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Cyril, Monk, 825-869 & Methodius, Bishop, 826-884
Cyril and Methodius were brothers born at Thessalonika, Greece, of a senatorial family. Cyril was sent to study at the imperial university in Constantinople at an early age. In time, he was ordained and assumed the chair of his teacher, Photius. In this position, he became known as "The Philosopher." Methodius, meanwhile, became governor of one of the Slavic colonies in Greece before becoming a monk.
Both brothers wanted to live out their lives in a monastery. In 861, however, Emperor Michael III sent them to convert the Khazars in the Dneiper-Volga regions of Russia. The brothers learned the Khazar language and made many converts before returning to their monastery several months later. In 863, Photius, now the patriarch of Constantinople sent the two brothers to Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) to convert the Moravian people, since German missionaries had achieved little success in their evangelization efforts there.
The brothers put their knowledge of the Slavonic language to good use. They invented an alphabet, based largely on Greek capital letters which marked the beginnings of Slavonic literature. (The Cyrillic alphabet attributed to Cyril was probably the work of his followers.) With the new alphabet, the brother began translating the liturgical books into Slavonic and began using the Slavonic tongue in their Church services. Because of this, and the fact that they were from Constantinople where heresy was abundant, they incurred the wrath of the German clergy and bishops.
Summoned to Rome in 869 to defend their positions, the brothers were received warmly by Pope Adrian II, who, convinced of their orthodoxy, approved their use of the Slavonic language in their liturgies and announced that they were to be consecrated bishops. But shortly after, Cyril died on February 14, 869. It is not known whether he ever was consecrated as a bishop. Methodius was consecrated, however, and returned to Moravia as bishop. Later he was named archbishop of Velehrad, Czechoslovakia.
Methodius' problems with the Germans continued. In 870, King Louis and the German bishops deposed Methodius at a synod and threw him into prison. He was released two years later by order of the pope, now John VIII, but Pope John deemed it advisable to forbid the use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy. Methodius was again summoned to Rome in 878 when his orthodoxy was questioned. He was able to convince Pope John of his conformity and the need for the use of the vernacular in the liturgy and the pope again authorized its use.
Methodius finished the translations of the Scriptures which his brother had begun. He and Cyril are called the "Apostles of the Slavs" and to this day the liturgical language of the Russians, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Bulgars is that designed by Cyril and Methodius.
Saints Cyril and Methodius are the patrons of Moravia and are specially venerated by Catholic Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Orthodox Serbians, and Bulgarians. Their memorial, celebrated on February 14, was extended to the universal Church by Pope Leo XIII.
Cyril and Methodius' message today: These brothers recognized the needs of the people among whom they were working. Over a thousand years ago, Cyril and Methodius translated Scripture into their language and used the vernacular in their worship. Ministering to their people in this manner brought condemnation from others, but Cyril and Methodius persevered despite obstacles.