The European Story of Saints Cyril and Methodius

The mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius dates back to Great Moravia (9th century) and is connected to the arrival of Slavic missionaries Saints Cyril (Constantine) and Methodius to Moravia in 863 AD. Cyril and Methodius created the Glagolitic alphabet for the Slavs, translated the Bible and other religious texts into the Slavic language, and then enforced Slavic as the liturgical language to enable worship in the language of the people with whom they shared the Gospel. They also educated their followers to ensure the continuation of their mission, the most famous follower being Saint Gorazd.

The period of time, which we are going to talk about within our topic, is the second half of the ninth century and the beginning of the tenth century, i.e. approximately three decades after the year 885. However, first let us do a short excursus before the year 885, so that we would obtain necessary continuity. Let us recall that this is a period of still undivided Church in the way we perceive it now. At that time, Roman popes were considered, with a few exceptions, Orthodox and Eastern Churches were considered to be Catholic – that is universal, general. At the beginning of the 860s, holy Great Moravian Prince Rostislav first asks the Roman pope and consequently the Stambul patriarch to send missionaries to Moravia, who would be able to teach God's law to the nation in a language they could understand. Patriarch Fotios and Byzantine Emperor Michal III granted that request and a mission group, led by Saints Cyril and Methodius, comes to Moravia in 863. In a relatively very short period of time of about four years they had finished translations of fundamental sacral texts, they had taught a sufficient number of disciples and in 867 they set out on a journey to Stambul, so that they would let these disciples be ordained as priests and other clergy. In Venice, they learn about the revolution in Stambul. Emperor Michal is murdered, Patriarch Fotios brought down. The more eagerly they accept the invitation of Pope Nicholas I and leave for Rome. In Rome, Nicholas' successor Hadrian II approves their Slavonic liturgical books and lets them ordain some disciples. Saint Cyril dies in Rome on 14th February 869 as a monk in a Greek monastery. His relics are deposited in the church of Saint Clement. Methodius is then sent by the pope as an archbishop with the seat in Sirmio (present Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia) and as a papal legate for Slavonic countries back to Moravia. On his journey he is captured by Frank bishops and imprisoned for two years and a half. Thanks to the help provided by Kocel, Prince from Blatny, he was liberated after a direct intervention of the pope. At that time, Moravia is already under the government of the nephew of Prince Rastislav, Svatopluk, who was captured by the Franks and sentenced by Ludvík Němec (and, after all, he was probably tortured to death – nothing more is known about his fate). He gives all Moravian churches to Methodius and Methodius assumes the role of a church administrator. Even though it was Prince Rostislav who wanted to establish an independent ecclesiastic organization in Moravia, it was achieved only by Svatopluk, as it follows also from the content of Pope John VIII's encyclical letter "INDUSTRIAE TUE" from 880.

The missionary work of the saint brothers and their co-workers had, from its very beginning, not only their supporters but also adversaries. Frank bishops claimed their rights in the land of Moravia and the emerging independent church administration was completely against their will. An important position among the opponents was held by a later Methodius' suffragan bishop Wiching from Nitra, who was also ordained by the pope.

In 884, Archbishop Methodius withdraws into seclusion and there, in a short period of time, with help of two fast writing assistants, he finishes translations of the Books of the Sacred Scripture, with the exception of the Book of Maccabees. Shortly before his death, in presence of his co-workers and princes, he appoints his successor, an orthodox man named Gorazd, who was educated both in Greek and Latin books, and probably came from the class of lower nobility. On 6th April 885, Saint Methodius dies. The funeral ceremonies take place in the Greek, Latin and Slavonic languages. He is buried "in the great church of Moravia, on the left side behind the altar of Saint God-bearer", as we can read in his Biography. This localization has presented many difficulties for many researchers till this very day. The final place of the deposit of the relics of the saint has remained undisclosed. However, that is a theme for a different lecture.

After the death of Methodius, the opposition led by Wiching, escalated its resistance against the Slavonic clergy and a final clash takes place, which goes all the way up to the throne of ruler Svatopluk. He is asked to solve the conflict. However, Svatopluk is not educated in theological or ecclesiastic issues. His personal life we could hardly call ascetic. During his lifetime Methodius reprimanded him for his lack of moderation. Thus, we cannot assume that he was inclined to support Methodius' clergy. He decides the conflict under rather strange circumstances in favor of Wiching's side. The subsequent development of events is dramatic. The Cyrillo-Methodian clergy, disciples, co-workers and supporters are arrested and imprisoned. Many of them are sold into slavery. The original traces of the Byzantine mission are liquidated. These days, our history, archaeology, linguistics and other branches of science can offer to us only a fragment of the Cyrillo-Methodian work and more or less probable interpretation of its artifacts. It seems that the unprecedently successful and flourishing work of the saint brothers is blown up and almost disposed of.


Source: Saints Cyril and Methodius and their Disciples called "Sedmipočetníci" (“seven in number”), lecture – Modrá at Velehrad, 4th July 2012, Prot. Mgr. Kliment Petr Koutný