Cyril and Methodius. . . Unusual names! Brave men! Great Saints! St. John Paul ll called them “Apostles of the Slavs” and declared them Co-Patrons of Europe.
They were brothers, born in the 9th century in Thessaloniki. They were christened Constantine and Michael but they changed their names to Cyril and Methodius when later on in life they adopted the monastic life. Their mother was Bulgarian and their father was Greek. They were brought up in a well-known Christian family. They grew up fluent not only in Greek but also in the Slavic language, as many Slavs had settled in Thessaloniki at the time.
Michael became an important civil official but then retired to a Greek monastery where he became an abbot, adopting the name Methodius. Constantine grew up to be a scholar, becoming known as “the Philosopher” in Constantinople.
Constantine and Methodius were requested to become missionaries among the people of what we now know as the Ukraine. Later the Moravian Prince Ratislav requested the Byzantine Emperor for missionaries who knew the Slavic language to combat the influence of the German missionaries in Moravia. Constantine and Methodius were the obvious choice. When they arrived in Moravia, Constantine started to translate the Liturgy in the Slavonic language. Also, he devised what is known as the Glagolitic alphabet, which later developed into the Cyrillic alphabet ( named after the name Cyril that he adopted later.) A derivation of this alphabet is still used by a number of Slavic countries, including Russia. The German Church authority in Moravia opposed this because it meant losing their power and control in the Moravian community.
Constantine and Methodius were heavily and publicly criticized on all fronts. As they were not bishops they could not ordain the candidates they had prepared for the priesthood so they had to travel to Rome to have their candidates ordained. The brothers found that the German criticism had preceded them there. However the Pope saw the importance of the use of the Slavic Language in Church services and for the liturgy in Eastern countries and he approved it.
Constantine never returned to Moravia. He became seriously ill. He joined a monastic order, changing his name to Cyril and died soon after on the 14th February 869.
Methodius was given permission by the Pope to continue saying Mass and baptizing in the Slavonic language but he could not return to Moravia because of great political upheaval there. Eventually he was consecrated bishop and was given authority over Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Moravian Territory. The criticism of the German Bishops never ceased. It developed into persecution to the extent that he was imprisoned in a monastery. When the Germans had to recognize Moravian independence, to ’pacify’ the Germans the Pope ordered Methodius to stop celebrating the liturgy in the Slavonic language. Methodius was again called to Rome accused of not abiding by the Pope’s ruling. Once in Rome, he explained how celebrating the Liturgy in the people’s own language brought meaning to their life. Far from condemning him the Pope gave him permission to continue celebrating the Liturgy in the Slavic language and made him head of the Church hierarchy in Moravia.
In spite of the fact that criticism never ceased to surround him, Methodius never lost heart. It is believed that he translated most of the Bible and the works of the Church Fathers into Slavic language. He died on April 6, 884.