This action on the part of the Supreme Pontiff meant the recogn ition of the important contribution of the Slavic Apostles in shaping the destiny of the whole of Europe and call ing to unity the Eastern and Western Churches.
One hundred years later, on December 31 , 1980, Pope John Paul \I by his Apostolic Letter, ” Egregiae Virtutis,” proclaimed SS. Cyril and Methodius Patrons of Europe together with St. Benedict, saying : ” It seemed to Us that the protection with regard to the whole of Europe would be better highlighted if We added to the great work of the Holy Western Patriarch (St. Benedict) particular merits of the two Holy Brothers, SS. Cyril and Methodius.”
This proclamation also coincided with the 1,100 anniversary of the approval of the Slavic Liturgy by the Apostolic Letter of Pope John VIII, “Industriae Tuae,” issued in June, 880 A.D., in which the Pope says:
“We rightly approve the Slavic letters devised by Constantine the Philosopher (St. Cyril) that by their means God may be truly praised. We also ordain that the words and acts of Our Lord Jesus Christ (meaning the Gospels) be explained in that (Slavic) language .. . It is not in any way against the true faith and teaching to chant the Liturgy, to read the Holy Gospel and other Sacred Lessons, or to chant canonical (liturgical) services in the Slavonic language, provided they are well translated and interpreted.”
2. The papal confirmation of the use of the Slavic language in the Liturgy had far reaching consequences for all the Slavic peoples. First of all, SS. Cyril and Methodius had to devise a Slavic alphabet for them which became the basis of their cultural development. Using the then Slavic language in their translations of the liturgical books, the Holy Brothers necessarily shaped a literary language for the Slavs. And by establishing Slavic missionary schools they laid the foundation of a formal education among the Slavic peoples.
Without the protection of the Holy See and the papal approval of the Slavic letters, all the apostolic and cultural efforts of SS. Cyril and Methodius would have been frustrated and the very foundation of the Slavic Christian culture would have collapsed. This point was very well taken by Pope John Paul ” in his homily, delivered in the Basilica of St. Clement on February 14, 1981 , when he said:
“The complex apostolic work of SS. Cyril and Methodius, considered from the perspective of the eleven centuries, is rich , exceptionally fruitful and important from the theological, cultural and ecumenical standpoint. These are the aspects of their missionary work that interest not only the history of the Church, but also the civil and the political history of a great part of the European continent. The translation into the vernacular of the Sacred Books for the liturgical and catechetical use made SS. Cyril and Methodius not only the Apostles of the Slavic peoples but also THE FATHERS OF THEIR CULTURE.”
3. The European civilization, which incorrectly was called the “Western Civilization,” was gradually transplanted by the immigrants, during the last two centuries, to the United States. And yet this ” Western Civilization” is a result of the interaction of two main Christian currents, Roman and Byzantine, both making their important and complementary contribution to its formation.
St. Benedict, who was proclaimed the Patron Saint of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964, stood at the center of the Roman cultural current that started its course from the See of St. Peter. But the two Holy Brothers, SS. Cyril and Methodius, brought with them the Byzantine tradition of Constantinople, which became very deeply inscribed in the spirituality and culture of so many peoples of Eastern Europe. Thus the European Civilization is indeed a result of the fusion of two basic cultures:
The Roman, which was salvaged from its complete destruction by Western Christianity; and the Greek culture, which was ennobled and extended into Europe by Byzantine Christianity.
Pope John Paul II, proclaiming SS. Cyril and Methodius Co-Patrons of Europe, wished to link their missionary and cultural work to that of St. Benedict in order to underscore their common contribution to the spiritual, cultural and civic life of the European peoples. It was only at the turn of the 18th century, during the so-called “Age of Reason,” that the important contribution of the Apostles of the Slavs to the formation of ” Western Civilization” was minimized or completely ignored by the Western world. Pope Leo XIII who, by his encyclical ” Grande Munus” in 1880, brought back the figures of SS. Cyril and Methodius, as well as their merits, from oblivion, and pointed out the importance of their apostolic activity in Central Europe. In favor of this proposition, there are many historical proofs which belong both to the present and to the past. And they all find their justification in the history of the European nations.
4. SS. Cyril and Methodius carried out their missionary work in syntony with the Byzantine Church of Constantinople, by which they were sent as missionaries to Great Moravia. They also carried out their missionary work in syntony with the Roman See of st. Peter, by which their Moravian mission was approved and their jurisdiction confirmed. In this way the Apostles of the Slavs became authentic witnesses of the unity of the Christian Church, which at their time was not yet plagued by any division or schism. This is the reason why Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter writes:
“Since today, after centuries of division of the Church between the East and the West, between Rome and Constantinople, . .. decisive steps in the direction of full communion have been taken, the proclamation of SS. Cyril and Methodius as Co-Patrons of Europe alongside of St. Benedict seems to fully correspond to the signs of our time. Especially if that happens in the year in which the two Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, have entered the stage of a decisive dialogue, which started on the Island of Patmos, linked with the tradition of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist.”
To prove this point of the Pope’s affirmation we can quote the Prayer of St. Cyril, which he recited just before his death and which was preserved for us in his ” Slavic Life.” In st. Cyril’s prayer we can catch a glimpse of the high ideals, for which the Holy Brothers of Thessalonica lived, worked, and suffered. As he was dying, St. Cyril prayed :
“0 Lord, my God, keep Your flock in faith, increase the number of faithful in Your Church, and gather all the peoples in unity. Make Your People holy, unanimous in the true faith and its profession, and inspire their hearts with a knowledge of You … All those that You have given to me, I return them back to You, since they all belong to You. Guide them with Your powerful right hand and shelter them beneath Your protective wings, so that they all may glorify Your holy name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
5. As we venerate our Slavic Apostles as the Patrons of Europe, let us raise our humble and fervent prayer to them, asking for their powerful intercession with the Holy Trinity :
“0 SS. Cyril and Methodius, who with admirable dedication brought the faith to the Slavic peoples, thirsty for truth and light, let the entire Church always proclaim the crucified and risen Christ, the Redeemer of mankind!
“0 SS. Cyril and Methodius, who during your difficult misSionary work always remained deeply attached to the Church of Constantinople and to the Roman See of St. Peter, bring it about that these two sister Churches, having overcome the plight of division in charity and truth, may soon reach the so desired full union! “0 SS. Cyril and Methodius, who with the spirit of brotherhood approached various peoples to bring to all the message of universal love preached by Christ, bring it about that the peoples of Europe, aware of their common Christian heritage, may live in mutual respect and solidarity, and be peacemakers among all the nations of the world!
“0 SS. Cyril and Methodius, driven by love of Christ, you abandoned everything to serve the Gospel, protect the Church of God ; protect the Successor of St. Peter in the Roman See, the Pope ; protect all the bishops, priests, religious and missionaries; protect the fathers, mothers, young people and children; protect the poor, the sick and the suffering; may all of us be worthy laborers in the place in which Divine Providence placed us. Amen.”
The above prayer was composed by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II , on the occasion of proclamation of SS. Cyril and Methodius as CoPatrons of Europe and was recited by the Supreme Pontiff for the first time (during the festivities on February 14, 1981) in the Basilica of St. Clement where St. Cyril is buried.
Picture of the commemorative medal struck to mark the establishment of the Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolitan Province, June 11 , 1969.