Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Cyril and Methodius
"Each People Should … Express the Salvific Truth With Their Own
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 17, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters:
Today, I would like to speak about Sts. Cyril and Methodius, brothers of
the same parents and in the faith, known as the apostles to the Slavic
people. Cyril was born in Thessalonica, son of the imperial magistrate
Leon, in 826-827. He was the youngest of seven children. As a child, he
learned the Slavic language. At age 14, he was sent to Constantinople to
be educated and was accompanied by the young emperor, Michael III.
During those years, he was introduced into the various university
disciplines, among others, dialectics, and had Photius as his teacher.
After having rejected a brilliant matrimony, he decided to receive holy
orders and became the librarian in the patriarchate. Shortly afterward,
wanting to retreat from society, he hid himself in a monastery, but soon
was discovered and entrusted with teaching sacred and profane sciences,
a task that he fulfilled so well that he won the title of "philosopher."
Meanwhile, the brother Michael (born around the year 815), after a
career in public administration in Macedonia, abandoned the world around
the year 850 to retreat to monastic life on Mount Olympus, in Bithynia,
where he received the name Methodius (the monastic name had to begin
with the same letter as the baptismal name) and became the hegumen of
the monastery of Polychron.
Attracted by the example of his brother, Cyril also decided to leave
teaching to dedicate himself to meditation and prayer on Mount Olympus.
However, years later (around 861), the imperial government entrusted him
with a mission among the Khazars of the Azov Sea, who had asked to have
sent to them a scholar who would know how to debate with the Jews and
the Saracens. Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius, lived for a
long time in Crimea, where he learned Hebrew.
There, he also looked for the body of Pope Clement I, which had been
buried in that location. He found his tomb and when he returned with his
brother, he brought the precious relics. Upon arriving in
Constantinople, the two brothers were sent by Emperor Michael III to
Moravia; the prince of Moravia, Ratislav, had made a precise petition
[to the emperor]: "Our nation," he said, "since it has rejected
paganism, observes Christian law. But we do not have a teacher that is
capable of explaining to us the true faith in our language." The mission
very promptly had uncommon success. In translating the liturgy to the
Slavic language, the two brothers won great affection among the people.
This, however, stirred up hostility against them among the Frankish
clergy, who had previously arrived to Moravia and considered the
territory as belonging to their ecclesial jurisdiction. To justify
themselves, in the year 867, the two brothers traveled to Rome. During
the trip, they stopped in Venice, where there was a heated discussion
with those who defended the so-called trilingual heresy: These
considered that there were only three languages in which God could be
licitly praised -- Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Obviously, the two brothers
opposed this with determination.
In Rome, Cyril and Methodius were received by Pope Adrian II, who went
out to meet them in procession to worthily receive the relics of St.
Clement. The Pope had also understood the great importance of their
exceptional mission. From the middle of the first millennium, in fact,
the Slavic people had established themselves in great numbers in those
territories situated between the two parts of the Roman Empire -- the
East, and the West, which experienced tension between themselves. The
Pope intuited that the Slavic peoples could carry out the role of
bridge, contributing in this way to conserve unity between the
Christians of both parts of the Empire. Therefore, he did not hesitate
in approving the mission of the two brothers in the Great Moravia,
welcoming and approving the use of Slavic in the liturgy. The Slavic
books were placed on the altar of Santa Maria di Phatmé (St. Mary Major)
and the Slavic liturgy was celebrated in the basilicas of St. Peter, St.
Andrew and St. Paul.
Unfortunately, in Rome, Cyril became gravely ill. Sensing that death was
approaching, he wanted to consecrate himself totally to God as a monk in
one of the Greek monasteries of the city (probably in St. Praxedes) and
he took the monastic name Cyril (his baptismal name was Constantine).
Later, he insistently beseeched his brother Methodius, who had meanwhile
been consecrated a bishop, that he would not abandon the mission in
Moravia and that he would return to those peoples. He directed this
invocation to God: "Lord, my God … hear my prayer and maintain faithful
to you the flock that you have placed before me. Free them from the
heresy of the three languages, gather all of them in unity, and make
this people that you have chosen live in harmony in the true faith and
upright confession." He died Feb. 14, 869.
Faithful to the commitment taken on with his brother, the next year,
870, Methodius returned to Moravia and Pannonia (today, Hungary), where
he again faced the violent ill-will of the Frankish missionaries who
imprisoned him. He did not get discouraged and when, in the year 873, he
was liberated, he actively dedicated himself to the organization of the
Church, attending to the formation of a group of disciples. The merit of
these disciples was in overcoming the crisis that broke out after the
death of Methodius, which occurred April 6, 885. Persecuted and
imprisoned, some of these disciples were sold as slaves and taken to
Venice, where they were rescued by a functionary from Constantinople,
who permitted them to return to the Balkan Slavic countries.
Welcomed in Bulgaria, they were able to continue the mission began by
Methodius, spreading the Gospel in the "land of the Rus." God, in his
mysterious providence, in this way availed of the persecution to save
the work of the holy brothers. From [this work], literary documentation
also remains. It is enough to think of works such as the "Evangeliario,"
(liturgical pericopes of the New Testament) [and] the "Salterio,"
various liturgical texts in Slavic, on which the two brothers worked.
After the death of Cyril, it is owed to Methodius and to his disciples,
among other things, the translation of all of sacred Scripture, the "Nomocanon"
and the "Book of the Fathers."
Briefly summarizing the spiritual profile of the two brothers, above all
it must be noted the passion with which Cyril approached the writings of
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the
transmission of Revelation. St. Gregory had expressed the desire that
Christ would speak through him: "I am a servant of the Word, for this I
place myself at the service of the Word." Wanting to imitate Gregory in
this service, Cyril asked Christ to speak in Slavic through him. He
introduces his work of translation with the solemn invocation: "Hear,
Slavic peoples, hear the Word that proceeds from God, the Word that
encourages souls, the Word that leads to the knowledge of God."
Actually, already years before the prince of Moravia asked Emperor
Michael III to send missionaries to his land, it seems that Cyril and
his brother Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were working
on a project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in
Slavic. Then it was clearly seen that there was a need to have new
graphic signs that were more adequate for the spoken language: Thus was
born the Glagolitic alphabet, which modified later, was designated with
the name "Cyrillic," in honor of its inspirer.
This was a decisive factor for the development of the Slavic
civilization in general. Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the
various peoples could not consider that they had fully received
Revelation until they had heard it in their own language and read it
with the characters proper to their own alphabet.
To Methodius falls the merit of ensuring that the work began by his
brother would not remain sharply interrupted. While Cyril, the
"philosopher," tended toward contemplation, he [Methodius] was directed
more toward the active life. In this way, he was able to establish the
foundations of the successive affirmation of what we could call the
"Cyril-Methodian idea," which accompanied the Slavic peoples in the
various historical periods, favoring cultural, national and religious
development. Pope Pius XI already recognized this with the apostolic
letter "Quod Sanctum Cyrillum," in which he classified the two brothers
as "sons of the East, Byzantines by their homeland, Greeks by origin,
Romans by their mission, Slavs by their apostolic fruits" (AAS 19 
93-96). The historic role that they fulfilled was afterward officially
proclaimed by Pope John Paul II who, with the apostolic letter "Egregiae
Virtutis Viri," declared them co-patrons of Europe, together with St.
Benedict (AAS 73  258-262).
Indeed, Cyril and Methodius are a classic example of what is today
referred to with the term "inculturation": Each people should make the
revealed message penetrate into their own culture, and express the
salvific truth with their own language. This implies a very exacting
work of "translation," as it requires finding adequate terms to propose
anew the richness of the revealed Word, without betraying it. The two
brother saints have left in this sense a particularly significant
testimony that the Church continues looking at today to be inspired and
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In
English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we continue our catechesis on the early Christian writers of the East
and the West, we now turn to the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius.
They were born in Thessalonica in the early ninth century. Cyril, whose
baptismal name was Constantine, was educated at the Byzantine Court,
ordained a priest, and became an acclaimed teacher of sacred and profane
sciences. When his brother Michael became a monk, taking the name of
Methodius, Cyril also decided to embrace the monastic life. Having
retrieved the relics of Pope Clement I during a mission in Crimea, the
brothers successfully preached Christianity to the people of Moravia.
Inventing an alphabet for the Slavonic language, they together with
their disciples translated the Liturgy, the Bible and texts of the
Fathers, shaping the culture of the Slav peoples and leaving an
outstanding example of inculturation. Pope Adrian II received them in
Rome and encouraged their missionary work. When Cyril died in Rome in
869, Methodius continued the mission in spite of persecution. After his
death in 885, some of his disciples, providentially released from
slavery, spread the Gospel in Bulgaria and in "the Land of the Rus". In
recognition of the brothers’ vast influence, they were named Co-Patrons
of Europe by Pope John Paul II. May we imitate their strong faith and
their Christian wisdom as we bear witness to the Gospel in our daily
I offer a warm welcome to the participants in the 2009 Church Music
Festival. I greet the pilgrims from the parishes of Sacred Heart,
Dontozidon, Ilapayan and Tuaran from the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu,
Malaysia, accompanied by Archbishop John Lee, and also the pilgrims from
Saint Francis Parish, Singapore. I am also pleased to greet the many
student groups, and all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors.
I extend my greetings to the various religious leaders present today who
have gathered in Rome for an International Conference of interreligious
dialogue. I commend this initiative organized by the Italian Bishops’
Conference in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. I am confident that it will do much to draw the attention of
world political leaders to the importance of religions within the social
fabric of every society and to the grave duty to ensure that their
deliberations and policies support and uphold the common good. Upon all
those taking part I invoke an abundance of the Almighty’s blessings.
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