Ioannes Paulus PP. II
1 THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out. Indeed it can be said that their memory is particularly vivid and relevant to our day.
Considering the grateful veneration enjoyed for centuries by the holy Brothers from Salonika (the ancient Thessalonica), especially among the Slav nations, and mindful of their incalculable contribution to the work of proclaiming the Gospel among those peoples; mindful too of the cause of reconciliation, friendly coexistence, human development and respect for the intrinsic dignity of every nation, by my Apostolic Letter Egregiae Virtutis1 of 31 December 1980 I proclaimed Saints Cyril and Methodius Co-Patrons of Europe. In this way I followed the path already traced out by my Predecessors, and notably by Leo XIII, who over a hundred years ago, on 30 September 1880, extended the cult of the two Saints to the whole Church, with the Encyclical Epistle Grande Munus,2 and by Paul VI, who, with the Apostolic Letter Pacis Nuntius3 of 24 October 1964, proclaimed Saint Benedict Patron of Europe.
2 The purpose of the document of five years ago was to remind people of these solenm acts of the Church and to call the attention of Christians and of all people of good will who have at heart the welfare, harmony and unity of Europe to the ever-living relevance of the eminent figures of Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, as concrete models and spiritual aids for the Christians of today, and especially for the nations of the continent of Europe, which, especially through the prayers and work of these saints, have long been consciously and originally rooted in the Church and in Christian tradition.
The publication of my Apostolic Letter in 1980, which was dictated by the firm hope of a gradual overcoming in Europe and the world of everything that divides the Churches, nations and peoples, was linked to three circumstances that were the subject of my prayer and reflection. The first was the eleventh centenary of the Pontifical Letter Industriae Tuae,4 whereby Pope John VIII in the year 880 approved the use of the Old Slavonic language in the liturgy translated by the two holy Brothers. The second circumstance was the first centenary of the above-mentioned Encyclical Epistle Grande Munus. The third was the beginning, precisely in 1980, of the happy and promising theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches on the Island of Patmos.
3 In the present document I wish to make particular reference to the Epistle Grande Munus, by which Pope Leo III intended to remind the Church and the world of the apostolic merits of both the Brothers-not only of Methodius, who, according to tradition, ended his days at Velehrad in Greater Moravia in the year 885, but also of Cyril, whom death separated from his brother in 869, when he was in Rome, the city which received and which still preserves his relics with profound veneration in the Basilica of Saint Clement.
Recalling the holy lives and apostolic merits of the two Brothers from Salonika, Pope Leo XIII fixed their annual liturgical feast on 7 July. After the Second Vatican Council, as a result of the liturgical reform, the feast was transferred to 14 February, which from the historical point of view is the date of the heavenly birthday of Saint Cyril.5 At a distance of over a hundred years from Pope Leo's Epistle, the new circumstances in which it so happens that there falls the eleventh centenary of the death of Saint Methodius encourage us to give renewed expression to the Church's memory of this important anniversary. And a particular obligation to do so is felt by the first Pope called to the See of Peter from Poland, and thus from the midst of the Slav nations.
The events of the last hundred years and especially of the last decades have helped to revive in the Church not only the religious memory of the two holy Brothers but also a historical and cultural interest in them. Their special charisms have become still better understood in the light of the situations and experiences of our own times. A contribution to this has been made by many events which belong, as true signs of the times, to the history of the twentieth century; the first of these is that great event which took place in the life of the Church: the Second Vatican Council. In the light of the magisterium and pastoral orientation of that Councils we can look in a new way-a more mature and profound way-at these two holy figures, now separated from us by eleven centuries. And we can read in their lives and apostolic activity the elements that the wisdom of divine Providence placed in them, so that they might be revealed with fresh fullness in our own age and might bear new fruits.
4 Following the example offered by the Epistle Grande Munus, I wish to recall the life of Saint Methodius, without however thereby ignoring the life-so closely liked to it-of his brother Saint Cyril. This I will do in general terms, leaving to historical research the detailed discussion of individual points.
The city which saw the birth of the two holy Brothers is the modern Salonika, which in the ninth century was an important centre of commercial and political life in the Byzantine Empire, and occupied a notable position in the intellectual and social life of that part of the Balkans. Being situated on the frontier of the Slav territories, it also certainly had a Slav name: Solun.
Methodius was the elder brother and his baptismal name was probably Michael. He was born between 815 and 820. His younger brother Constantine, who came to be better known by his religious name Cyril, was born in 827 or 828. Their father was a senior official of the imperial administration. The family's social position made possible for the two Brothers a similar career, which in fact Methodius did take up, reaching the rank of Archon or Prefect in one of the frontier Provinces where many Slavs lived. However, towards the year 840 he interrupted his career and retired to one of the monasteries at the foot of Mount Olympus in Bithynia, then known as the Holy Mountain.
His brother Cyril studied with great success in Byzantium, where he received Holy Orders, after having resolutely refused a brilliant political future. By reason of his exceptional intellectual and religious talents and knowledge, there were entrusted to him while he has still a young man delicate ecclesiastical appointments, such as that of Librarian of the Archive attached to the great church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, and, simultaneously, the prestigious position of Secretary to the Patriarch of that city. However, he very soon made it known that he wished to be relieved of these posts, in order to be able to devote himself to study and the contemplative life, far from the pursuit of ambition. Thus he retired secretly to a monastery on the Black Sea coast. He was discovered six months later, and was persuaded to accept the task of teaching philosophy in the School of higher learning in Constantinople, where by reason of the excellence of his knowledge he gained the epithet of The Philosopher by which he is still known. Later on he was sent by the emperor and the Patriarch on a mission to the Saracens. On the completion of this task he retired from public life in order to join his elder brother Methodius and share with him the monastic life. But once again, together with Methodius, he was included in a Byzantine delegation sent to the Khazars, acting as a religious and cultural expert. While staying in the Crimea at Kherson, they identified what they believed to be the church in which had been buried Saint Clement, Pope of Rome and martyr, who had been exiled to that distant region. They recovered his relics and took them with them.6 These relics later accompanied the two holy Brothers on their missionary journey to the West, until they were able to bring them solemnly to Rome and present them to Pope Hadrian II.
5 The event which was to determine the whole of the rest of their lives was the request made by Prince Rastislav of Greater Moravia to the Emperor Michael III, to send to his peoples "a Bishop and teacher ... able to explain to them the true Christian faith in their own language".7
Those chosen were Saints Cyril and Methodius, who readily accepted, set out and, probably by the year 863, reached Greater Moravia-a State then including various Slav peoples of Central Europe, at the crossroads of the mutual influences between East and West. They undertook among these peoples that mission to which both of them devoted the rest of their lives, spent amidst journeys, privations, sufferings, hostility and persecution, which for Methodius included even a period of cruel imprisonment. All of this they bore with strong faith and indomitable hope in God. They had in fact prepared well for the task entrusted to them: they 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.
About three years later, while travelling to Rome, they stopped in Pannonia where the Slav Prince Kocel, who had fled from the important civil and religious center of Nitra, gave them a hospitable reception. From here, after some months, they set out again for Rome together with their followers, for whom they desired to obtain Holy Orders. Their route passed through Venice, where the innovating elements of the mission they were carrying out were subjected to a public discussion. In Rome Pope Hadrian II, who had in the meantime succeeded Nicholas I, received them very cordially. He approved 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. This phase of their efforts concluded in a most favorable manner. Methodius however had to carry out the next stages by himself, because his younger brother, now gravely ill, scarcely had time to take religious vows and put on the monastic habit before he died shortly afterwards, on 14 February 869 in Rome.
6 Saint Methodius remained faithful to the words which Cyril had said to him on his deathbed: "Behold, my brother, we have shared the same destiny, ploughing the same furrow; I now fall in the field at the end of my day. I know that you greatly love your Mountain; but do not for the sake of the Mountain give up your work of teaching. For where better can you and salvation?"8
Consecrated Archbishop for the territory of the ancient Diocese of Pannonia, and named Papal Legate "ad gentes" (for the Slav peoples), he assumed the ecclesiastical title of the re-established Episcopal See of Sirmium. However, Methodius' apostolic activity was cut short as the result of political and religious complications which culminated in his imprisonment for two years, on the charge of having invaded the episcopal jurisdiction of another. He was set free only on the personal intervention of Pope John VIII. The new sovereign of Greater Moravia, Prince Svatopluk, also subsequently showed hostility to the work of Methodius. 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 from the Pope the publication of the Bull Industriae Tuae,9 which, at least in substance, restored the prerogatives granted to the liturgy in Slavonic by Pope John's predecessor Hadrian II.
When in 881 or 882 Methodius went to Constantinople, he received a similar recognition of perfect legitimacy and orthodoxy also from the Byzantine Emperor and the Patriarch Photius, who at that time was in full communion with Rome. He devoted the last years of his life principally to making further translations of the Sacred Scriptures, the liturgical books, the works of the Fathers of the Church and also the collection of ecclesiastical and Byzantine civil laws called the Nomocanon. Concerned for the survival of the work which he had begun, he named as his successor his disciple Gorazd. He died on 6 April 885 in the service of the Church established among the Slav peoples.
7 His far-seeing work, his profound and orthodox doctrine, his balance, loyalty, apostolic zeal and intrepid magnanimity gained Methodius the recognition and trust of Roman Pontiffs, of Patriarchs of Constantinople, of Byzantine Emperors and of various Princes of the young Slav peoples. Thus he became the guide and legitimate Pastor of the Church which in that age became established in the midst of those nations. He is unanimously venerated, together with his brother Constantine, as the preacher of the Gospel and teacher "from God and the holy Apostle Peter",10 and as the foundation of full unity between the Churches of recent foundation and the more ancient ones.
For this reason, "men and women, humble and powerful, rich and poor, free men and slaves, widows and orphans, foreigners and local people, the healthy and the sick"11 made up the throng that amid tears and songs accompanied to his burial place the good Teacher and Pastor who had become "all things to all men, that I might by all means save some".12
To tell the truth, after the death of Methodius the work of the holy Brothers suffered a grave crisis, and persecution of their followers grew so severe that the latter were forced to abandon their missionary field. Nonetheless, their sowing of the Gospel seed did not cease to bear fruit, and their pastoral attitude of concern to bring the revealed truth to new peoples while respecting their cultural originality remains a living model for the Church and for the missionaries of all ages.
8 Byzantine in culture, the brothers Cyril and Methodius succeeded in becoming apostles of the Slavs in the full sense of the word. Separation from one's homeland, which God sometimes requires of those he has chosen, when accepted with faith in his promise is always a mysterious and fertile pre-condition for the development and growth of the People of God on earth. The Lord said to Abraham: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing".13
In the dream which Saint Paul had at Troas in Asia Minor, a Macedonian, therefore an inhabitant of the European continent, came before him and implored him to come to his country to proclaim there the Word of God: "Come over to Macedonia and help us.14
Divine Providence, which for the two holy Brothers expressed itself through the voice and authority of the Emperor of Byzantium and of the Patriarch of the Church of Constantinople, addressed to them a similar exhortation, when it asked them to go as missionaries among the Slavs. For them, this task meant giving up not only a position of honour but also the contemplative life. It meant leaving the area of the Byzantine Empire and undertaking a long pilgrimage in the service of the Gospel among peoples that, in many aspects, were still very alien to the system of civil society based on the advanced organization of the State and the refined culture of Byzantium, imbued with Christian principles. A similar request has addressed three times to Methodius by the Roman Pontiff, when he sent him as Bishop among the Slavs of Greater Moravia, in the ecclesiastical regions of the ancient Diocese of Pannonia.
9 The Slavonic Life of Methodius reports in the following words the request made by the Prince Rastislav to the Emperor Michael III through his envoys: "Many Christian teachers have reached us from Italy, from Greece and from Germany, who instruct us in different ways. But we Slavs ... have no one to direct us towards the truth and instruct us in an understandable way".15 It was then that Constantine and Methodius were invited to go there. Their profoundly Christian response to the invitation in this circumstance and on all similar occasions is admirably expressed by the words of Constantine to the Emperor: "However tired and physically worn out I am, I will go with joy to that land";16 "with joy I depart for the sake of the Christian faith".17
The truth and the power of their missionary mandate came from the depths of the mystery of the Redemption, and their evangelizing work among the Slav peoples was to constitute an important link in the mission entrusted by the Savior to the Church until the end of time. It was a fulfillment-in time and in concrete circumstances-of the words of Christ, who in the power of his Cross and Resurrection told the Apostles: "Preach the Gospel to the whole creation";18 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations".19 In so doing, the preachers and teachers of the Slav peoples let themselves be guided by the apostolic ideal of Saint Paul: "For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus".20
Together with a great respect for persons and a disinterested concern for their true good, the two holy Brothers had the resources of energy, prudence, zeal and charity needed for bringing the light to the future believers, and at the same time for showing them what is good and offering concrete help for attaining it. For this purpose they desired to become similar in every aspect to those to whom they were bringing the Gospel; they wished to become part of those peoples and to share their lot in everything.
10 Precisely for this reason they found it natural to take a clear position in all the conflicts which were disturbing the societies as they became organized. They took as their own the difficulties and problems inevitable for peoples who were defending their own identity against the military and cultural pressure of the new Romano-Germanic Empire, and who were attempting to resist forms of life which they felt to be foreign. It was also the beginning of wider divergencies, which were unfortunately destined to increase, between Eastern and Western Christianity, and the two holy missionaries found themselves personally involved in this. But they always succeeded in maintaining perfect orthodoxy and consistent attention both to the deposit of tradition and to the new elements in the lives of the peoples being evangelized. Situations of opposition often weighed upon them in all their uncertain and painful complexity. But this did not cause Constantine and Methodius to try to withdraw from the trial. Misunderstanding, overt bad faith and even, for Saint Methodius, imprisonment accepted for love of Christ, did not deflect either of them from their tenacious resolve to help and to serve the good of the Slav peoples and the unity of the universal Church. This was the price which they had to pay for the spreading of the Gospel, the missionary enterprise, the courageous search for new forms of living and effective ways of bringing the Good News to the Slav nations which were then forming.
For the purposes of evangelization, the two holy Brothers-as their biographies indicate-undertook the difficult task of translating the texts of the Sacred Scriptures, which they knew in Greek, into the language of the Slav population which had settled along the borders of their own region and native city. Making use of their own Greek language and culture for this arduous and unusual enterprise, they set themselves to understanding and penetrating the language, customs and traditions of the Slav peoples, faithfully interpreting the aspirations and human values which were present and expressed therein.
11 In order to translate the truths of the Gospel into a new language, they had to make an effort 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. To defend its legitimacy and prove its value, Saint Methodius, at first together with his brother and then alone, did not hesitate to answer with docility the invitations to come to Rome, invitations received first from Pope Nicholas I in 867 and then from Pope John VIII in 879. Both Popes wished to compare the doctrine being taught by the Brothers in Greater Moravia with that which the holy Apostles Peter and Paul had passed down, together with the glorious trophy of their holy relics, to the Church's chief episcopal See.
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 the 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 having purified and enlightened them by Revelation, make Cyril and Methodius true models for all the missionaries who in every period have accepted Saint Paul's invitation to become all things to all people in order to redeem all. And in particular for the missionaries who, from ancient times until the present day, from Europe to Asia and today in every continent, have labored to translate the Bible and the texts of the liturgy into the living languages of the various peoples, so as to bring them the one word of God, thus made accessible in each civilization's own forms of expression.
Perfect communion in love preserves the Church from all forms of particularism, ethnic exclusivism or racial prejudice, and from any nationalistic arrogance. This communion must elevate and sublimate every purely natural legitimate sentiment of the human heart.
12 But the characteristic of the approach adopted by the Apostles of the Slavs Cyril and Methodius which I especially wish to emphasize is the peaceful way in which they built up the Church, guided as they were by their vision of the Church as one, holy and universal.
Even though Slav Christians, more than others, tend to think of the holy Brothers as "Slavs at heart", the latter nevertheless remain men of Hellenic culture and Byzantine training. In other words, men who fully belonged to the civil and ecclesiastical tradition of the Christian East.
Already in their time certain differences between Constantinople and Rome had begun to appear as pretexts for disunity, even though the deplorable split between the two parts of the same Christian world was still in the distant future. The evangelizers and teachers of the Slavs set out for Greater Moravia imbued with all the wealth of tradition and religious experience which marked Eastern Christianity and which was particularly evident in theological teaching and in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
The sacred rites in all the Churches within the borders of the Byzantine Empire had long been celebrated in Greek. However; the traditions of many national Churches of the East, such as the Georgian and Syriac, which used the language of the people in their liturgies, were well known to the advanced cultural milieu of Constantinople. They were especially well known to Constantine the Philosopher, as a result of his studies and of his many contacts with Christians belonging to those Churches, both in the capital and in the course of his journeys.
Both the Brothers were aware of the antiquity and legitimacy of these traditions, and were therefore not afraid to use the Slavonic language in the liturgy and lo make it into an effective instrument for bringing the divine truths to those who spoke it. This they did without any spirit of superiority or domination, but out of love of justice and with a clear apostolic zeal for peoples then developing.
Western Christianity, after the migrations of the new peoples, had amalgamated the newly arrived ethnic groups with the Latin- peaking population already living there, and had extended to all, in order to unite them, the Latin language, liturgy and culture which had been transmitted by the Church of Rome. The uniformity thus achieved gave relatively young and rapidly expanding societies a sense of strength and compactness, which contributed to a closer unity among them and a more forceful affirmation in Europe. It is understandable that in such a situation differences sometimes came to be regarded as a threat to a still incomplete unity. One can also understand how strongly the temptation was felt to eliminate such differences, even by using forms of coercion.
13 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 elaborations of Greco-Roman law. In following this programme of harmony and peace, Cyril and Methodius were ever respectful of the obligations of their mission. They acknowledged the traditional prerogatives and ecclesiastical rights laid down by Conciliar Canons. 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 the methods which they were using in evangelizing those peoples.
Having undertaken their mission under orders from Constantinople, they then in a sense sought to have it confirmed by approaching the Apostolic See of Rome, the visible center: of the Church's unity.21 Thus they established the Church with an awareness of her universality as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. This is clearly and explicitly seen in their whole way of acting. It can be said that Jesus' priestly prayer- ut unum sint 22 is their missionary motto in accordance with the Psalmist's words: "Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples".23 For us today their apostolate also possesses the eloquence of an ecumenical appeal: it is an invitation to restore, in the peace of reconciliation, the unity that was gravely damaged after the time of Cyril and Methodius, and, first and foremost, the unity between East and West.
The conviction held by the holy Brothers from Salonika, namely that each local Church is called to enrich with its own endowments the Catholic "pleroma", was in perfect harmony with their evangelical insight that the different conditions of life of the individual Christian Churches can never justify discord, disagreement and divisions in the profession of the one faith and in the exercise of charity.
14 As we know, according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council " the 'ecumenical movement' means those activities and enterprises which, according to various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, are initiated and organized to promote Christian unity".24 Thus it seems in no way anachronistic to see Saints Cyril and Methodius as the authentic precursors of ecumenism, inasmuch as they wished to eliminate effectively or to reduce any divisions, real or only apparent, between the individual communities belonging to the same Church. For the division which unfortunately occurred in the course of the Church's history and which sadly still persists "not only openly contradicts the will of Christ, (but) provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature".25
The fervent solicitude shown by both Brothers and especially by Methodius by reason of his episcopal responsibility, to preserve unity of faith and love between the Churches of which they were members, namely, between the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome on the one hand, and the Churches which arose in the lands of the Slavs on the other, was and will always remain their great merit. This merit is all the greater if one takes into account the fact that their mission was exercised in the years 863-885, thus in the critical years when there emerged and began-to grow more serious the fatal discord and bitter controversy between the Churches of the East and the West. The division was accentuated by the question of where Bulgaria, which had just officially accepted Christianity, canonically belonged.
In this stormy period, which was also marked by armed conflicts between neighboring Christian peoples, the holy Brothers from Salonika preserved a resolute and vigilant fidelity to right doctrine and to the tradition of the perfectly united Church, and in particular to the "divine teachings" and "ecclesiastical teachings"26 on which, in accordance with the Canons of the ancient Councils, her structure and organization was founded. This fidelity enabled them to complete their great missionary tasks and to remain in full spiritual and canonical unity with the Church of Rome, with the Church of Constantinople and with the new Churches which they had founded among the Slav peoples.
15 Methodius especially did not hesitate to face misunderstandings, conflicts and even slanders and physical persecution, rather than fall short of his exemplary ecclesial fidelity, and in order to remain faithful to his duties as a Christian and a Bishop and to the obligations which he had assumed vis-a-vis the Church of Byzantium which had begotten him and sent him out as a missionary together with Cyril. Then there were his obligations to the Church of Rome, thanks to which he fulfilled his charge as Archbishop in "the territory of Saint Peter";27 likewise his obligations to that Church growing in the lands of the Slavs, which he accepted as his own and successfully defended-convinced of his just-right before the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, protecting in particular the liturgy in the Old Slavonic language and the fundamental ecclesiastical rights proper to the Churches in the various nations.
By thus acting, he always resorted, as did Constantine the Philosopher, to dialogue with those who opposed his ideas or his pastoral initiatives and who cast doubt on their legitimacy. Thus he would always remain a teacher for all those who, in whatever age, seek to eliminate discord by respecting the manifold fullness of the Church, which, conforming to the will of its Founder Jesus Christ, must be always one, holy, catholic and apostolic. This task was perfectly reflected in the Creed of the 150 Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, which is the unalterable profession of faith of all Christians.