Monday, May 14, 2012

Cyril and Methodius

Monday after Easter 6
May 14, 2012

The Lord be with you

Cyril and Methodius preaching in Bohemia
The Lutheran Service Book, following the lead of the Eastern Orthodox Church, sets aside May 11 to remember the two brothers Cyril and Methodius. The full name of the day is the “Commemoration of Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs.” The 11th was this past Friday, but I failed to put a post about them on the blog that day. However, I don’t think we should skip them, so I’m providing a post concerning them today.

Cyril and Methodius were two of seven children, born to a senatorial family in Thessalonica. Methodius was the older of the two, born around 825. Cryil was born around 827 and was given the name Constantine. Raised in a Christian home, the brothers were committed followers of our Lord.

Both of the boys became priests. Methodius attained high rank in his province of Macedonia before he entered the monastic life. Cyril was educated at Constantinople and became a noted professor of philosophy. He also was the librarian at Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). After a while, he relocated to Bithynai, not far from Methodius.

Around 863 the Emperor sent them to Moravia as Christian missionaries at the request of the local ruler Rostislav, who wanted them to teach in the vernacular. They accepted the call with enthusiasm. There were already missionaries in the area, sent by German bishops. However, these German missionaries believed that the only useable languages for the Gospel were the three used on the plaque posted on the cross above Jesus (Greek, Latin, & Hebrew). Not surprisingly, the German bishops resented this new effort, feeling that Methodius and Cyril were encroaching on their territory.

Methodius and Cyril faced a common problem among missionaries. While the people had a spoken language, they didn’t have a written language. (This was probably why the German bishops didn’t advocate proclaiming the Christian message in the vernacular. How could they give the people a copy of the Bible or provide them with a written liturgy when they didn’t have a written language?) So Methodius and Cyril, aside from learning and preaching the Gospel in the vernacular, also developed an alphabet for the Glagothithic language, which was what the Slavs spoke. The alphabet was based on the capital letters of the Greek alphabet and has come down to our day in the form of the Cyrillic alphabet (modern Russian). For this reason, they are considered the founders of Slavonic literature.

Finding resistance from the German bishops, who among other things, refused to ordain them or their followers, they decided to return to Byzantium to receive aid from the emperor. While in Venice, the Pope sent for them. Upon arriving in Rome in 887, Pope Hadrian II received them with great honor. The Pope confirmed Cyril’s Slavonic translations. Cyril had been ill for some time when he arrived in Rome and, February 14, 869, fifty days after taking the monastic habit and the name Cyril by which he is known, he died at the age of forty-two. Cyril was buried in the basilica of San Clemente (Saint Clement), whose relics Methodius and Cyril had brought with them to Rome.

After Cyril’s death, Pope Hadrian made Methodius Metropolitan of Sirmium and he returned to the Slavic mission field for sixteen more years. Of course, his work continued to meet (sometime violent) opposition, not only from the German bishops but also from the pagans. Methodius was imprisoned for two years, being released only through the intervention of the Pope. He later faced charges of false doctrine (brought by the German bishops) and had to appear before the Pope, but he was cleared of all charges. He died in Czechoslovakia, April 6, 885 (Tuesday in Holy Week).

Receiving support from both Rome and Constantinople, these brother-missionaries are an inspiration for cooperation between churches in the work of the Lord. Their idea of developing a written language so the Gospel could be published in the vernacular foreshadowed the work of Luther and others in translating the Bible, liturgy, hymns, and other Christian works into the vernacular some 700-odd years later. Their willingness to stand up for the Lord in the face of persecution is an inspiration for all who must do the same.

Collect for the Day: O Lord our God, through the ministry of Your servants Cyril and Methodius You brought the gospel to the Slavic nations: Protect Your faithful people, make them known for their unity and their faith, guide them by Your word and teaching, and ever protect them under the shadow of Your wings; through Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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