|The riches of the saving word should be revealed to
On Wednesday, 17 June , at the General Audience in St Peter's
Square the Holy Father spoke about Sts Cyril and Methodius, the brothers
also known as the "Apostles to the Slavs" and for inventing an alphabet
for the Slavonic language. The following is a translation of the Pope's
Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to talk
about Sts Cyril and Methodius, brothers by blood and in the faith, the
so-called "Apostles to the Slays".
Cyril was born in
Thessalonica to Leo, an imperial magistrate, in 826 or 827. He was the
youngest of seven. As a child he learned the Slavonic language. When he
was 14 years old he was sent to Constantinople to be educated and was
companion to the young Emperor, Michael III.
In those years Cyril was
introduced to the various university disciplines, including dialectics,
and his teacher was Photius. After refusing a brilliant marriage he
decided to receive holy Orders and became "librarian" at the
Patriarchate. Shortly afterwards, wishing to retire in solitude, he went
into hiding at a monastery but was soon discovered and entrusted with
teaching the sacred and profane sciences. He carried out this office so
well that he earned the nickname of "Philosopher".
In the meantime, his
brother Michael (born in about 815), left the world after an
administrative career in Macedonia, and withdrew to a monastic life on
Mount Olympus in Bithynia, where he was given the name "Methodius" (a
monk's monastic name had to begin with the same letter as his baptismal
name) and became hegumen of the Monastery of Polychron.
Attracted by his brother's
example, Cyril too decided to give up teaching and go to Mount Olympus
to meditate and pray. A few years later (in about 861), the imperial
government sent him on a mission to the Khazars on the Sea of Azov who
had asked for a scholar to be sent to them who could converse with both
Jews and Saracens.
Cyril, accompanied by his
brother Methodius, stayed for a long time in Crimea where he learned
Hebrew and sought the body of Pope Clement I who had been exiled there.
Cyril found Pope Clement's tomb and, when he made the return journey
with his brother, he took Clement's precious relics with him.
Having arrived in
Constantinople the two brothers were sent to Moravia by the Emperor
Michael III, who had received a specific request from Prince Ratislav of
Moravia: "Since our people rejected paganism", Ratislav wrote to
Michael, "they have embraced the Christian law; but we do not have a
teacher who can explain the true faith to us in our own language". The
mission was soon unusually successful. By translating the liturgy into
the Slavonic language the two brothers earned immense popularity.
However, this gave rise to
hostility among the Frankish clergy who had arrived in Moravia before
the Brothers and considered the territory to be under their
ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In order to justify themselves, in 867 the
two brothers travelled to Rome. On the way they stopped in Venice, where
they had a heated discussion with the champions of the so-called "trilingualheresy"
who claimed that there were only three languages in which it was lawful
to praise God: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The two brothers obviously
forcefully opposed this claim.
In Rome Cyril and Methodius
were received by Pope Adrian II who led a procession to meet them in
order to give a dignified welcome to St Clement's relics. The Pope had
also realized the great importance of their exceptional mission.
Since the middle of the
first millennium, in fact, thousands of Slays had settled in those
territories located between the two parts of the Roman Empire, the East
and the West, whose relations were fraught with tension.
The Pope perceived that the
Slav peoples would be able to serve as a bridge and thereby help to
preserve the union between the Christians of both parts of the Empire.
Thus he did not hesitate to approve the mission of the two brothers in
Great Moravia, accepting and approving the use of the Slavonic language
in the liturgy. The Slavonic Books were laid on the altar of St Mary of
(St Mary Major) and the liturgy in the Slavonic tongue was celebrated in
the Basilicas of St Peter, St Andrew and St Paul.
Unfortunately, Cyril fell
seriously ill in Rome. Feeling that his death was at hand, he wanted to
consecrate himself totally to God as a monk in one of the Greek
monasteries of the City (probably Santa Prassede) and took the monastic
name of Cyril (his baptismal name was Constantine).
He then insistently begged
his brother Methodius, who in the meantime had been ordained a Bishop,
not to abandon their mission in Moravia and to return to the peoples
there. He addressed this prayer to God: "Lord, my God... hear my prayers
and keep the flock you have entrusted to me faithful .... Free them from
the heresy of the three languages, gather them all in unity and make the
people you have chosen agree in the true faith and confession". He died
on 14 February 869.
Faithful to the pledge he
had made with his brother, Methodius returned to Moravia and Pannonia
(today, Hungary) the following year, 870, where once again he
encountered the violent aversion of the Frankish missionaries who took
him prisoner. He did not lose heart and when he was released in 873, he
worked hard to organize the Church and train a group of disciples.
It was to the merit of
these disciples that it was possible to survive the crisis unleashed
after the death of Methodius on 6 April 885: persecuted and imprisoned,
some of them were sold as slaves and taken to Venice where they were
redeemed by a Constantinopolitan official who allowed them to return to
the countries of the Slavonic Balkans.
Welcomed in Bulgaria, they
were able to continue the mission that Methodius had begun and to
disseminate the Gospel in the "Land of the Rus'".
God with his mysterious
Providence thus availed himself of their persecution to save the work of
the holy Brothers. Literary documentation of their work is extant. It
suffices to think of texts such as the Evangeliarium (liturgical
passages of the New Testament), the Psalter, various
liturgical texts in Slavonic, on which both the Brothers had worked.
Indeed, after Cyril's death, it is to Methodius and to his disciples
that we owe the translation of the entire Sacred Scriptures, the
Nomocanone and the Book of
Wishing now to sum up
concisely the profile of the two Brothers, we should first recall the
enthusiasm with which Cyril approached the writings of St Gregory of
Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the transmission
of the Revelation.
St Gregory had expressed
the wish that Christ would speak through him: "I am a servant of the
Word, so I put myself at the service of the Word".
Desirous of imitating
Gregory in this service, Cyril asked Christ to deign to speak in
Slavonic through him. He introduced his work of translation with the
solemn invocation: "Listen, O all of you Slav Peoples, listen to the
word that comes from God, the word that nourishes souls, the word that
leads to the knowledge of God".
In fact, a few years before
the Prince of Moravia had asked the Emperor Michael III to send
missionaries to his country, it seems that Cyril and his brother
Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were already working on
the project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in
The need for new graphic
characters closer to the language spoken was therefore clearly apparent:
so it was that the Glagolitic alphabet came into being. Subsequently
modified, it was later designated by the name "Cyrillic", in honour of
the man who inspired it.
It was a crucial event
for the development of the Slav civilization in general.
Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the individual peoples could not
claim to have received the Revelation fully unless they had heard it in
their own language and read it in the characters proper to their own
Methodius had the merit of
ensuring that the work begun by his brother was not suddenly
interrupted. While Cyril, the "Philosopher", was more inclined to
contemplation, Methodius on the other hand had a leaning for the active
life. Thanks to this he was able to lay the foundations of the
successive affirmation of what we might call the "Cyrillian-Methodian
idea": it accompanied the Slav peoples in the different periods of their
history, encouraging their cultural, national and religious development.
This was already recognized
by Pope Pius XI in his Apostolic Letter Quod Sanctum Cyrillum,
in which he described the two Brothers: "Sons of the East, with a
Byzantine homeland, of Greek origin, for the Roman missions to reap Slav
apostolic fruit" (AAS 19  93-96).
The historic role they
played was later officially proclaimed by Pope John Paul II who, with
his Apostolic Letter Egregiae Virtutis, declared them Co-Patrons
of Europe, together with St Benedict (31 December 1980; L'Osservatore
Romano English edition, 19 January 1981, p. 3).
Cyril and Methodius are in
fact a classic example of what today is meant by the term "inculturation":
every people must integrate the message revealed into its own culture
and express its saving truth in its own language.
This implies a very
demanding effort of "translation" because it requires the identification
of the appropriate words to present anew, without distortion, the riches
of the revealed word.
The two holy Brothers have
left us a most important testimony of this, to which the Church also
looks today in order to draw from it inspiration and guidelines.