Cyril and Methodios

Saint Cyril and Saint Methodios
Saint Cyril and Saint Methodios

The brothers Saint Cyril and Saint Methodios were born around 827 and 825, respectively, in the bilingual (Greek and Slav) city of Thessalonika to a prominent Byzantine family. They were educated in Constantinople, where Cyril was a professor at the patriarchal school, and Methodios entered the religious life, rapidly becoming an archimandrite (abbot) of one of the city’s monasteries.

Their first missionary endeavor, to the Khazars northeast of the Black Sea, was a failure, with many of the Khazars converting to Judaism. In 862 Prince Rostislav of Great Moravia asked the Byzantine emperor Michael III for missionaries and Photius the Great, patriarch of Constantinople, sent Cyril and Methodios.

Immediately the brothers set to translating the Byzantine liturgy and New Testament into a language later called Church Slavonic, even developing an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet for the Slavic tribes. In 863 the brothers arrived in Great Moravia and achieved extensive success.

This led to conflict with German bishops who claimed authority over the Moravian territory. Because of this dispute, the brothers were invited to Rome, where Pope Adrian II accepted the brothers’ work and authorized the Slavonic liturgy. Cyril died in Rome on February 14, 869.

Methodios returned to Great Moravia as the pope’s representative and archbishop of Sirmium. Unfortunately this did not end the abuse from the German bishops, who tried him for heresy and imprisoned him until he was ordered released by Pope John VIII.

In 880 he again traveled to Rome, where the pope again approved the liturgical innovations. After an 882 trip to Constantinople to attend a church council called to support the missionary effort, he returned to Moravia, where he died on April 6, 885.

After Methodios’s death Pope Stephen V forbade the use of the Slavic liturgy, and the disciples of the brothers were forced into exile outside Great Moravia. These disciples spread Byzantine Christianity to the Carpathian Mountains, Poland, and eventually distant Kiev in modern-day Ukraine, using the Slavonic language of Cyril and Methodios.

The Cyrillic alphabet, developed by the brothers, continues to be the basis of the alphabets used in a number of traditionally Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox countries. The original alphabet contained 44 letters. Today the modern languages of Russian, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Rusyn, Serbian, and Bulgarian have used modified versions of the Cyrillic alphabet. The Byzantine Church rapidly canonized the brothers for their missionary work and created their principal feast day on May 11. In 1880 the Roman Catholic Church began to celebrate their feast on February 14.