Called the 'Apostles to the Slavs,' saints Cyril and Methodius were brothers who devoted their entire lives to preaching christianity to the slavic nations. They were actively involved in conversion of the peoples of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Russia, Dalmatia and many others of the eastern european region. Dedicated to God, they labored tirelessly in His service, for the salvation of the slavic peoples.
Cyril, who was formerly called Constantine, and his brother Methodius were sons of an important family residing in Thessalonica, Greece. Methodius, the elder, was born in 826 and Cyril, the younger, in 827. Leo, their father, was an official of high rank closely associated with the governor of Macedonia. And they were educated well since education was highly prized. Methodius after his education labored as a civil official, but became disillusioned with the extreme politics of the time and he withdrew to the serenity of a monastery on the Bosphorous. His brother Constantine, who chose Cyril as his religious name later in life, possessed intellectual capabilities that proved superior in offering him a reputation as a laborious scholar and professor known throughout Constantinople.
In 860, they joined forces to live exemplary lives in the faithful service ofo God and to the people of the slavic nations to whom they were sent to preach the Gospel. Earlier in 848, Cyril had been assigned to spread Christ's message and Chritianity among the Khazars by Saint Ignatius. Preaching the message to the people of the territory which was close to Germany he baptized a great many in a very short time. After accomplishing this he selected pastors for the church that had been established there, and then returned to Constantinople.
After this he embarked on a second mission to the Bulgarians. Meanwhile, his brother Methodius who was his principal assistant and closely committed to the challenge of converting the slavic barbarians to the Christian faith, desired to further his brothers work. The Prince of Bulgaria, having a fascination for the sport of hunting, desired to present the Emperor with a picture depicting the reality in painting at the time. Methodius, known for his realistic and artistic abilities in painting, was summoned to execute this commissioin. The royal prince ordered him to create a picture which would "strike terror into the hearts of those who beheld it" and so no doubt thinking it would be something realistic in the natural world he himself knew, Methodius instead labored intensely on a painting of the Last Judgment, made all the more horrific by its reality as if it would come to life at any moment.
The painting illustrated God judging sinners and saints together, and it was so convincing in reality that the very conscience of the prince was greatly afflicted, and thinking over his past life of sin, he repented and desired immediately to become a Christian out of the fear of the events portrayed. He was baptized and Cyril and Methodius were allowed to continue their work until the entire nation had accepted Christianity.
Since Moravia was close and Methodius was laboring at converting the Duke of Bohemia, they met together after establishing the Church of Our Lady at Prague. Methodius is known today as the church builder and his brother Cyril as the giver of language.
Germany always had been oppressive towards their neighboring Moravians for sometime, and in an attempt to retaliate the Moravians requested a teacher to replace the German missionaries who were offensive and abusive to them. Because of their familiarity with the Slavic languages, the brothers joined together to serve the people in this capacity. Being partial to the use of the vernacular, especially for Divine Liturgy and all other sacred ceremonials, so the people would understand the import of them, Cyril took the verbal language of the slavs and created an alphabet based upon the Greek characters which became known as Glagolitic. The new slavonic alphabet consisted of 38 letters, 24 of which resembled actual Greek, while the rest were to accommodate the other sounds found in the Slavonic mother tongue. One of Cyril's disciples later simplified the alphabet further and then named it 'Cyrillic' in honor of the apostolic teacher of the slavs.
The liturgy, excerpts from the Bible, mainly the Gospels which were used at Divine Liturgy, were translated into Slavonic and taught to the people in the same manner. During their four and a half years in Moravia, they were consecrated as archbishops and struggled constantly in their concerted efforts to counter the feelings of and towards most Germans. The Germans primarily distrusted their work because of their Greek origins and because of their use of the vernacular Slavonic in all religious ceremonies. Only after the German Church had been overthrown by the Moravian princes Ratislav and Sviatosluk, were the brothers enabled to address the people more independently.
Methodius was imprisoned later by the German bishops for three years,for abuse of power and was placed in a German monastery. He remained there until Germany endured a crushing military defeat in Moravia in 873. Pope John VIII reinstated him as archbishop, and he continued to labor in that country. But the controversy with the Germans over the use of Slavonic caused Pope Nicholas I to summon Cyril and Methodius to Rome for accountability. Before they could reach Rome, however the pope died and his successor, Pope Adrian II, favoring the zealous efforts of these saintly men, praised their work and their in the converted populace, and urged them to continue their deeds to glory for God alone. Cyril was not to return to Moravia but died on February 14, 869. During the advance of his illness he had a heavenly vision and sang in praise of God and weeping copiously as death approached prayed fervently to God, asking His blessing on his brother and all missionaries as they extended Godís kingdom.
"All those whom you have placed in my care," he prayed "I render up all these to You, since they are Yours. Guide them by Your strong right arm and protect them that all may praise and glorify Your Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. "
Methodius buried his brother at Rome at the insistence of the Pope. His body was placed at the right of the main altar in the Basilica of Saint Clement and many miracles ensued adding to the legend of Saint Cyril ever ready to intercede for those who sought his help in prayers and supplication.
Methodius returned to Moravia and labored tirelessly as archbishop, continuing to fight until his own health was impaired. He died on April 6, 885, after naming Gorazd the priest, as his successor. Methodius attended church on Palm Sunday to bid farewell to his people and three days later he died while offering Our Lord's own prayer "into your hands I commend my spirit." And the people gathered for his loving funeral offering up prayers to God for this beloved and holy archbishop. Here too, many miracles were reported at his gravesite just as with his brother and faithful Slavs have always sought his assistance in prayers, akathistos, and pilgrimages in his honor.
The labor of both saints was endangered only when the Magyars invaded Moravia, but fortunately the disciples were able to spread their teachings in other Slavic countries because of the gifts both had given to the people, especially in the cyrillic alphabet.
By tradition the Slavic people today pray to Cyril and Methodius to maintain their faith and to continue and expand the labors of their particular saints.
Saints Cyril and Methodius protect and guide us in the true faith.
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