Cyril and Methodius were respectively born in Thessalonica in 827 and 826. Their father died when they were about fourteen and their uncle, took over caring for them. Under his guidance, Cyril came to Constantinople to study in the University, and Methodius became an abbot (head of a monastery) in Constantinople. Cyril was particularly adept at linguistics and spoke Greek, Latin, Slavonic and Arabic among others, and began teaching.
In 826 Prince Rastislav of Greater Moravia asked the Emperor and Patriarch of Constantinople to send missionaries for his Slavic subjects. Cyril and Methodius were chosen and began by training helpers, and then began translating the Bible into Slavonic, for which they devised the Glagolictic Alphabet which contained letters for sounds found in Slavonic, but not in Greek. This Alphabet is still used by the Russian and other Orthodox churches today. The Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian and in the Balkan Peninsula today is derived from the Glagolictic. Unfortunately they were opposed by German ecclesiastical authorities who opposed the Slavonic mass.
The brothers wisely sought the help of the Roman Church in their endeavors, which helped the mission to continue. Rome sent them Bishops to ordain some of their helpers, who celebrated the Eucharist in Old Church Slavonic. Cyril, feeling the time of his death was approaching, became a monk and died shortly thereafter on 14 February 869. Methodius continued the work in Pannonia, which led to conflict with the Archbishop of Salzburg. The Pope made Methodius Archbishop of Sirmium (an older title) to supersede the authority of the Bishop of Salzburg. Sirmium included not only Greater Slavonia, but Panonia and Serbia as well. The Archbishop of Salzburg was so annoyed that he managed to get Methodius imprisoned for two and one half years. Through the influence of the Pope, he regained his freedom and authority, but not the right to celebrate the Eucharist in Slavonic. After Methodius’s death in 885 most of his followers were banished and ended up in the Bulgarian Empire, where under the authority of Constantinople they continued their work, which eventually extended as far east as Kiev. This work also laid the foundation of ideas later to reach Jan Huss, Martin Luther and others of preaching to the people in their own language.
The story of Cyril and Methodius is a sad story of how petty jealousy, politics, lack of missionary zeal, and a lack of considering the pastoral needs of the people can get in the way of our true mission. To the credit of Cyril and Methodius, they laid down the groundwork of evangelising Eastern Europe in language understood by the people. They sowed the seed, others reaped the harvest. We should learn to persevere from them, and also learn not to let political expedients derail us from the imperative of proclaiming the Gospel.
Collect: Lord our God, you raised Cyril and Methodius to proclaim the Gospel in a hostile land and gave them intellectual gifts to translate, create an alphabet, and teach, so raise up in this and every land bishops and ministers who are willing to persevere to the end in proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord Yeshuah haMoshiach. This we ask through Yeshua haMoshiach who lives and reigns with you and the Ruach haKodesh, one God in glory everlasting. Amen. (white)