Learning from Saints Who Transformed Their Culture
Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two ninth-century missionaries.
We honor the brothers team of St. Cyril and St. Methodius for introducing Christianity into eastern Europe, translating the Bible in to the Slavic language, pioneering the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular, and founding Slavonic literature. So the church has named them the Apostles of the Slavs and, with St. Benedict, the patron saints of Europe.
Today we can regard them as patrons for the New Evangelization. They model for us Pope John Paul II’s directing to develop new “methods and expressions” for transforming our culture though evangelization.
Cyril (baptized Constantine and not called Cyril until just before his death) and Methodius were ordained priests in Thessalonica and then moved to Constantinople. Around 863, the emperor sent them as missionaries to Moravia. Rotislav, the local ruler, wanted them to teach in the vernacular, which brothers were well equipped to do as they had learned Slavonic as boys. With great enthusiasm, Cyril and Methodius plunged into the work, translating some of the Bible and the liturgy into Slavonic. In the process they created an alphabet, later developed into the Cyrillic alphabet, which laid the foundations for all Slavic literature.
When German missionary bishops refused to ordain their candidates, Cyril and Methodius headed toward Byzantium for help. But when they reached Venice, the pope summoned them to Rome. They presented him with the alleged relics of St. Clement I, and he received the brothers with great honor. However, after becoming a monk, Cyril died in Rome in 869. In the following passage, his biographer reconstructed his last moments, including his celebrated prayer for Christian unity:
“When the time came for him to set out from this world to the peace of his heavenly homeland, he prayed to God with his hands outstretched and his eyes filled with tears: ‘O Lord, my God, you have created the choirs of angels and spiritual powers; you have stretched forth the heavens and established the earth, creating all that exists from nothing. You hear those who obey your will and keep your commands in holy fear. Hear my prayer and protect your faithful people, for you have established me as their unsuitable and unworthy servant. Keep them free from harm and worldly cunning of those who blaspheme you.
“Build up your church and gather all into unity. Make your people known for the unity and profession of their faith. Inspire the hearts of your people with your word and your teaching. You called us to preach the gospel of your Christ and to encourage them to lives and works pleasing to you.
“I now return to you, your people, your gift to me. Direct them with your powerful right hand, and protect them under the shadow of your wings. May all praise and glorify your name, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Once he had exchanged the gift of peace with everyone, he said: ‘Blessed be God, who did not hand us over to our invisible enemy, but freed us from his snare and delivered us from perdition.’ Then he fell asleep in the Lord at the age of forty-two.”
The pope consecrated Methodius the archbishop of Sirmium, empowering him to build a native Slavonic clergy. He returned to Moravia where he labored for sixteen years, opposed at every turn by his German counterparts. He had to fight to maintain the vernacular liturgy, but won his battle in 880 with the support of the pope. And before his death in 884, Methodius had translated almost the entire Bible into Slavonic.
(Image Credit: Voices from Russia)
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.