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FAITHFUL BROTHERS AND PATRONS OF EUROPE

Father Francis's picture
Saints Cyril and Methodius

Brothers whose work in the ninth century involved communication and negotiation across a continent divided by culture, language and politics have been chosen as patron saints of Europe quite recently.

Both achieved success in their careers, Cyril as a philosopher at the University of Constantinople, and Methodius as governor of a Slav province. After some years, however, Methodius chose to give up his post and enter a monastery, and shortly afterwards Cyril joined him.

In 861 they were sent into Russia to convert the Khazar people. Both were brilliant linguists and soon learned the Khazar language. After a successful mission they returned to their monastery, but were almost immediately sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to convert the Moravians. At this time Moravia was part of the German empire but the people were principally Slavic, and the Duke of Moravia was demanding political and ecclesiastical independence.

Cyril's first task was to construct his Cyrillic alphabet for the Slav language, largely based on Greek capital letters, which is still used in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. It is also the foundation of modern Russian and other Eastern European languages.

The two brothers undertook the work of translating the Gospels, the Psalter and the Epistles of St. Paul into Slavic. They also composed a Slavic liturgy and freely used the vernacular in their preaching. They were popular and successful in their missionary work but met with opposition from German clergy who refused to consecrate Slavic bishops. They appealed to Rome, visiting there in 869 when they were overjoyed to have their liturgy approved by Pope Adrian II, who wanted to consecrate them both as bishops. But before this could take place Cyril died.

Methodius was consecrated bishop and papal legate to the Slavic peoples, and continued the missionary work alone for 16 more years. The German bishops were still hostile to his work amongst the Moravians, and they even persuaded the King of Bavaria to have Methodius imprisoned. The pope secured his release, and Methodius returned to his monastery to finish the work which he and Cyril had begun together: the translation of the complete Bible into the Slavic language. Methodius died in 884.

Saints Cyril and Methodius were two holy men who put their God-given teaching and linguistic talents at the service of the Church. They are rightly called 'the apostles of the Slavs" and today, when the issue of European unity is of such concern, we need their help so that all the nations of our continent may learn to understand and tolerate each other in peace. We pray that these two patron saints will strengthen Christianity throughout Europe, and help to bring about unity between the Eastern and Western Churches.