The Lives of Ss. Cyril and Methodius
Illuminators of the Slavs
Co-Patrons of Europe
Article by Christopher Joseph Melito
As in the early days of the Christianity, individuals and churches were named after the apostles, martyrs and saints. In accordance with tradition, our parish was named in the honor of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The two were brothers born to a prominent Christian family of Byzantine Greek derivation in Thessalonica. Saint Methodius, the older of the two brothers was a military man and civic official who grew tired of worldly affairs. As a result, he retired to a monastery and was tonsured a monk at Mount Olympus. His brother, Constantine who possessed an innate understanding of philosophy was a scholar and was referred to as the Philosopher. He held the office of Librarian at the Patriarchal Basilica of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. Constantine took the name Cyril while in Rome, shortly before his death.
While both were in a monastery on the Bosphorous, the Emperor Michael sent the two brothers to the Khazars in response to a petition for instructors of the Christian faith. On the journey to Khazaria, the brothers stopped in Chersonesos where they recovered from the Black Sea the relics of Saint Clement. From here, their journey continued on to Moravia where they were besought by Prince Rastislav and his subjects to preach the Gospel. Historians suggest Rastislav’s request was not simply for evangelization, but that he had an ulterior motive of freeing the Slavic people from German occupation. In fact, Germanic missionaries labored among Saints Cyril and Methodius; however, were unsuccessful because the Moravians wanted to learn the Holy Scriptures in their native tongue and to use it also in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (i.e. the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Eastern Rite Churches). Consequently, Saint Cyril devised an alphabet for the Slavic people and with the assistance of Saint Methodius, used it to translate a number of Greek texts into the language of the Slavs. Albeit, extremely successful in their apostolic mission, the Saints were met with hostility by a number of German bishops. The Germans, who were distrustful of the two brothers for political reasons, contested Church services in the vernacular. And as a result of the Divine Liturgy being celebrated in the Slavonic language, the brothers were summoned to court in Rome in 867, by Pope Nicholas I, who died before their arrival. Upon arrival in the Eternal City, they presented the Slavonic translations to newly enthroned Pope Adrian II. The Pope received the brothers with great reverence and convinced of their orthodox faith, commended their missionary activity, sanctioned the liturgical use of Slavonic and ordained both Saints Cyril and Methodius as bishops. However, before returning to Moravia, Saint Cyril died in Rome on February 14 in 869, and was interred at the Basilica of Saint Clement.
At the request of the Moravian princes, Pope Adrian II created the Archdiocese of Moravia and Pannonia, and in doing so, made it independent of the German Church. He then installed Saint Methodius as Archbishop in 870 to the dismay of the existing Latin clergy. As a result, Saint Methodius was summoned to a synod in Ratisbon and interrogated. At the order of King Louis, the Holy Roman Emperor (the Germanic Emperor of the West), he was deposed and cast into prison where he cruelly tormented for some three years. Eventually, when word of his imprisonment reached Rome, Pope John VIII came to his defense. At the command of the Pope, Saint Methodius was liberated and reinstalled as Archbishop of Moravia. Shortly after though, he was again summoned to Rome in 879. A German priest, Wiching accused Methodius of heresy and objected to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic. In Rome, the Pope paralleling his predecessor, sanctioned the usage of Church Slavonic and decreed that in celebrating the Divine Liturgy; the Gospel was to be read in Latin and Slavonic. While in Rome, Wiching was nominated as one of the suffragan bishops of Moravia and continued to resist the leadership of Saint Methodius as his metropolitan. Wiching in his disdain of the Greek bishop forged papal letters to Archbishop Methodius in hopes to incite disputes. When the Pope learned of these fallacious letters he immediately denounced them and admonished the priest.
Shortly after this ordeal, Saint Methodius traveled back to Constantinople and with the assistance of several priests, he completed the translation of all the canonical Holy Scriptures with the exception of the Books of Maccabees. He additionally translated the "Nomocanon” which was Greek church-civil law. Saint Methodius’ enemies did not cease to criticize his apostolic efforts even in his old age. His health soon began to fail him and he died April 6 in 885. Prior to passing, he recommended Gorazd as his successor, a Moravian Slav who had been his disciple.
In the Greek Rite, the brother Saints are referred to as equal to the apostles, illuminators to the Slavs and are the patrons of missionaries. In 1980, Pope John Paul II declared the brothers as co-patrons of Europe. To Catholics, they are additionally recognized as patrons of unity and ecumenism between our church, the Church of Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) and her sister church, the Church of Constantinople (the Greek Orthodox Church). As a result, they are highly revered in Eastern Rite Catholic churches especially the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. When our parish mission was established here in Deer Park, it was by Slovak settlers who chose the brothers as patrons of our church. Their feast day in the Roman Church is February 14 and in the Greek Church is May 11.