The Mission of Cyril And Methodius

Encyclical Letter of John Paul II “In Commemoration of the Eleventh Centenary of the Evangelizing Work of Saints Cyril and Methodius”


In a word, they leave behind the classic Greek culture that they know. They bring Sacred Scripture with them. They live the life of the Slavic tribes; learn their culture and their language. They translate the Greek Scriptures into Slavic by creating an alphabet thus giving them their first literature. They celebrate the Mass in Slavic and go to Rome for approval twice. John Paul II marks the following points:

“The event which was to determine the whole of the rest of their olives was the request made by Prince Rastislav of Greater Moravia to the emperor Michael III, to send to his peoples `a Bishop an teacher… able to explain to them the true Christian faith in their own language.’”
“(T)hey took with them the texts of the Sacred Scriptures needed for celebrating the Sacred Liturgy, which they had prepared and translated into the Old Slavonic language and written in a new alphabet, devised by Constantine the Philosopher and perfectly adapted to the sounds of that language. The missionary activity of the two Brothers was accompanied by notable success, but also by the understandable difficulties which the preceding initial Christianization, carried out by the neighboring Latin Churches, placed in the way of the new missionaries.
“In Rome pope Hadrian II… received them very cordially. He approves the Slavonic liturgical books, which he ordered to be solemnly placed on the altar in the Church of Saint Mary ad Praesepe, today known as Saint Mary Major, and recommended that their followers be ordained priests.”
“The new sovereign of Greater Moravia, Prince Svatopluk, also ssubsequently showed hostility to the work of Mehodius. He opposed the Slavonic liturgy and spread doubts in Rome about the new Archbishop’s orthodoxy. In the year 880 Methodius was called ad limina Apostolorum, to present once more the whole question personally to John VIII. In Rome, absolved of all the accusations, he obtained form the Pope the publication of the Bull Industriae Tuae, which, at least in substance, restored the prerogatives granted to the liturgy in Slavonic by Pope John ‘s predecessor Hadrian II. “
“In order to translate the truths of the Gospel into a new language , they had to make an afford to gain a good grasp of the interior world of those to whom they intended to proclaim the word of God in images and concepts that would sound familiar to them. They realized that an essential condition of the success of their missionary activity was to transpose correctly biblical notions and Greek theological concepts into a very different context of thought and historical experience. It was a question of a new method of catechesis.”

“Previously, Constantine and his fellow workers had been engaged in creating a new alphabet, so that the truths to be proclaimed and explained could be written in Old Slavonic and would thus be fully comprehended and grasped by their hearers. The effort to learn the language and to understand the mentality of the new peoples to whom they wished to bring the faith was truly worthy of trhe missionary spirit. Exemplary too was their determination to assimilate and identify themselves with all the needs and expectations of the Slav peoples. Their generous decision to identify themselves with those peoples’ life and traditions, once have purified and enlightened them by Revelation, made Cyril and Methodius true models for all missionaries who in every period have accepted Saint Opal’s invitation to become all things to all people in order to redeem all.

Autonomy and subsidiarity: “At this point it is an unusual and admirable thing that the holy Brothers, working in such complex and precarious situations, did not seek to impose on the peoples assigned to their preaching either the undeniable superiority of the Greek language and Byzantine culture, or the customs and way of life of the more advanced society in which they had grown up and which necessarily remained familiar and dear to them. Inspired by the ideal of uniting in Christ the new believers, they adapted to the Slavonic language the rich and refined texts of the Byzantine liturgy and likewise adapted to the mentality and customs of the new peoples the subtle and complex elaboration of Greco-Roman law. In following this programme of harmony and peace, Cyril and Methodius were ever respectful of the obligations of their mission…. Thus though subjects of the Eastern Empire and believers subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, they considered it their duty to give an account of their missionary work to the Roman Pontiff. They likewise submitted to his judgment, in order to obtain his approval, the doctrine which they professed and taught, the liturgical books which they had written in the Slavonic language, and methods which they were using in evangelizing those peoples.”[7]

Benedict has shown us the alternative to this crisis of faith that embroils Europe: the model of Spengler, or the model of Toynbee. Spengler “believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: First comes the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death… a natural life cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demes, despite every effort to stop it…. But as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.”
“Toynbee emphasized the difference between technological-material profess and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism. If you know the cause of an illness, you can also find a cure: The religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced, especially the `heritage of Western Christianity.’ Rather than a biologistic vision, he offered a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.”[9]

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