Acta Sanctorum: Sts. Cyril and Methodius (Feb 14)
February 14, 2023

February 14
Saints Cyril and Methodius

The Greek missionaries Saints Cyril (827-869) and Methodius (825-885) were the apostles of the Slavic peoples. Preaching Christianity in the native language, they brought the Slavic countries firmly into the sphere of the Christian Church.

Methodius was 2 years old when his brother, Cyril, was born in Thessalonica in northeastern Greece in 827. Cyril was given the name Constantine at his baptism. Methodius entered the service of the Byzantine emperor and worked faithfully, if without distinction, for a number of years. Constantine studied at the imperial university in Constantinople but refused the offer of a governor's post and asked instead to be ordained a priest. He was more intellectually inclined than Methodius and spent some years as the official librarian of the most important church in eastern Europe, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. He taught philosophy for a time at the imperial university and was sent by Patriarch Ignatius on one occasion to the Arabian caliph's court as a member of a delegation to discuss theology with the Moslems.

In the meantime Methodius had left government service and entered a monastery in Bithynia east of Constantinople. In 856 Constantine also decided to withdraw from the active life of a scholar-churchman and joined Methodius in the same monastery. The brothers' solitude lasted only 4 years. In 860 they were sent by Patriarch Ignatius to assure the Christian faith of the Khazars in Russia, who were wavering in the face of strong Jewish and Moslem influence. When they were on their return journey, Constantine discovered what he believed to be the bones of an early Christian pope, St. Clement of Rome, and carried them with him for the rest of his life.

From the time they were boys in Thessalonica, the brothers could speak Slavic. When the Moravian king Ratislav, unhappy with the Latin Christianity preached in his Slavic country by Charlemagne's German missionaries, turned to Constantinople for help, Constantine and Methodius were again summoned from their monastery and sent by Emperor Michael II to Moravia. This mission was to be their lifetime concern. In 863 the brothers reached the country (today the Czech Republic) and immediately began teaching and preaching in the Slavic language of the people. They started a school to train young men for the priest-hood. They conducted the liturgical services in Slavic and eventually developed a special Slavic alphabet in order to put the Bible and the liturgy in writing.

For 5 years Constantine and Methodius worked steadily to establish Christian worship according to the forms and language of the Moravian people. They inevitably clashed with the German missionaries, who were committed to the Latin form of Christianity. The two brothers were invited to Rome in 868 by Pope Nicholas I to explain their work. The Pope was so impressed by their success that he made them both bishops and, contrary to expectation, authorized them to carry on their ministry in Slavic. Constantine, however, had no further desire for the active missionary life. He entered a monastery in Rome in 869 and took a new name, Cyril, as a sign of his new life. Fifty days later he died.

Methodius returned to Moravia and continued his efforts for 16 years more. An incident in 871 extended his influence still further. The visiting king of Bohemia was invited to dine with the Moravian king. The guest found that he and his entourage were considered heathens and were expected to sit on the floor, while the host and Bishop Methodius, as Christians, were being served at a raised table. He asked what he could expect to gain by becoming a Christian. Bishop Methodius said, "A place higher than all kings and princes." That was enough. The king asked to be baptized, along with his wife and entire retinue, and returned to Bohemia to encourage many of his people to accept the Christian faith.

Methodius's difficulties with the Latin clergy continued to plague his later years. He was summoned to Rome again in 878 by Pope John VIII. This time the influence of the Latinists was stronger. The Pope decreed that Methodius must first read the Mass in Latin, then translate it into Slavic. The bishop returned, subdued. He died in 885. Cyril and Methodius were considered heroes by the people and were formally recognized as saints of the Roman Catholic Church in 1881.

Scripture: Acts 13:46-49
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said: I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’ It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.


(Year A) The conviction held by the holy Brothers from Salonika, namely that each local Church is called to enrich with its own endowments the Catholic "pleroma", was in perfect harmony with their evangelical insight that the different conditions of life of the individual Christian Churches can never justify discord, disagreement and divisions in the profession of the one faith and in the exercise of charity.

As we know, according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council " the 'ecumenical movement' means those activities and enterprises which, according to various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, are initiated and organized to promote Christian unity". Thus it seems in no way anachronistic to see Saints Cyril and Methodius as the authentic precursors of ecumenism, inasmuch as they wished to eliminate effectively or to reduce any divisions, real or only apparent, between the individual communities belonging to the same Church. For the division which unfortunately occurred in the course of the Church's history and which sadly still persists "not only openly contradicts the will of Christ, (but) provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature."

The fervent solicitude shown by both Brothers and especially by Methodius by reason of his episcopal responsibility, to preserve unity of faith and love between the Churches of which they were members, namely, between the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome on the one hand, and the Churches which arose in the lands of the Slavs on the other, was and will always remain their great merit. This merit is all the greater if one takes into account the fact that their mission was exercised in the years 863-885, thus in the critical years when there emerged and began-to grow more serious the fatal discord and bitter controversy between the Churches of the East and the West. The division was accentuated by the question of where Bulgaria, which had just officially accepted Christianity, canonically belonged.

In this stormy period, which was also marked by armed conflicts between neighboring Christian peoples, the holy Brothers from Salonika preserved a resolute and vigilant fidelity to right doctrine and to the tradition of the perfectly united Church, and in particular to the "divine teachings" and "ecclesiastical teachings" on which, in accordance with the Canons of the ancient Councils, her structure and organization was founded. This fidelity enabled them to complete their great missionary tasks and to remain in full spiritual and canonical unity with the Church of Rome, with the Church of Constantinople and with the new Churches which they had founded among the Slav peoples.

Methodius especially did not hesitate to face misunderstandings, conflicts and even slanders and physical persecution, rather than fall short of his exemplary ecclesial fidelity, and in order to remain faithful to his duties as a Christian and a Bishop and to the obligations which he had assumed vis-a-vis the Church of Byzantium which had begotten him and sent him out as a missionary together with Cyril. Then there were his obligations to the Church of Rome, thanks to which he fulfilled his charge as Archbishop in "the territory of Saint Peter"; likewise his obligations to that Church growing in the lands of the Slavs, which he accepted as his own and successfully defended-convinced of his just-right before the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, protecting in particular the liturgy in the Old Slavonic language and the fundamental ecclesiastical rights proper to the Churches in the various nations. (Pope St. John Paul II; Slavorum apostoli)

Musical Selection

Let us embrace, my brother Slav,
and joyfully recall that day
when our enlightener, the Holy Cyril,
departed this earthly world.
Thus he spoke to his brother Methodius at Peter’s Crag,
as he stood, prepared to accept a martyr’s death:
“O brother Methodius, my fellow sufferer,
Comfort me in my final hour!
Return to our Slavic children!
Sow Christ’s seed among them,
so that the fruit of faith might grow and prosper,
and that they might see the light of Truth!
Meanwhile, I shall be praying in heaven,
that the Lord might strengthen them in the faith.
And the Lord shall bless our labors:
All the Slavs shall come to Christ!”
Lord our God, through the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius you brought the light of the gospel to the Slavic peoples.
Open our hearts to receive the words of your teaching and make us one people,
united in holding and professing the true faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen (ICEL; 1998)