Feast Day: February 14
Because their father was an officer in a part of Greece inhabited by many Slavs, these two Greek brothers ultimately became missionaries, teachers, and patrons of the Slavic peoples. Side by side, these two brothers are venerated as apostles of the Southern Slavs and fathers of Slavic literature.
Cyril and Methodius were scholarly men from Thessalonica, Macedonia. Cyril studied in Constantinople where he earned the nickname, “the philosopher.” Together they undertook great missionary tasks in the present-day Czech Republic who desired political independence from German rule and ecclesiastical autonomy. Cyril’s first work as a missionary was to invent an alphabet (Cyrillic alphabet), which laid the foundations for all Slav literature. The brothers translated the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy. Yet, after much political and theological opposition of their missionary successes, the brothers appealed to Rome and their new Slavic liturgy was granted approval by Pope Adrian II.
Cyril, long an invalid, died in Rome fifty days after taking the monastic habit. Methodius continued mission work for sixteen more years. He was papal legate for all the Slavic peoples, consecrated a bishop and then given an ancient see (now in the Czech Republic). Under continued opposition and stressors from the Frankish clergy and Bavarian bishops, Methodius had to go to Rome to defend himself against charges of heresy and uphold his use of the Slavonic liturgy. He was again vindicated.
Legend has it that in a feverish period of activity, Methodius translated the whole Bible into Slavonic in eight months. He died on Tuesday of Holy Week, surrounded by his disciples, in his cathedral church.
Opposition continued after his death, and the work of the brothers in Moravia was brought to an end and their disciples scattered. But the expulsions had the beneficial effect of spreading the spiritual, liturgical and cultural work of the brothers to Bulgaria, Bohemia and southern Poland. Patrons of Moravia, and especially venerated by Catholic Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Orthodox Serbians and Bulgarians, Cyril and Methodius are eminently fitted to guard the long-desired unity of East and West. In 1980, Blessed Pope John Paul II named them additional co-patrons of Europe (Apostles of the Slavs) along with Saint Benedict.
Like Cyril and Methodius, who made the gospel understandable by putting it in the vernacular, today we must find ways of translating the gospel, already in our vernacular, into a language that our friends can understand in hopes of Christian unity.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Paul, Tessa, and Consultant, Reverend Ronald Creighton-Jobe. “An Illustrated Dictionary of Saints.” Wigston, Leicestershire: Anness Publishing, 2011.