Saints Cyril and Methodius
Bishops and Confessors, Apostles of the Slavs
It seems fitting that the Octave of the Princes of the Apostles should not end without the appearance on the sacred cycle of some, at least, of those brilliant satellites that borrow light from them, and continue their work throughout the course of ages. Twin stars this day arise on the heavens of holy Church, illumining by the radiant beams of their apostolate immense tracts of country. Seeing that they start from Byzantium; one is at first led to suppose that their evolution is going to be performed independently of the laws which Rome has the right to dictate for the movements of the heavens, whereof it is said, that they shall declare the glory of God and the works of his hand. But the auspicious influence of Saint Clement I, through his sacred relics, diverts their course, as we shall see, towards the mistress of the world; and presently they can be descried gravitating with matchless splendour in 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 realised that word of the Psalmist, that there are no speeches nor languages where the voices of the messengers of light are not heard.
To the sudden and splendid outburst of the good tidings that marked the first centuries of our era, had succeeded the labours 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 very conquerors, another Latin race had been formed out of those barbarians whose invasion seemed, like a deluge, to have submerged the whole empire. Scarce was this marvellous transformation effected by the baptism of the Franks, the conversion from Arianism of the Goths and of their variously named brethren in arms, than the Anglo-Saxons, the Germans, and lastly the Scandinavians, conducted respectively by an Augustine, a Boniface, or an Anscharius, all three monks, 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. Betwixt East and West, the Slaves, profiting on the one side of the weakness of Charlemagne’s descendants, and of 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 civilisation a race hitherto without a history. The Spirit of Pentecost rested on the head of the two holy Brethren whom we are to-day celebrating. Prepared by the Monastic life for every devotedness and every 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 Saviour, invites men and nations. Thus was the Slavonic race fitted to complete the great European family, and God ceded thereto a larger territory than he had bestowed upon any other in this Europe of ours, so evidently the object of eternal predilection.
Happy this nation had she but continued ever attached to Rome, that 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 favour of having a peculiar language in the sacred rites, a favour obtained from her, from the See of Peter, by her two Apostles. The outcries uttered, at that very time, by those who would fain hold her fast bound under their own laws, showed clearly enough, even then, the political bearing of a concession as unparalleled as it was decisive, in sealing the existence, in those regions, of a new people distinct at once both from Germans and Greeks. The future was to prove this, better still. If, now-a-days, from the Balkan to the Ural mountains; from the Greek coasts to the frozen shores of the Northern Ocean, the Slavonic race spreads itself out, ever strong, ever indomitable to the influence of invasion, maintaining in the midst of the empires that by force of arms have at last prevailed over it, a dualism which the conquering nation must be resigned to endure, through the course of centuries, as a living menace within her, a very thorn in her side, such a phenomenon, unparalleled, to a like degree elsewhere, is but the product of the powerful demarcation effected a thousand years ago, betwixt this race and the rest of the world, by the introduction of its national language into the Liturgy. Having, by this use, become sacred the primitive Slavonio tongue has undergone none of those variations incident to the idiom of every other nation; whilst, at the same time, giving birth indeed to the various dialects of the different peoples issuing from the common stock, it has itself remained the same, following the most insignificant of Solavonio 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, the hope of the two Saints who based it on the immutable rock, been able to keep it ever fixed thereon! But woful and terrible would such an arm become in the service of tyranny, if ever Satan should make it fall by schism, into the hands of one of hell’s accursed agents!
But such considerations as these are leading us too far. It is time for us to turn to the ample narrative of the two illustrious Brothers, Saints 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.
Slavic Converts Persevered in SecretBeing 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. Metho-dius 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.
We presume to join our humble prayer with this august homage: we would fain, together with the Supreme Pontiff, sing your praises, and recommend to you that vast portion of Christ’s inheritance, wherein, watered by your toilsome sweat, flowers of holiness replaced the thorns. Prepared in solitude for every work good and serviceable to the Lord, you feared not to be the first to set foot in these unknown regions, the terror of the ancient world, these lands of the North, wherein the prophets had pointed out Satan’s throne, the inexhaustible source of evils ravaging the universe! The call of the Holy Ghost made you to become apostles, and the Twelve having received orders to teach all nations, you in your turn went, with all the simplicity of obedience, to those that had not yet been evangelised. This obedience, of yours, Rome would test,–such was her duty,–and she found it to be without alloy. Satan too found it so, to his utter defeat; for Scripture says: “The obedient man shall speak of victory.” Scripture likewise reveals to us another source of strength, and it was yours: “A brother helped by his brother, is like a strong city; and their judgments are like the bars of cities.” Driven away by one stronger than he, the strong-armed one beheld, with bitter rage, that dominion now passed on to Christ, which he thought to possess in peace, and his last spoils, the people of the North, to become, like those of the South, an ornament to the Bride.
O Methodius, O Cyril, in the holy hymns which the Sovereign Pontiff has dedicated to you, there is the ring of an alarm-cry: “Preserve unto God the Slavonic people! Needful indeed it is, that ye protect your former gifts.” Lift up your eyes and see, may we truly say with the Prophet, you that come from the North; where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful cattle? What! have ye taught them against you and instructed them against your own head? Ah! the depths of Satan! but too well has he known how to repair his defeat; for your very benefits and Peter’s condescension have alike become a weapon of death for those people to whom you devoted your life! . . . . Be pleased then to console those exiled for the Faith, and give them heart; sustain the martyrs, preserve the remnant of a nation of heroes. On the other hand, deter the rest from the fatal illusion that would entice them to be beforehand in running into tyranny’s way!
O Apostles of the Slaves, and citizens likewise of that Rome where your sacred relics lie close to those of St. Clement, assist the efforts of the Supreme Pontiff, who is seeking how he may replace on the foundation whereon you built it, that edifice which was your glory!
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.