Today is the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Orate pro nobis.
These brothers, the Apostles of the Slavs, were born in Thessalonica, in 827 and 826 respectively. Though belonging to a senatorial family they renounced secular honours and became priests. Formerly the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius was celebrated in Bohemia and Moravia on 9 March; but Pius IX changed the date to 5 July. Leo XIII, by his Encyclical “Grande Munus” of 30 September, 1880, extended the feast to the universal Church. (3)
Saints Cyril and Methodius
By Dom Prosper Guerenger
Twin stars this day arise in the heavens of Holy Mother Church, illuminating by the radiant beams of their apostolate immense tracts of country. Seeing that they start from Byzantium, one is at first tempted to suppose that their efforts are going to be performed independently of the laws which Rome has the right to dictate. But the auspicious influence of St. Clement I, through his sacred relics, diverts their course, as we shall see (in the Breviary Lessons below), towards the Holy City; and presently they can be seen working with matchless splendor in St. Peter’s orbit, manifesting once more to the whole earth that all true light, in the order of salvation, radiates solely from the Vicar of the Man-God. Then once again is realized that word of the psalmist, that there are no speeches nor languages where the voices of the messengers of light are not heard (Ps. 108: 4).
To the sudden and splendid outburst of the good tidings, which marked the first centuries of the Christian era, had succeeded the labors of the second apostolate, to which the Holy Ghost entrusted the gathering in of those new nations called by Divine Wisdom to replace the ancient world. Already under that mysterious influence of the eternal city whereby she assimilated to herself even her conquerors, another Latin race had been formed out of those barbarians whose invasion seemed, like a deluge, to have submerged the whole empire (St. Leo the Great, Issue No. 156). Scarcely was this marvellous transformation effected by the Baptism of the Franks (St. Remigius, Issue No. 150), the conversion from Arianism of the Goths (St. Isidore of Seville, Issue No. 160) and of their variously named brethren in arms, than the Anglo-Saxons, the Germans, and lastly the Scandinavians, conducted respectively by the three monks, St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Boniface (Issue No. 172) and St. Anscharius, came in turn to knock for admission at the gates of Holy Church. At the creative voice of these new apostles, Europe appeared, issuing from the waters of the sacred font.
Meanwhile the constant movement of the great migration of nations had, by degrees, brought as far as the banks of the Danube a people whose name began in the ninth century to attract universal attention. Between the East and West the Slavs, profiting on the one hand by the weakness of Charlemagne’s descendants, and by the revolutions of the Byzantine court on the other, were aiming at erecting their various tribes into principalities, independent alike of both empires. This was now the hour chosen by Providence to win over to Christianity and to civilization a race hitherto without a history. The Spirit of Pentecost rested on the heads of the two holy brothers whom we are today celebrating. Prepared by the monastic life for every trial and suffering, they brought to this people struggling to issue from the shades of ignorance the first elements of letters, and tidings of the noble destiny to which God, our Savior, invites men and nations. Thus was the Slavonic race fitted to complete the great European family, so evidently the object of eternal predilection, and God ceded to it a larger territory than He had bestowed upon any other in Europe.
Happy this nation had she but continued ever attached to Rome, which had lent her such valuable assistance in the midst of the early struggles disputing her existence! Nothing, indeed, so strongly seconded her aspirations for independence as the favor of having a peculiar language in the sacred rites, a favor obtained for her, from the See of Peter, by her two apostles. Having by this use become sacred, the primitive Slavonic tongue has undergone none of those variations incident to the idiom of every other nation; whilst giving birth to the various dialects of the different peoples issuing from the common stock, it has itself remained the same, following the most insignificant Slavonic tribes through every phase of their history, and continuing, in the case of the greater number of them, to group them apart from all other nationalities at the foot of their own altars. Beautiful indeed such unity as this, a very glory for holy Church, had but the desire and the hope of the two Saints who based it on the immutable Rock of Peter been able to keep it ever fixed thereon! But woeful and terrible would such an arm become in the service of tyranny, when Satan induced it to fall by schism into the hands of Hell’s accursed agents!
Let us turn to the ample narrative of the two illustrious brothers, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, given us by the Church for this day:
Ss. Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born of noble parents in Thessalonica, and when old enough were sent to Constantinople that they might, in the great capital of the East, learn the principles of literature and the arts. Both of them made great progress in a short time; but especially St. Cyril, who attained such a reputation for learning that as a token of distinction he was called the philosopher. St. Methodius afterwards became a monk; while St. Cyril was judged worthy by the Empress Theodora, at the suggestion of Ignatius the Patriarch, to be entrusted with the labor of instructing in the Faith of Christ the Khazars, a people dwelling beyond the Chersonesus; which people, being taught by his precepts and incited by the grace of God, abolishing their numerous superstitions, he added unto the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Having excellently organized the new Christian community, he returned, filled with joy, to Constantinople, and betook himself to the same monastery of Polychrone, wherein St. Methodius had already retired. In the meanwhile the fame of the success gained in the country beyond the Chersonesus having reached the ears of Ratislas, Prince of Moravia, he was earnest with the Emperor Michael III, in negotiating the grant of some evangelical laborers. Ss. Cyril and Methodius being therefore designated for this expedition, were received with great joy in Moravia; and with so much energy, care, and ability did they strive to infuse into the minds of the people the Christian doctrine, that it was not long before this nation most cordially subscribed its name to Jesus Christ. This success was in no small measure due to the knowledge of the Slavonic tongue which St. Cyril had previously acquired; and of very great avail, likewise, was the translation which he made of both Testaments of the Holy Scriptures, into the language proper to this people: indeed Ss. Cyril and Methodius were the first to find alphabetical letters whereby this language of the Slavs is signified and expressed, and, on this account, they are not undeservedly held as the originators of this same language.
When favorable rumor brought as far as Rome the glorious fame of these achievements, the Pope, St. Nicholas I, ordered these two illustrious brothers to repair to Rome. They set out on their journey to Rome, bearing with them the relics of St. Clement I which St. Cyril had discovered in the Chersonesus. At which news, Pope Adrian II, who had succeeded on the death of St. Nicholas, went forth with a great concourse of the clergy and people, to meet them, in token of veneration. Then Ss. Cyril and Methodius related to the Sovereign Pontiff, in the presence of his clergy, the details regarding their apostolic ministry in which they had been holily and laboriously engaged; but as they were accused by the envious of having presumed to use the Slavonic tongue in the performance of the sacred rites, such weighty and clear reasons did they allege for so doing, that the Pope and his clergy both praised and approved these holy men. Then both of them, having sworn that they would persevere in the Faith of Blessed Peter and of the Roman Pontiffs, were consecrated Bishops by Pope Adrian. But it was the divine decree that St. Cyril, ripened rather in virtue than in age, should end his mortal course at Rome. He, therefore, being dead, his corpse was borne in a public funeral to the very grave that Pope Adrian had prepared for himself; later on, the holy body was taken to St. Clement’s that it might lie near the relics of that Saint. And as he was thus borne through the city amidst the festive chanting of psalms, with pomp rather triumphal than funeral, the Roman people seemed to be paying to the holy man the first fruits of heavenly honors. St. Methodius, on his part, having returned into Moravia, there applied himself with his whole soul to be an example in his works to his flock; and day by day he strove more and more to further Catholic interests. He likewise confirmed in the Faith of the Christian name the Pannonians, Bulgarians, and Dalmatians; moreover he labored much among the Carinthians to bring them over to the worship of the one true God.
Being once more accused to Pope John VIII, who had succeeded Pope Adrian, of suspected faith and of the violation of the customs of the ancients, he was summoned to Rome, where in the presence of John, several Bishops, and likewise the clergy of the city, he easily proved that he had ever constantly maintained and carefully taught to others the Catholic Faith; but as to his having introduced the Slavonic tongue into the sacred liturgy, he exculpated himself by reason of the permission of Pope Adrian, and of certain motives not contrary to the sacred letters. Wherefore, embracing the cause of St. Methodius in the matter at issue, the Pope recognized his archiepiscopal power and his Slavonian expedition, giving him likewise letters to that effect. Hence St. Methodius, returning into Moravia, persevered in fulfilling still more vigilantly the duties of his charge, and for this even gladly suffered exile. He brought over the Prince of Bohemia and his wife to the Faith, and spread the Christian name throughout the length and breadth of this land. He carried the light of the Gospel into Poland, and, as some writers assert, founded the Episcopal See of Lviv; and having gone as far as Muscovy, properly so called, there raised an Episcopal Throne at Kiev. (The early Christian converts of Kiev were later persecuted by the local pagans, but persevered in secret–see the image at right.) Afterwards, returning to his own people in Moravia, feeling now that he was drawing near his mortal term, he designated a successor, and having, by his last precepts, exhorted the clergy and people to virtue, he peacefully passed away from this life which he had made to be his path to Heaven. Even as Rome had paid homage to St. Cyril, so did Moravia after his death. Their Feast, which had long been kept among the Slavonic people, Pope Leo XIII ordered to be celebrated yearly throughout the universal Church with a proper Mass and Office. (1)
Cyril died while he was in Rome at age 42, and he was buried in the Church of St. Clement. Methodius died in 885 with great manifestations of love by the people. His funeral was celebrated in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic (4)
Image: Mosaic of the Saints Cyril and Methodius at the tomb of Saint Cyril in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. (5)