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Sts. Cyril and Methodius (February 14)

February 14, 2005

The setting is Greece, in the midst of the Dark Ages, the early 800’s (sources vary regarding exact dates). Two boys, Constantine and Michael, were born into a prominent Christian family.
Their father, a Greek, was a high ranking official in the Byzantine army.
Their mother is thought to have been Bulgarian.

Constantine excelled in academics, becoming a professor of philosophy
(with the nickname “the Philosopher”)
at the imperial university of Constantinople, where both brothers had been educated.
He was also the librarian for the church of Santa Sophia.
Michael, also very gifted, was appointed governor
of one of the more Slavic provinces of Macedonia (now Greece).
Michael soon tired of political intrigue and retired to a monastery,
taking the name “Methodius” (by which he is now known),
and quickly rising to the status of abbot.

In the meantime, emperor Michael III sent Constantine on a diplomatic mission to the Caliph of Bagdad, then on a mission to convert the Khazars (spellings vary) in what is now southern Russia.
For the second mission Constantine took his brother with him,
and between the two of them they converted about 200.

Some time after this, the prince of the Bulgarians, who was fond of hunting,
decided he wanted some paintings to ornament his new palace.
Since monks were trained in the art of painting,
Methodius was commissioned to paint a scene
that would strike terror into the hearts of any who would behold it.
Methodius, who could think of nothing more terrifying than the Final Judgement,
made the scene come to life.
He painted God in all His majesty and justice, attended by angels, judging kings, princes and people.
Some were at God’s right (the blessed) and some at His left (the cursed).
The scene, particularly when explained, did strike terror into the heart of the prince!
He had heard of Christianity and had been putting off a decision regarding the Faith for quite some time, but this inspired his conversion.

The brothers’ next mission was to Moravia
(now Czech Republic, Slovakia, part of Slovenia and part of Hungary).
Prince Rastislav had asked for missionaries to come to his country,
who could explain the Faith in the Slavic language.
There were already missionaries from Germanic lands there, but they didn’t use the native language
and their nationality raised concerns for the Moravian prince,
who considered Germanic lands a political threat.
Constantine and Methodius, fluent in the Slavic tongue
and experienced in diplomatic and missionary work, were chosen for the task.
Because there was no written language for the Slavs, Constantine developed one, called “glagolithic”,
a precursor to cyrillic, which is named after him (the name will make more sense later in the story).
Together, the brothers translated the Mass, the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), m
any of the writings of the Fathers of the Church and most of Scripture into this language.

The Germanic missionaries did not appreciate this eastern “intrusion”.
They protested the use of the vernacular (unheard of in the western church),
refused to ordain the brothers’ seminarians, and presented accusations against the brothers to the pope.
Not wishing to raise unnecessary conflict, the brothers journeyed to Rome to explain their position
and succeeded so well that Pope Adrian II sent them back to the mission field
to preach and pray in the Slavic language with his blessing.
He also ordained their seminarians and made Methodius a bishop so he could ordain his own priests.
Constantine would probably have been ordained a bishop too, but he died of illness while in Rome.
Shortly before his death, he joined a monastery, taking the name Cyril, by which he is now known.

Because of further political problems Methodius was unable to return to his former mission lands,
but his services were requested by another Slavic prince (in what is now Yugoslavia).
He again ran into opposition from Germanic missionaries,
who imprisoned him for three years in a former monastery.
The pope finally won his release,
but as a means of appeasing the Germanic priests,
told Methodius not to celebrate the Mass in Slavic anymore.
Methodius obeyed, but the Germanic priests weren’t satisfied.
They told the pope Methodius was being disobedient,
costing the good bishop yet another trip to Rome to defend himself.
Not only was he exonerated, he pleaded the case for the vernacular liturgy so well
that the pope reinstated permission to use it.

Methodius struggled with the Germanic priests for the rest of his life.
After his death, his disciples were persecuted and scattered throughout eastern Europe,
taking their faith and use of the Slavic language with them.
In this way the influence of Cyril and Methodius spread throughout the region.
They are known as the Apostles to the Slavs,
and 1979 Pope John Paul II pronounced Cyril and Methodius, together with St. Benedict,
patrons of Europe.

St. Cyril and Methodius, you who worked so hard to make the Faith accessible to the common people through the use of their own language, pray for us!


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