Saints Methodius and Cyril Apostles to the Slavs

Saints Methodius and CyrilFor the Church of Constantinople, the middle of the ninth century was a period of intense missionary activity. Freed at last from long struggle against the Iconoclasts, it was able to turn its energies to the conversion of the Slavs, who lived beyond the northern and northwestern frontiers of the Byzantine Empire: the East Slavs (Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians); the West Slavs (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks); and the South Slavs (Bulgarians, Macedonians, Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs and Montenegrins).

Photius was the first Patriarch of Constantinople to initiate missionary work on a large scale among the Slavic tribes. For this task, he selected two monks and brothers by birth, Methodius (c. 815-885) and Cyril (826-869), who were originally from the city of Thessalonica. In childhood, they had learnt the dialect of the Macedonian Slavs around Thessalonica and they could speak the language fluently. Methodius was a very gifted administrator; and Cyril was a gifted scholar, fluent in a wide range of languages.

For Methodius and Cyril, real missionary work began in the year 863 when they set out for Moravia (West Slavs, modern day Czech). They went in response to the request of Ratislav, the Ruler of Moravia, who asked for Christian missionaries capable of teaching the Christian faith and celebrating liturgical services in their own Slavonic language.

Cyril, who was one of the best linguists of his time, resolved to compose a new Slavic alphabet based on Greek alphabet, which was later named “Cyrillic.” With the help of his brother Methodius, they began to translate the Holy Scriptures and Service Books from Greek into the Slavonic language, which eventually became known as Church Slavonic. At that time, their Macedonian dialect would have been understandable by all Slavs. Ready to preach the Good News and to celebrate the liturgy in the language of the people, the missionary brothers set out for Moravia in 863.

Thanks to St. Methodius and Cyril, from the very beginning the Christian Slavs enjoyed a special privilege, such as none of the people of western Europe shared at that time: they heard the Gospel and the services of the Church in their own native language. Unlike the insistence on the use of Latin in the Western Church, the Church in the East was not rigid in the matters of language and was open to the translation of the Holy Scriptures and Divine Services into the language of the people.

After the death of Cyril (+869) and Methodius (+885), their disciples crossed the Danube river and went south to continue missionary work in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia (South Slavs). The influence of their work eventually spread to the East Slavs. By the end of the ninth century, a hundred years before the official Baptism of Kyivan Rus’ in 988, Byzantine eparchies were already established in Crakow (Poland), Peremyshl (western Ukraine) and Tmutorokan (southern Ukraine). One could say that the final conversion of Kyivan Rus’ and the East Slavs in the tenth century was indirectly the result of the missionary work first initiated by Sts. Methodius and Cyril.

In the icon, St. Methodius is portrayed as a bishop. He wears the vestments of a hierarch with the characteristic omophorion and bishop’s staff. Cyril, who remained a monk, wears the habit that is characteristic of the monastic life. His right hand is raised in blessing. Together they hold a scroll on with a translation of the Gospel into the Slavonic language.

Feast Days:

February 14 – St. Cyril, Teacher of the Slavs
April 6 – St. Methodius, Bishop and Teacher of the Slavs
May 11 – Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Equal to the Apostles and Teachers of the Slavs

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