Friday, February 14, 2014

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Today is the memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius. These brothers were born in Thessalonica, in 827 and 826 respectively. They are known as the apostles to the Slavs, which meant they were missionaries in that region of Europe in which the culture of the East meets the culture of the West. Their missionary efforts represent a co-operation between the Church of the West and the East, demonstrating that Latin and Orthodox Christianity have been able at times to work together to accomplish common goals.

They were sent by the emperor in 861 to convert the Jewish Khazars of Russia, a mission that was successful, and which allowed him to learn the Khazar’s language. In 863, the emperor sent them into the kingdom of Grand-Moravia; through great effort and in spite of tremendous difficulties they converted the Slavonic nations. Along with their zeal for evangelization, the two saints are known as the Fathers of the Slavic language. They developed the Glagolithic or Cyrillic alphabet, the elegant script of which can still be seen today in letters of the Russian and other eastern European languages. They also translated the Gospels, the Psalter, Paul’s letters, and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy.

In 867 the two brothers came to Rome, were met by Pope Hadrian II (867-872) and the whole papal court. They gave a report of their labors but encountered opposition on the part of jealous clergy who took offense, it was said, because of their liturgical innovations. Cyril and Methodius explained their methods and from the Pope himself received episcopal consecration (868). Soon after, Cyril died at Rome, only forty-two years old, and was buried in St. Peter's; later his body was transferred to San Clemente, where his remains still rest. His funeral resembled a triumphal procession.

Methodius returned to Moravia and labored as a missionary among the Hungarians, Bulgarians, Dalmatians, and the inhabitants of Carinthia. Falling again under suspicion, he returned to Rome and defended the use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy. The Pope bestowed upon him the dignity of archbishop. After his return to Moravia, he converted the duke of Bohemia and his wife, spread the light of faith in Bohemia and Poland, is said to have gone to Moscow (after the erection of the See of Lemberg), and to have established the diocese of Kiev. After his return he died in Bohemia and was buried in the Church of St. Mary at Velehrad, the services being conducted in Greek, Slavonic, and Latin.

Pope John Paul II made Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius patrons of Europe, along with St. Benedict. They are also patrons of ecumenism and patrons of unity between the Eastern and Western Churches.

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