St. Cyril, Monk and St. Methodius, Bishop
February 14, 2022
Saints Cyril and Methodius are the Patron Saints of:
Cyril and Methodius must have often wondered, as we do today, how God could bring spiritual meaning out of worldly concerns. Every mission they went on, every struggle they fought was a result of political battles, not spiritual, and yet the political battles are forgotten and their work lives on in the Slavic peoples and their literature.
Tradition tells us that the brothers Methodius and Constantine (he did not take the name Cyril until just before his death) grew up in Thessalonica as sons of a prominent Christian family. Because many Slavic people settled in Thessalonica, it is assumed Constantine and Methodius were familiar with the Slavic language. Methodius, the older of the two brothers, became an important civil official who would have needed to know Slavonic. He grew tired of worldly affairs and retired to a monastery. Constantine became a scholar and a professor known as “the Philosopher” in Constantinople. In 860 Constantine and Methodius went as missionaries to what is today the Ukraine.
When the Byzantine emperor decided to honor a request for missionaries by the Moravian prince Rastislav, Methodius and Constantine were the natural choices; they knew the language, they were able administrators, and had already proven themselves successful missionaries.
But there was far more behind this request and the response than a desire for Christianity. Rastislav, like the rest of the Slav princes, was struggling for independence from German influence and invasion. Christian missionaries from the East, to replace missionaries from Germany, would help Rastislav consolidate power in his own country, especially if they spoke the Slavonic language.
Constantine and Methodius were dedicated to the ideal of expression in a people’s native language. Throughout their lives they would battle against those who saw value only in Greek or Latin. Before they even left on their mission, tradition says, Constantine constructed a script for Slavonic — a script that is known today as glagolithic. Glagolithic is considered by some as the precursor of cyrillic which named after him.
Arriving in 863 in Moravia, Constantine began translating the liturgy into Slavonic. In the East, it was a normal procedure to translate liturgy into the vernacular. As we know, in the West the custom was to use Greek and later Latin, until Vatican II. The German hierarchy, which had power over Moravia, used this difference to combat the brothers’ influence. The German priests didn’t like losing their control and knew that language has a great deal to do with independence.
So when Constantine and Methodius went to Rome to have the Slav priesthood candidates ordained (neither was a bishop at the time), they had to face the criticism the Germans had leveled against them. But if the Germans had motives that differed from spiritual concerns, so did the pope. He was concerned about the Eastern church gaining too much influence in the Slavic provinces. Helping Constantine and Methodius would give the Roman Catholic church more power in the area. So after speaking the brothers, the pope approved the use of Slavonic in services and ordained their pupils.
Constantine never returned to Moravia. He died in Rome after assuming the monastic robes and the name Cyril on February 14, 869. Legend tells us that his older brother was so griefstricken, and perhaps upset by the political turmoil, that he intended to withdraw to a monastery in Constantinople. Cyril’s dying wish, however, was that Methodius return to the missionary work they had begun.
He couldn’t return to Moravia because of political problems there, but another Slavic prince, Kocel, asked for him, having admired the brothers’ work in translating so much text into Slavonic. Methodius was allowed by the pope to continue saying Mass and administering baptism in the Slavonic tongue. Methodius was finally consecrated bishop, once again because of politics — Kocel knew that having a Slavonic bishop would destroy the power of the Salzburg hierarchy over his land. Methodius became bishop of Sirmium, an ancient see near Belgrade and given power over Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, and Moravian territory.
The German bishops accused him of infringing on their power and imprisoned him in a monastery. This lasted until Germany suffered military defeats in Moravia. At that time the pope intervened and Methodius returned to his diocese in triumph at the same time the Germans were forced to recognize Moravian independence. There was a loss involved — to appease the Germans a little, the pope told Methodius he could no longer celebrate liturgy in the vernacular.
In 879 Methodius was summoned to Rome to answer German charges he had not obeyed this restriction. This worked against the Germans because it gave Methodius a chance to explain how important it was to celebrate the liturgy in the tongue people understood. Instead of condemning him, the pope gave him permission to use Slavonic in the Mass, in Scripture reading, and in the office. He also made him head of the hierarchy in Moravia.
The criticism never went away, but it never stopped Methodius either. It is said that he translated almost all the Bible and the works of the Fathers of the Church into Slavonic before he died on April 6 in 884.
Within twenty years after his death, it would seem like all the work of Cyril and Methodius was destroyed. Magyar invasions devastated Moravia. And without the brothers to explain their position, use of the vernacular in liturgy was banned. But politics could never prevail over God’s will. The disciples of Cyril and Methodius who were driven out of Moravia didn’t hide in a locked room. The invasion and the ban gave them a chance to go to other Slavic countries. The brothers’ work of spreading Christ’s word and translating it into Slavonic continued and laid the foundation for Christianity in the region.
What began as a request guided by political concerns produced two of the greatest Christian missionaries, revered by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and two of the fathers of Slavonic literary culture.
In Their Footsteps:
Cyril and Methodius believed in the importance of celebrating liturgy in our own language, a privilege we have only had in last twenty years. If this change took place before your time, ask older Catholics about the differences that have taken place in their worship because of this change. If you were worshipping during the change, reflect on how celebrating in the vernacular has helped your worship and your spiritual life.
Saints Cyril and Methodius, watch over all missionaries but especially those in Slavic countries. Help those that are in danger in the troubled areas. Watch over the people you dedicated your lives to. Amen
For other uses, see Saints Cyril and Methodius (disambiguation).
Cyril (born Constantine, 826–869) and Methodius (815–885) were two brothers and Byzantine Christian theologians and missionaries. For their work evangelizing the Slavs, they are known as the “Apostles to the Slavs”.
They are credited with devising the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet used to transcribe Old Church Slavonic. After their deaths, their pupils continued their missionary work among other Slavs. Both brothers are venerated in the Orthodox Church as saints with the title of “equal-to-apostles”. In 1880, Pope Leo XIII introduced their feast into the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1980, Pope John Paul II declared them co-patron saints of Europe, together with Benedict of Nursia.
- 1 Early career
- 1.1 Early life
- 1.2 Mission to the Khazars
- 2 Mission to the Slavs
- 2.1 Great Moravia
- 2.2 Journey to Rome
- 2.3 Methodius alone
- 2.4 Methodius’ final years
- 3 Invention of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets
- 4 Commemoration
- 4.1 Saints Cyril and Methodius’ Day
- 4.2 Other commemoration
- 5 Gallery
- 6 Names in other languages
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 External links
The two brothers were born in Thessalonica (located in present-day Greece) – Cyril in about 827–828 and Methodius about 815–820. Cyril was reputedly the youngest of seven brothers; he was born Constantine, but was given the name Cyril upon becoming a monk in Rome shortly before his death, according to the Vita Cyrilli (“The Life of Cyril”). Methodius was born Michael and was given the name Methodius upon becoming a monk at Mysian Olympus (present-day Uludağ), in northwest Turkey. Their father was Leo, a droungarios of the Byzantine theme of Thessalonica, and their mother was Maria.
The exact ethnic origins of the brothers are unknown, there is controversy as to whether Cyril and Methodius were of Slavic or Byzantine Greek origin, or both. The two brothers lost their father when Cyril was fourteen, and the powerful minister Theoktistos, who was logothetes tou dromou, one of the chief ministers of the Empire, became their protector. He was also responsible, along with the regent Bardas, for initiating a far-reaching educational program within the Empire which culminated in the establishment of the University of Magnaura, where Cyril was to teach. Cyril was ordained as priest some time after his education, while his brother Methodius remained a deacon until 867/868.
Mission to the Khazars
About the year 860, Byzantine Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch of Constantinople Photius (a professor of Cyril’s at the University and his guiding light in earlier years), sent Cyril on a missionary expedition to the Khazars who had requested a scholar be sent to them who could converse with both Jews and Saracens. It has been claimed that Methodius accompanied Cyril on the mission to the Khazars, but this may be a later invention. The account of his life presented in the Latin “Legenda” claims that he learned the Khazar language while in Chersonesos, in Taurica (today Crimea).
After his return to Constantinople, Cyril assumed the role of professor of philosophy at the University while his brother had by this time become a significant player in Byzantine political and administrative affairs, and an abbot of his monastery.
The expedition of Cyril and Methodius is mentioned in Dictionary of the Khazars, the first novel of Milorad Pavić.
Mission to the Slavs
In 862, the brothers began the work which would give them their historical importance. That year Prince Rastislav of Great Moravia requested that Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch Photius send missionaries to evangelize his Slavic subjects. His motives in doing so were probably more political than religious. Rastislav had become king with the support of the Frankish ruler Louis the German, but subsequently sought to assert his independence from the Franks. It is a common misconception that Cyril and Methodius were the first to bring Christianity to Moravia, but the letter from Rastislav to Michael III states clearly that Rastislav’s people “had already rejected paganism and adhere to the Christian law.” Rastislav is said to have expelled missionaries of the Roman Church and instead turned to Constantinople for ecclesiastical assistance and, presumably, a degree of political support. The Emperor quickly chose to send Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius. The request provided a convenient opportunity to expand Byzantine influence. Their first work seems to have been the training of assistants. In 863, they began the task of translating the Bible into the language now known as Old Church Slavonic and travelled to Great Moravia to promote it. They enjoyed considerable success in this endeavour. However, they came into conflict with German ecclesiastics who opposed their efforts to create a specifically Slavic liturgy.
For the purpose of this mission, they devised the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet to be used for Slavonic manuscripts. The Glagolitic alphabet was suited to match the specific features of the Slavic language. Its descendant script, the Cyrillic, is still used by many languages today.
The brothers wrote the first Slavic Civil Code, which was used in Great Moravia. The language derived from Old Church Slavonic, known as Church Slavonic, is still used in liturgy by several Orthodox Churches and also in some Eastern Catholic churches.
It is impossible to determine with certainty what portions of the Bible the brothers translated. The New Testament and the Psalms seem to have been the first, followed by other lessons from the Old Testament. The “Translatio” speaks only of a version of the Gospels by Cyril, and the “Vita Methodii” only of the “evangelium Slovenicum,” though other liturgical selections may also have been translated.
Nor is it known for sure which liturgy, that of Rome or that of Constantinople, they took as a source. They may well have used the Roman alphabet, as suggested by liturgical fragments which adhere closely to the Latin type. This view is confirmed by the “Prague Fragments” and by certain Old Glagolitic liturgical fragments brought from Jerusalem to Kiev and discovered there by Izmail Sreznevsky—probably the oldest document for the Slavonic tongue; these adhere closely to the Latin type, as is shown by the words “Mass,” “Preface,” and the name of one Felicitas. In any case, the circumstances were such that the brothers could hope for no permanent success without obtaining the authorization of Rome.
Journey to Rome
The mission of Constantine and Methodius had great success among Slavs in part because they used the people’s native language rather than Latin or Greek. In Great Moravia, Constantine and Methodius also encountered missionaries from East Francia, representing the western or Latin branch of the Church, and more particularly representing the Carolingian Empire as founded by Charlemagne, and committed to linguistic, and cultural uniformity. They insisted on the use of the Latin liturgy, and they regarded Moravia and the Slavic peoples as part of their rightful mission field.
When friction developed, the brothers, unwilling to be a cause of dissension among Christians, decided to travel to Rome to see the Pope, and seek a solution that would avoid quarreling between missionaries in the field. In 867, Pope Nicholas I (858-867) invited the brothers to Rome. Their evangelizing mission in Moravia had by this time become the focus of a dispute with Archbishop Adalwin of Salzburg (859–873) and Bishop Ermanrich of Passau (866-874), who claimed ecclesiastical control of the same territory and wished to see it use the Latin liturgy exclusively.
Travelling with the relics of Saint Clement and a retinue of disciples, and passing through Pannonia (the Balaton Principality), where they were well received by Prince Koceľ. This activity in Pannonia made a continuation of conflicts inevitable with the German episcopate, and especially with the bishop of Salzburg, to whose jurisdiction Pannonia had belonged for seventy-five years. As early as 865, Bishop Adalwin was found to exercise Episcopal rights there, and the administration under him was in the hands of the archpriest Riehbald. The latter was obliged to retire to Salzburg, but his superior was naturally disinclined to abandon his claims.
The brothers sought support from Rome, and arrived there in 868, where they were warmly received. This was partly due to their bringing with them the relics of Saint Clement; the rivalry with Constantinople as to the jurisdiction over the territory of the Slavs would incline Rome to value the brothers and their influence.
New Pope Adrian II (867-872) gave Methodius the title of Archbishop of Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia) and sent him back in 869, with jurisdiction over all of Moravia and Pannonia, and authorisation to use the Slavonic Liturgy. The brothers were praised for their learning and cultivated for their influence in Constantinople. Anastasius Bibliothecarius would later call Cyril “a man of apostolic life” and “a man of great wisdom”. Their project in Moravia found support from Pope Adrian II, who formally authorized the use of the new Slavic liturgy. Subsequently Methodius was ordained as priest by the pope himself, and five Slavic disciples were ordained as priests (Saint Gorazd, Saint Clement of Ohrid and Saint Naum) and as deacons (Saint Angelar and Saint Sava) by the prominent bishops Formosus and Gauderic. Cyril and Methodius along with these five disciples are collectively venerated (mainly by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church) as “Seven Saints”. The newly made priests officiated in their own languages at the altars of some of the principal churches. Feeling his end approaching, Cyril became a Basilian monk, was given the new name Cyril, and died in Rome fifty days later (14 February 869). There is some question as to assertion of the Translatio (ix.) that he was made a bishop.
The statement of the “Vita” that Methodius was made bishop in 870 and not raised to the dignity of an archbishop until 873 is contradicted by the brief of Pope John VIII, written in June 879, according to which Adrian consecrated him archbishop; John includes in his jurisdiction not only Great Moravia and Pannonia, but Serbia as well.
Methodius now continued the work among the Slavs alone; not at first in Great Moravia, but in Pannonia (in the Balaton Principality), owing to the political circumstances of the former country, where Rastislav had been taken captive by his nephew Svatopluk in 870, then delivered over to Carloman of Bavaria, and condemned in a diet held at Regensburg at the end of 870. A the same time, the East Frankish rulers and their bishops decided to remove Methodius. The archiepiscopal claims of Methodius were considered such an injury to the rights of Salzburg that he was captured and forced to answer to East Frankish bishops: Adalwin of Salzburg, Ermanrich of Passau, and Anno of Freising. After a heated discussion, they declared the deposition of the intruder, and ordered him to be sent to Germany, where he was kept prisoner in a monastery for two and a half years.
In spite of the strong representations of the Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum, written in 871 to influence the pope, though not avowing this purpose, Rome declared emphatically for Methodius, and sent a bishop, Paul of Ancona, to reinstate him and punish his enemies, after which both parties were commanded to appear in Rome with the legate. Thus in 873, new Pope John VIII (872-882) secured the release of Methodius, but instructed him to stop using the Slavonic Liturgy.
Methodius’ final years
The papal will prevailed, and Methodius secured his freedom and his archiepiscopal authority over both Great Moravia and Pannonia, though the use of Slavonic for the mass was still denied to him. His authority was restricted in Pannonia when after Koceľ’s death the principality was administered by German nobles; but Svatopluk now ruled with practical independence in Great Moravia, and expelled the German clergy. This apparently secured an undisturbed field of operation for Methodius, and the Vita (x.) depicts the next few years (873–879) as a period of fruitful progress. Methodius seems to have disregarded, wholly or in part, the prohibition of the Slavonic liturgy; and when Frankish clerics again found their way into the country, and the archbishop’s strictness had displeased the licentious Svatopluk, this was made a cause of complaint against him at Rome, coupled with charges regarding the Filioque.
In 878, Methodius was summoned to Rome on charges of heresy and using Slavonic. This time Pope John was convinced by the arguments that Methodius made in his defence and sent him back cleared of all charges, and with permission to use Slavonic. The Carolingian bishop who succeeded him, Witching, suppressed the Slavonic Liturgy and forced the followers of Methodius into exile. Many found refuge with Knyaz Boris of Bulgaria, under whom they reorganised a Slavic-speaking Church. Meanwhile, Pope John’s successors adopted a Latin-only policy which lasted for centuries.
Methodius vindicated his orthodoxy at Rome, the more easily as the creed was still recited there without the Filioque, and promised to obey in regard to the liturgy. The other party was conciliated by giving him a Swabian, Wiching, as his coadjutor. When relations were strained between the two, John VIII steadfastly supported Methodius; but after his death (December 882) the archbishop’s position became insecure, and his need of support induced Goetz to accept the statement of the Vita (xiii.) that he went to visit the Eastern emperor.
It was not until after Methodius’ death, which is placed on 6 April 885, that the animosity erupted into an open conflict. Gorazd, whom Methodius had designated as his successor, was not recognised by Pope Stephen V. The same Pope forbade the use of the Slavic liturgy and placed the infamous Wiching as Methodius’ successor. The latter exiled the disciples of the two brothers from Great Moravia in 885. They fled to the First Bulgarian Empire, where they were welcomed and commissioned to establish theological schools. There they and scholar Saint Clement of Ohrid devised the Cyrillic script on the basis of the Glagolitic. Cyrillic gradually replaced Glagolitic as the alphabet of the Old Church Slavonic language, which became the official language of the Bulgarian Empire and later spread to the Eastern Slav lands of Kievan Rus’. Cyrillic eventually spread throughout most of the Slavic world to become the standard alphabet in the Eastern Orthodox Slavic countries. Hence, Cyril and Methodius’ efforts also paved the way for the spread of Christianity throughout Eastern Europe.
Methodius’ body was buried in the main cathedral church of Great Moravia. Until today it remains an open question which city was capital of Great Moravia and therefore the place of Methodius’ eternal rest remains unknown.
Invention of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets
The Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets are the oldest known Slavic alphabets, and were created by the two brothers and their students, to translate the Bible and other texts into the Slavic languages. The early Glagolitic alphabet was used in Great Moravia between 863 (the arrival of Cyril and Methodius) and 885 (the expulsion of their students) for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by Cyril, where followers of Cyril and Methodius were educated, by Methodius himself among others. The alphabet has been traditionally attributed to Cyril. That attribution has been confirmed explicitly by the papal letter Industriae tuae (880) approving the use of Old Church Slavonic, which says that the alphabet was “invented by Constantine the Philosopher”. The term invention need not exclude the possibility of the brothers having made use of earlier letters, but implies only that before that time the Slavic languages had no distinct script of their own.
The early Cyrillic alphabet was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire and later finalized and spread by disciples Kliment and Naum in the Ohrid and Preslav schools of Tsar Boris I of Bulgaria as a simplification of the Glagolitic alphabet which more closely resembled the Greek alphabet. It was developed by the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius at the Preslav Literary School at the end of the 9th century.
After the death of Cyril, Clement of Ohrid accompanied Methodius from Rome to Pannonia and Great Moravia. After the death of Methodius in 885, Clement headed the struggle against the German clergy in Great Moravia along with Gorazd. After spending some time in jail, he was expelled from Great Moravia, and in 885 or 886 reached the borders of the Bulgarian Empire together with Naum of Preslav, Angelarius, and possibly Gorazd (according to other sources, Gorazd was already dead by that time). The four of them were afterwards sent to the Bulgarian capital of Pliska, where they were commissioned by Tsar Boris I of Bulgaria to instruct the future clergy of the state in the Slavonic language.
After the adoption of Christianity in 865, religious ceremonies in Bulgaria were conducted in Greek by clergy sent from the Byzantine Empire. Fearing growing Byzantine influence and weakening of the state, Boris viewed the adoption of the Old Slavonic language as a way to preserve the political independence and stability of Bulgaria, so he established two literary schools (academies), in Pliska and Ohrid, where theology was to be taught in the Slavonic language. While Naum of Preslav stayed in Pliska working on the foundation of the Pliska Literary School, Clement was commissioned by Boris I to organise the teaching of theology to future clergymen in Old Church Slavonic at the Ohrid Literary School. For seven years (886-893) Clement taught some 3,500 students in the Slavonic language and the Glagolitic alphabet.
Saints Cyril and Methodius’ Day
The canonization process was much more relaxed in the decades following Cyril’s death than today. Cyril was regarded by his disciples as a saint soon after his death. His following spread among the nations he evangelized and subsequently to the wider Christian Church, and he was famous as a holy man, along with his brother Methodius. There were calls for Cyril’s canonization from the crowds lining the Roman streets during his funeral procession. The brothers’ first appearance in a papal document is in Grande Munus of Leo XIII in 1880. They are known as the “Apostles of the Slavs”, and are still highly regarded by both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Their feast day is currently celebrated on 14 February in the Roman Catholic Church (to coincide with the date of St Cyril’s death); on 11 May in the Eastern Orthodox Church (though for Eastern Orthodox Churches which use the Julian Calendar this is 24 May according to the Gregorian calendar); and on 7 July according to the old sanctoral calendar that existed before the revisions of the Second Vatican Council. The celebration also commemorates the introduction of literacy and the preaching of the gospels in the Slavonic language by the brothers. The brothers were declared “Patrons of Europe” in 1980.
The first recorded secular celebration of Saints Cyril and Methodius’ Day as the “Day of the Bulgarian script”, as traditionally accepted by Bulgarian history, was held in the town of Plovdiv on 11 May 1851, when a local Bulgarian school was named “Saints Cyril and Methodius”: both acts on the initiative of the prominent Bulgarian educator Nayden Gerov, although an Armenian traveller mentioned his visit to the “celebration of the Bulgarian script” in the town of Shumen on 22 May 1803.
The day is now celebrated as a public holiday in the following countries:
In Bulgaria it is celebrated on 24 May and is known as the “Bulgarian Education and Culture, and Slavonic Script Day” (Bulgarian: Ден на българската просвета и култура и на славянската писменост), a national holiday celebrating Bulgarian culture and literature as well as the alphabet. It is also known as “Alphabet, Culture, and Education Day” (Bulgarian: Ден на азбуката, културата и просвещението). Saints Cyril and Methodius are patrons of the National Library of Bulgaria. There is a monument to them in front of the library. Saints Cyril and Methodius are the most celebrated saints in the Bulgarian Orthodox church, and icons of the two brothers can be found in every church.
In North Macedonia, it is celebrated on 24 May and is known as the “Saints Cyril and Methodius, Slavonic Enlighteners’ Day” (Macedonian: Св. Кирил и Методиј, Ден на словенските просветители), a national holiday. The Government of the Republic of Macedonia enacted a statute of the national holiday in October 2006 and the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia passed a corresponding law at the beginning of 2007. Previously it had only been celebrated in the schools. It is also known as the day of the “Solun Brothers” (Macedonian: Солунските браќа).
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the two brothers were originally commemorated on 9 March, but Pope Pius IX changed this date to 5 July for several reasons. Today, Saints Cyril and Methodius are revered there as national saints and their name day (5 July), “Sts Cyril and Methodius Day” is a national holiday in Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the Czech Republic it is celebrated as “Slavic Missionaries Cyril and Methodius Day” (Czech: Den slovanských věrozvěstů Cyrila a Metoděje); in Slovakia it is celebrated as “St. Cyril and Metod Day” (Slovak: Sviatok svätého Cyrila a Metoda).
In Russia, it is celebrated on 24 May and is known as the “Slavonic Literature and Culture Day” (Russian: День славянской письменности и культуры), celebrating Slavonic culture and literature as well as the alphabet. Its celebration is ecclesiastical (11 May in the Church’s Julian calendar). It is not a public holiday in Russia.