers from Salonika, have known and accepted you, the true God, and through Baptism have entered into the holy community of your sons, may still continue, without hindrance, to accept with enthusiasm and trust this evangelical programme and continue to realize all their human possibilities on the foundation of their teachings!

- May they follow, in conformity with their own conscience, the voice of your call along the paths shown to them for the first time eleven centuries ago!

- May their membership of the Kingdom of your Son never be considered by anyone to be contrary to the good of their earthly homeland!

- May they render to you due praise in private and in public life!

- May they live in truth, charity, justice and in the enjoyment of the messianic peace which enfolds human hearts, communities, the earth and the entire universe!

- Aware of their dignity as men and sons of God, may they have the force to overcome all hatred and to conquer evil with good!

But also grant to the whole of Europe, O Most Holy Trinity, that through the intercession of the two holy Brothers it may feel ever more strongly the need for religious-Christian unity and for a brotherly communion of all its peoples, so that when incomprehension and mutual distrust have been overcome and when ideological conflicts have been conquered in the common awareness of the truth, it may be for the whole world an example of just and peaceful coexistence in mutual respect and inviolate liberty.

To you, therefore, God the Father Almighty, God the Son who have redeemed the world, God the Spirit who are the sustainer and teacher of all holiness, I desire to entrust the whole Church of yesterday, today and tomorrow, the Church both in Europe and throughout the earth. Into your hands I commit this singular wealth, made up of so many different gifts, ancient and new, placed in the common treasury by so many different sons.

The whole Church thanks you, who called the Slav nations into the communion of the faith, for this heritage and for the contribution made by them to the universal patrimony. The Pope of Slav origin in a special way thanks you for this. May this contribution never cease to enrich the Church, the Continent of Europe and the whole world! May it never fail in Europe and in the world of today! May it never be missing from the memories of our contemporaries! We desire to accept in its entirety everything original and valid which the Slav nations have brought and continue to bring to the spiritual patrimony of the Church and of humanity. The whole Church, aware of this common treasure, professes her spiritual solidarity with them and reaffirms her own responsibility towards the Gospel, for the work of salvation which she is called upon to accomplish also today in the whole world, unto the ends of the earth. It is indispensable to go back to the past in order to understand, in its light, current reality and to discern tomorrow. For the mission of the Church is, in fact, always oriented and directed with unfailing hope towards the future.

The future! However much it may humanly seem filled with threats and uncertainties, we trustfully place it in your hands, Heavenly Father, invoking the intercession of the Mother of your Son and Mother of the Church, that of your Apostles Peter and Paul, and of Saints Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, of Augustine and Boniface and all the other evangelizers of Europe who, strong in faith, in hope and in charity, proclaimed to our fathers your salvation and your peace, and amid the toils of the spiritual sowing began to build the civilization of love, the new order based on your holy law and the help of your grace, which at the end of the age will give life to all things and to all people in the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen!