Sts. Cyril and Methodius: Faithful Missionaries

· Bishop,Greek,Missionary
Saints Cyril and Methodius: Faithful Missionaries from Letters from the Saints Blog with an image of Saints Cyril and Methodius

Early Life

Cyril (827 - 869) and Methodius (826 - 885) were born in Thessolanica which is in the modern day country of Greece. Originally, their names were Constantine and Michael. Their father Leon held a political position for the region that also covered the region of the Slavs of Macedonia. And the brothers' mother was a Slav. Thus, the two brothers learned to speak both Greek and a Slavic language while growing up in their home. Because of the father's prominence, Constantine and Michael also receive a first-class education.

When their father died while the boys were still fairly young, an uncle named Theoctistos stepped in to insure that Constantine and Michael would continue to receive a proper education. The uncle, himself, was a man of importance in the Byzantine Empire as hew was in charge of diplomatic relations and the postal service.

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Guided by their Uncle

Both Constantine and Michael were good students, but Constantine was more of the scholar. Thus, in 843, the uncle invited Constantine to come to Constantinople in order to continue his studies and be kept under his watchful eye. Through his studies, which were connected to the Church, Constantine developed a command of the Hebrew and Arabic languages, and he was also ordained a deacon. Through his position, Theoctistos sent Constantine on a diplomatic mission to the Abbasid Caliphate. His task was to improve relations with this Arabic nation by explaining Christian theology.

For Michael, Theoctistos was able to obtain a position in the Slavic part of the Byzantine Empire. However, the government was not to be his career. Michael left his civil position to join a monastery on Mount Olympus where he received the name Methodius when he was tonsured.

The First Missionary Journey

The direction of their lives would change in the year 860 when the Emperor Michael at the request of Photius who was the Patriarch of Constantinople sent both of the brothers to the region of the Khazars. By this time, both had been ordained priests. Cyril and Methodius were given the goal to convince the leader of the people, Khagan, to embrace Christianity instead of Judaism. The goal of the mission failed when Khagan decided to choose Judaism for his people and himself. However, despite the official religion becoming Judaism, many of the people whom Cyril and Methodius encountered were converted and received baptism.

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Called to Spread the Gospel among the Slavs

Then, in 862, Rastislav, the Prince of Moravia, asked Cyril and Methodius to come to his region and spread the Gospel. There were already Christian missionaries in Moravia, but they were from the Germanic areas. The prince wanted missionaries who would support the independence of the Slavic people from the Germanic people. The brothers heartily agreed with this goal as they believed that the Gospel should be presented in the native language of the people.

Once they arrived in Moravia, the brothers enthusiastically began to share the Gospel. They soon realized that it would be good to translate Scripture and liturgical texts into the native language. In order to do that, they developed the Glagolitic alphabet. That alphabet would eventually become the Cyrillic alphabet, which is named after Cyril, that is the basis of many modern Slavic languages including Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, and Kazakh.

Opposition and a Meeting with the Pope

Although the work of Cyril and Methodius was well received by the Slavic people, the Germanic priests and bishops in the region were not so pleased. They saw the brothers as encroaching upon their territory. And their translation work was not in line with the Germanic missionaries insistence on the use of Latin.

The territory which was considered a mission field was under the jurisdiction of Rome. Thus, after just four years of work, due to complaints by the Germanic priests, the brothers were summoned to Rome by Pope Nicholas I in order to give an account of themselves.

Before they could meet the pope, he died. Thus, the brothers instead met with the next pope, Adrian II in 869. The brothers had brought with them a copy of their work to date on the Bible and presented it to Adrian II who received it warmly. After he met with Cyril and Methodius, the pope gave his full support for all of their work including translating the Bible and various texts into Slavic languages.

In addition, Adrian II wanted to consecrate the two brothers as bishops to show his further support and to enable them to be able to ordain worthy Slavonic men as priests. Then he erected a new diocese which would be independent of the Germanic missionaries and allow Cyril and Methodius to continue their work.

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Return to Missionary Work and Additional Opposition

Cyril, however, would not return to the missionary work. Shortly, after he was ordained a bishop along with his brother, he became ill and died. Although he was greatly saddened to lose his beloved brother, Methodius knew that he must return to continue the work that his brother and he had begun. As he went back, he knew that he had the full support of the pope and the documents to prove it lest the Germanic missionaries give him more trouble.

Nonetheless, the next year after Methodius returned to Moravia as the new archbishop of the newly founded diocese, he was summoned to a synod by the German bishops and the Germanic King Louis. At the synod without any support, Methodius was deposed as bishop and imprisoned.

Three years later, after the Germans were defeated by the Moravians in battle, the pope had the opportunity to free Methodius. The pope made clear that the translation into Slavonic and its use in the liturgy were fully supported.

Despite this reassurance, the opposition to Methodius' work would continue. Eventually, worn out from the years of missionary labor and his struggles against his opponents, Methodius died in 885. However, through the efforts of Cyril and Methodius, the seed of the faith had been firmly planted and watered by the texts translated into Slavonic.

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Dealing with the Roots of Paganism

Like other missionaries, the brothers were not afraid to use the direct approach when sharing the truths of the faith. In their first missionary journey to the Khazars, they encountered a group of people who prayed to a tree for help, especially for rain for their crops. It had not rained in some time so many prayers were being offered to the tree. Of course, this blatant paganism troubled Cyril and Methodius.

Cyril literally took the matter into his own hands by first explaining to the people that there is one all-powerful God who made everything including trees. Cyril then told them that it was an offense to God to worship one of His creations. Then Cyril proceeded to cut down the tree with an ax. Naturally, this upset the people and they expected that Cyril would receive retribution for his actions. Instead, the people rejoiced and asked to know more about God after it rained that very night.

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