This coming Tuesday I would imagine a few of you know that we celebrate the feast of St. Valentine, but we really don’t know too much about him. This Tuesday we also celebrate the feast day of two brothers, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who we do know quite a bit about and who I have always been impressed by.
The first reason to be impressed, beyond the saint thing of course, is the Cyrillic alphabet. Cyril and Methodius both grew up speaking Slavonic and thus were natural choices to be missionaries to Moravia in the mid-ninth century when the land had just been going back and forth between numerous different forces in Europe. They didn’t have a problem translating the Bible and liturgical texts into Slavonic but there was a problem in writing it, as up to that point it was only a spoken language. So in order to write the language they created an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet that we have since known as the Cyrillic alphabet, pretty impressive.
But this wasn’t their only challenge. They also had the fortune, or misfortune, to be sent on this mission from Constantinople, the center of the Eastern Church, which at this time was becoming more and more in conflict with the Western Church. One specific difference was that coming from the Eastern Church Cyril and Methodius didn’t even think about whether they should or shouldn’t translate the Bible and liturgies into Slavonic, while in the Western Church the only languages considered suitable for the liturgy were Latin, Greek and Hebrew. After spending some time in Moravia they had some difficulty in that they did not have a bishop and thus could not ordain priests, and the closest bishops were Western, from Bavaria, and were not immune to some of the rivalries at the time between the East and the West. So Cyril and Methodius went to Rome to seek approval of the Slavonic liturgy and of their mission.
Cyril would die while in Rome but Methodius would return to the Moravian missions with the Pope’s blessings. Later he would return to Rome and the pope would consecrate him as a bishop. Unfortunately Methodius would have to continue to face conflicts in the Church and when the current pope died his successor would rescind the permission for the Slavonic liturgy. Methodius would later return to Rome to obtain permission again for the Slavonic liturgy and only a few years later travel back to Constantinople to be received by the emperor and the patriarch. I think a few more reasons to be impressed.
Not only did the brothers bridge differences between the East and the West in their times, but they have also been recognized as saints by both the East and the West and still are a means of unity, especially in Europe, today. Butler’s Lives of the Saints gives much more detail about these and other saints, hopefully they can inspire us to bridge divisions in our world today.