Monday, July 05, 2021

Cyril and Methodius were at the birth of Slavic education

The brothers were exceptional personalities, they excelled in insight
Commentary by Tomáš Zdechovský, a member of the European Parliament, KDU-ČSL
The arrival of the saints, who were at the origin of Slavic education, has been celebrated on 5 July only since 1863, when a thousand years passed since their arrival in Great Moravia. This day was set by Pope Pius IX at the request of the then Archbishop of Olomouc, Bedřich of Fürstenberg. It was first used in Bohemia, Moravia, Croatia and Slovakia. Later, the feast was extended to the entire Roman Catholic Church. Until then, since the time of Charles IV, the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius was commemorated on 9 March. Only the year 863 is certain, when the two siblings were sent to Moravia by Emperor Michael III. Their arrival is recorded in the calendar as a public holiday - the Day of the Slavic Heroes Cyril and Methodius.



However, March was not a suitable time for the celebrations, as the date fell during the Lenten season. Among the reasons for the move, apart from the unsuitable time of year and liturgical time of the earlier date, was the growing importance of the feast of Jan Hus in the Czech Republic, which falls on 6 July. However, we do not know the exact date of the arrival of the Slavic saints. In fact, the date of July 5 has no direct connection with the life of Cyril and Methodius, and the Slavic Orthodox Churches have the day of Saints Cyril and Methodius on May 11 according to the Orthodox calendar (May 24 according to the Gregorian calendar), when Cyril and Methodius are traditionally supposed to have come to Great Moravia. As historian Jaroslav Šebek has already mentioned, it has never been established when the Great Moravian prince Rastislav actually summoned the two brothers from the Byzantine Empire to Great Moravia. Some claim that it should have happened in the spring, others, according to his words, lean towards the transition between summer and autumn.



The two were different in character, but in many ways they complemented each other.

Whatever the date of their arrival, Constantine and Methodius were undoubtedly among the most educated people of their time, and their importance is indisputable not only in Czech, or if you prefer Moravian, but also in European history. Great Moravia was fortunate in that they helped to spread Christianity here. They came from a wealthy Greek patrician family from Thessaloniki, thanks to which they received an education. Their father, Leo, had a high position in the civil service. According to some sources, they had a Slavic mother, which may have helped to make the Slavic language naturally familiar to them. Other sources claim that their mother was the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VI. But the truth is that there was a strong Slavic element in the area around Thessaloniki at the time and both brothers must have come into contact with Slavs during their youth, which undoubtedly helped them in their future activities.



Constantine and Methodius were different in character. In their case, however, this was certainly not to their detriment; on the contrary, they complemented each other in many ways. The younger Constantine was a philosopher who lived an ascetic life. He was one of the most important scholars of his time, and was also an excellent theologian and a scholar of many languages. He taught philosophy in Constantinople and participated in many theological discussions. He is well known for his work among the Saracens. When the ruler, Caliph Mutavakil, along with other Muslims, slandered Christianity, Constantine was always able to deflect their attacks with wisdom and wit. Legend even has it that the Muslims could not bear Constantine's rhetorical superiority and wanted to poison him, but in the end he happily escaped.

The elder Methodius was a lawyer and an excellent organizer, which was undoubtedly also of great importance during his time in Moravia. In his youth he worked as a Byzantine civil servant. He was even commissioned to exercise the high office of archon, the imperial governor in the Strymon region located north of Thessalonica, which was inhabited by Slavs.

For several years the two brothers lived in the monastery, when their joint activity began. Before their work in Moravia, they did missionary work among the Khazars. And as we know, in 863, Emperor Michael III sent them to work in Moravia.

After arriving in Moravia, they spread Christian education

Their activities in Moravia were very rich from the beginning. They translated religious books, taught their pupils to read and understand these books, taught them to know the prayers and rituals. They also gave an important role to education when they founded a seminary for the education of new clergy. They translated the ritual books, wrote textbooks and immediately began training new priests.

In addition to this, Constantine and Methodius also went around Moravia spreading Christian education, because the knowledge of the faith at that time, especially among the simple agricultural people, was at best very superficial or non-existent. The way in which Christianity was spread by the priests and bishops of the Frankish Empire was very ineffective, and these people attached more importance to their own political aims than to God. They did not hesitate to engage in wars and violence because of this. In scholarship the priests from the German areas also did not excel much, and their command of the Slavic language was very poor, with the result that the fruits of their missionary work were very unsatisfactory.

In contrast, the approach of Constantine and Methodius was very enlightened, and both tried to spread Christianity in the most accessible and understandable way. In practice, this meant that services were celebrated in a language that the local people understood. They acted as true "apostles of the Slavs," as they are also rightly often called.

The question of the liturgical language was also addressed by the Pope in Rome, from where the brothers left Great Moravia in 868. The faithful received a very warm welcome from Pope Hadrian II. They gained such confidence that he approved of their teachings and their very unconventional missionary method of introducing Slavonic worship for their time. In early 868, the Pope also confirmed the Slavonic translation of the service books and allowed services to be celebrated in Old Slavonic. Both brothers disputed the then widespread belief, namely the so-called trilingualism. According to him, services could only be celebrated in the languages in which Pilate of Pontus had the inscription on the cross of Christ written, that is, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Constantine and Methodius, on the other hand, of course, tried to make Christianity available in the Slavic language. At the same time, Constantine and Methodius were ordained priests in Rome.

As already mentioned, Constantine lived a very ascetic life and it is interesting that he became a monk only in Rome, where he entered a monastery just before his death. He did not take the religious name Cyril, by which he is better known to us, until the very end of his life. He died of tuberculosis fifty days after entering the monastery, on February 14, 869, at the age of only 42.

The Bavarian bishops did not take the loss of influence well, and the disciples also had problems.

After Cyril's death, Methodius continued his missionary work in Great Moravia. In the autumn of 869, he was consecrated bishop and even appointed archbishop of Pannonia and Moravia, based in Sirmium (today's Sremska Mitrovica, a town in Serbia). The establishment of the Moravian-Pannonian archdiocese was undoubtedly one of Methodius' greatest achievements.

Methodius was probably captured by the Franks on his return to Moravia. For he had long been a thorn in the side of the Bavarian bishops, who resented the loss of influence in the area where they had previously worked. He was subsequently imprisoned for two and a half years in a Benedictine monastery in Ellwangen, Swabia, and his release was only achieved after the intervention of Pope John VIII.

During his later years, Methodius had to face other obstacles from his enemies. The priest John of Venice accused him of heresy and in 879 he had to go to Rome. However, he again defended the use of the Old Slavonic language and Pope John VIII approved the Old Slavonic liturgy with the bull Industriae tuae (Thy zeal). All this, however, on condition that the epistle and the Gospel could be read first in Latin and then in Old Slavonic.

Many problems arose for Methodius and his disciples after the Pope, at the request of Prince Svatopluk, appointed the German priest Wiching, who made no secret of his desire to destroy the Old Slavonic mission, as bishop of Nitra. On his way back from Rome, Bishop Wiching beat Methodius to Prince Svatopluk's door so that he could present him with the forged document according to which the Pope deposed Methodius. The fraud was discovered, of course, but a year later Wiching attempted another forgery, forging a papal letter against Methodius. Upon Methodius' inquiry to Rome, Pope John VIII himself then denied having sent a similar letter to Wiching in March 881, and expressed his full support for Methodius.

The emperor liked the unusual manner of Methodius' missionary activity

In 882, Methodius received a letter from the Byzantine emperor Basil I. The emperor expressed his wish to see Methodius while both were still alive. Without hesitation, Methodius made his final journey to the emperor, where he was warmly and solemnly received. Both the emperor and the patriarch were very pleased with the unusual but very successful manner of Methodius' missionary activity. They affirmed the Slavonic worship and allowed the two disciples of the saint to spread and strengthen Christianity by means of Slavonic books also among the Slavs in the Byzantine Empire. He was richly rewarded for his contribution to the spread of Christianity among the Slavs and made his way back to Moravia.

In 884, after his return to Moravia, Methodius worked on the translation of the remaining parts of the Bible. Shortly before his death, he also decided to impose a curse on Wiching, depriving him of his episcopal office until he submitted to his authority. In response, however, Wiching succeeded in getting the new pope, Stephen V, to ban the Slavonic liturgy and order that Moravian priests be banished from Moravia if they did not submit.

Methodius died on 6 April 885, surrounded by his disciples. Funeral rites were held in Latin, Greek and Slavonic. Because he was held in high esteem, huge crowds of people of all classes, ages and status came to bid farewell to Methodius.

Wiching then advocated the forcible expulsion of Methodius' disciples from Moravia. Again, he probably used forged papal letters to achieve his goal. Methodius' disciples dispersed throughout the Slavic lands, where they continued their activities and the legacy of their teacher. Perhaps most significant was their work in the region of Bulgaria.

Pope John Paul II declared the siblings co-patrons of Europe

The importance of the work of both brothers and their legacy goes far beyond the borders of Moravia and the Czech Republic. Their work can also be considered a "civilizing mission." It was they who brought the Glagolitic script to our territory, which was invented by Constantine himself for writing the Old Slavonic language. However, it should be added that this script was used in our country only for a short time, as it was soon superseded by the Latin alphabet.

Moreover, the Cyrillic alphabet was soon replaced in eastern Europe by a script derived from Greek, called Cyrillic in honour of Cyril. Some sources even claim that the author of the Cyrillic alphabet was Clement of Ohrid, one of the disciples of Cyril and Methodius. Whatever the case, it is certain that both brothers were at the birth of Slavic education and their contribution to the civilisation and cultural uplift of the Slavic-speaking areas of Central and South-Eastern Europe is unquestionable.

Constantine and Methodius stood out for their insight and also for their use of unconventional methods in their missionary activities, which proved successful in their time. They are exceptional personalities of pan-European importance. This is evidenced by the fact that the brothers of Thessalonica are not only the patrons of Moravia, but were declared co-patrons of Europe by Pope John Paul II in 1981.

The author is an MEP and vice-president of the KDU-ČSL.
Translated by Deepl.com for free

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