In the Slavic Ufe of St. Methodius, written immediately after his death by one of his dedicated disciples, St. Constantine of Preslav, it is written: ” On Palm Sunday he (St. Methodius), despite his weakness, came into the church where all his people were assembled. After imparting his final blessing, he said: – ‘Watch with me, my children, until the third day!’
This they did. At the dawn of the third day he said: ‘Into your hands, 0 Lord, I commend my sou!!” (Lk.23:46), and he fell asleep in the arms of his priests on the sixth day of April, in the third Indiktion, 6393 from the creation of the world ” (SVII, 7-10). In other words, St. Methodius died on April 6, 885 A.D. This year of 1985, then, we commemorate the 11 OOth Anniversary of his pious death.
The name of St. Methodius is inseparably connected with the name of his brother, St. Cyril. They both are venerated together as the Apostles of the Slavs, and they both were instrumental in the conversion of our ancestors to Christianity.
1. Our Ruthenian ancestors were converted to Christianity in the second half of the ninth century by the Apostles of the Slavs, SS. Cyril and Methodius, before they started their famous mission among the Slavic tribes of Great Moravia. With Christianity, the holy Brothers initiated our ancestors into their beautiful Byzantine Slavonic Rite and brought them into the sphere of Slavic culture. Justly then we venerate them as our Slavic Apostles and Teachers.
The birthplace of our Slavic Apostles was the city of Thessalonica, the capital city of the Macedonian Province of the Byzantine Empire. The father of SS. Cyril and Methodius was a high ranking officer in the Byzantine Army. He was of Greek descent. However their mother Mary, in all probability, was of Slavic birth .
Hence both sons were acquainted with the Slavic tongue since ch ildhood.
During the eighth century some Slavic tribes settled in Macedonia, making the entire province predominantly Slavic. The Macedonian Slavs were soon Christianized by the Byzantine missionaries and accepted the Byzantine Rite.
2 . SI. Methodius, whose baptismal name was Michael, was born in 815 A.D. His younger brother Constantine, better known by his religious name, Cyril, was born about ten years later. They both studied at the Imperial School of Constantinople, where all the children of the higher imperial officials received their advanced education.
SI. Methodius, known as a good administrator, became the governor (Gr. archon) of the Strymon District of Macedonia. SI. Cyril, a gifted scholar, assumed a teaching post at the Imperial School.
Shortly after, SI. Cyril was ordained deacon and was entrusted with some extraordinary assignments by the Patriarch Ignatius, including a diplomatic mission to the Caliph of Bagdad in 851 A.D. Just about that time St. Methodius, tired of various official intrigues and jealousies, retired to the monastery on Mt. Olympus in Bythinia, Asia Minor. There he received his religious name Methodius. Shortly after his monastic tonsure, he was elected superior of the same monastery.
Under the influence of SI. Methodius, SI. Cyril also decided to pursue a religious way of life and joined his brother at the monastery on Mt. Olympus. But before taking religious tonsure, he was summoned by his former professor, Patriarch Photius, to lead a diplomatic mission to the Khazars on the Caspian Sea. This time SI. Cyril also took his brother Methodius with him. After a very successful mission to the Khazars (859-891), SI.
Methodius returned to his monastery on MI. Olympus, while St. Cyril assumed a position as a philosophy professor in Constantinople.
3. In the summer of 862 A.D. the Moravian Prince Rastislav requested that the Byzantine Emperor Michael III send some Byzantine missionaries to Moravia ” to explain to us the Christian truths in our own language.” After signing the alliance with Prince Rastislav, the Emperor decided to send the two missionary brothers, SS. Cyril and Methodius, who already proved their missionary skill and were familiar with the Slavic language and customs.
St. Cyril, who was one of the best linguists of his time, resolved first to compose a Slavic alphabet (” Azbuka”) and then, with the help of his brother Methodius, he proceeded to translate the Holy Liturgy and scriptural readings (the Epistles and Gospels) into the Slavonic language.
SS. Cyril and Methodius began their missionary journey in the spring of 863 A.D., crossing into neighboring Bulgaria, where Byzantine missionaries were already spreading Christianity.
On their journey to Moravia the Holy Brothers proceeded along the Tisa River to the northern part of BUlgaria, where they intended to follow the so-called – Salt Route, connecting our salt mines of Maramorosh with central Europe, all the way to Moravia and Bohemia. Northern Bulgaria was, at that time, already populated by our ancestors, who were ruled by their own princes, recognizing the Bulgarian suzerainty. They populated both sides of the Tisa River, and their land extended deep into present Transylvania and Hungary. SS. Cyril and Methodius recognized the peculiarity of the language and customs of our ancestors, and called their land – Rhos, i. e. , Rusj. Thus our ancestors began to call themselves – Rusi syny (children of Rusj), Rusiny (modified by Latin in – Ruthenians) .
4 . Having arrived in the land of our ancestors, which they called – Rusj, SS. Cyril and Methodius were not able to continue their journey to Moravia because of the German invasion. So they remained among our Ruthenian ancestors until the summer of 864 A.D., preaching to them the gospel of Christ. Thus, between 863-864 A.D., our ancestors became Christianized by the Apostles of Slavs, and began to worship Almighty God in our beautiful Byzantine Rite, but in its Slavonic form that was understood even by the simple people. Seeing the great success of their mission among our ancestors, SS. Cyril and Methodius provided them with their own Bishop and necessary priests.
Now we can understand why Patriarch Photius already in 867 A.D ., in his Encyclical Letter sent to the Eastern Patriarchs, informed them about the successful Byzantine mission among the Rh6s people, who not only became friendly toward Byzantium, but also had ” accepted a bishop and priests” from him, showing ” great zeal for the Christian faith” (cf. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 102, col. 736-737). The ” Rhos people” (” Rusins” ), mentioned by Patriarch Photius, were our ancestors. Thus, our ancestors received Christianity before SS. Cyril and Methodius reached the Great Moravian State, and , at the same time, received their own Byzantine Rite Bishop from Constantinople. Unfortunately, Photius did not mention his name.
5. The mission of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Moravia was very successful and they educated a great number of Slavic missionaries in their Missionary School in Velehrad. Among their students were a great number of our Ruthenian youth , who later returned to their homeland and extended their missionary work even to other Ruthenian tribes in neighboring Galicia and, eventually, in Kievan Rusj.
SS. Cyril and Methodius received the approval of Pope Adrian II for their mission among the Slavic peoples in 869. On that occasion the Pope also approved the use of the Slavonic language in the Holy Liturgy. During the sojourn of the Holy Brothers in Rome, St. Cyril died on February 14, 869 A.D., and was buried with great solemnity in the Basilica of St. Clement.
Pope Adrian II then ordained St. Methodius bishop and appointed him a Papal Legate for the Slavic peoples. But the German missionaries, who from the very beginning opposed Slavic missions in Moravia, seized St. Methodius on his return from Rome, and kept him in prison for almost three years. They released him only on the intervention of Pope John VIII. But soon after his release the German bishops once again accused St. Methodius of heresy, the usurpation of arch-episcopal authority, and the ” scandalous use of the Slavic language” in the Liturgy. Summoned to Rome in 880 A.D., St. Methodius cleared himself before Pope John VIII. The Pope not only approved the missionary work of St. Methodius among the Slavs, but also reconfirmed the use of the Byzantine-Slavonic Liturgy.
6. Having a premonition of his approaching death, St. Methodius appointed as his successor one of his most capable disciples, Bishop Gorazd. But soon after his death, Bishop Wiching of Nitra hastened to Rome and, having forged some vital documents, induced Pope Stephen VI to revoke Gorazd’s nomination and to appoint him, Wiching, head of the Moravian Metropolitan Province, originally organized by St. Methodius with seven suffragan sees.
Wiching, taking under his control the ecclesiastical affairs of Great Moravia, prohibited the Byzantine Rite and Slavonic Liturgy, and turned against the disciples of SS. Cyril and Methodius. Many of them were incarcerated; others were sold into slavery; still others had to flee the country. It was at this time that many Ruthenian disciples returned from Moravia to the land of our ancestors. The return of the disciples so strengthened our Byzantine Catholic Church in the Carpathian region that our Bishops were able to send their missionaries to other Slavic tribes of Eastern Europe.
Since our ancestors inherited both Christianity of the Byzantine Rite and their Slavic culture (alphabet, written language and books) from SS. Cyril and Methodius, we rightfully venerate them as our Slavic Apostles and Teachers. And this year, as we celebrate the 1100th Anniversary of St. Methodius’ pious death , it is appropriate for us to re-awaken and deepen the veneration of SS. Cyril and Methodius among our faithful here in the United States. Through their intercession let us also pray for abundant priestly and religious vocations, since the year of 1985 is also designated by the Hierarchs of our Pittsburgh Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolitan Province as a year of prayer and concern for vocations.
N.B. The proofs of the early Cyrillo-Methodian mission among our Ruthenian ancestors (863-864 A.D.) are given by Rev. S. Pap, The Beginnings of Christianity in Transcarpathia (in Ukrainian), Philadelphia, Pa. 1983.