The Brother Saints Cyril (827 – 14 February 869)
and Methodius (815 – 6 April 885)
The one was spirit, the other was action
They created the first Slavonic alphabet, the Glagolita, and laid the foundations of Slavonic literature. They were born in Thessalonica and acted as Byzantine missionaries, spreading Eastern Orthodox Christianityamong the barbarian peoples. Methodius served for a while in the army, then became the governor of aSlavic province and afterwards a monk in the Olympus mountain of Asia Minor. After Cyril’s death he preached in Pannonia and Moravia, and in 873 he was appointed Archbishop of Moravia. Methodius translated Cyril’s disputes, the full text of the Bible and several fundamental canonical writings from Greekinto Old Bulgarian. Cyril (Constantine) received an excellent education at the Magnaur Academy inConstantinople and later taught philosophy there. He was the author of prayers, eulogies and stories.
As soon as it emerged as the official religion in the already disintegrating Roman Empire, Christianitybecame divided by dogmatic controversies between Rome and Constantinople, behind which were tremendous political aspirations. The 9th century marked a dramatic peak in that dissent. Newborn states of recently barbarian tribes sought conversion and they needed guidance in the new faith. Manymissionaries, theologians and men of letters were involved in the struggle between the two spiritual capitals. However, the work of the brothers Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica far outshone the confrontation between Romans and Byzantines in terms of its historic consequence. Their missionary activity laid the foundation of Slavic letters and literature, and was the impetus for the independent spiritual and cultural development of several nations.
It so happened that the mission of the two brothers, initially intended to establish Byzantine influence over the newly converted principalities of Great Moravia and Pannonia, were to bear fruit in Bulgaria. ToConstantinople, the fruit was not particularly sweet. Very soon the Bulgarian culture and the Bulgarian church blossomed in their independence, and Bulgaria obtained the first patriarchate beside the five established autocephalous churches. It is hardly likely that the Bulgarians would have had the power and the confidence to achieve all of this without the work of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which they embraced and built into the foundation of their culture.
The one was spirit, the other was action; the one was “endowed by God” with a unique talent, the other with an undaunted willpower. While Cyril’s weapon was his words, Methodius’s was prayer,hagiographers wrote. Constantine, who fifty days before his death took monastic vows and adopted the name of Cyril, was a free philosopher, a person of encyclopaedic erudition and a polygot, totally devoted to his boundless creative talent. Twleve years older, Methodius gave up a high office for monasticism and carried through the struggle to turn the Word into reality.
When Constantine was born, as the seventh son of the military commander of Thessalonica, Leo and his wife Maria, his parents sensed that they had a God-blessed child. Constantine wrote his first two works, two prayers, at a very early age, probably after a revelatory dream in which he saw the goddess that was to guide his entire life: Sophia, the resplendent goddess of wisdom. The acquisition of the worldly sciences in Constantinople‘s best school, the famous Magnaur Academy, along with the “equally brilliant” mastery of both barbarian and Christian philosophy and the contact with outstanding scholars like Leo the Philosopher and Photius: the one an iconoclast, the other an Eastern Orthodox dogmatist and a futurepatriarch, not only made Cyril a highly educated man but also helped him discover the power of his own wisdom. “What is philosophy?“, the logothete Theoctistus asked him, and received a response which was daring even for Cyril’s time: “Knowledge of the divine and the human, getting closer to God and becoming like Him who created us to His image“. He was sent on numerous missions: to the Saracens in the Arab lands with Photius (851), to the Khazars in the Crimea with Methodius (859–861) where the two brothers crowned their work with the creation of the Glagolita alphabet. Those, however, were not only a preacher’s missions, but the missions of a writer as well. It is not surprising that Cyril’s hagiographers give no account of miraculous healings, so typical of God-sent elects like him. The miracles he performed were an expression of his “verbal nature“, as he himself put it. The Bible says that in the beginning was the Word, and the philosopher from Thessalonica, with his immense talent as a linguist and a writer, was to break new ground in human knowledge. In Oration on the Moving of the Relics of St. Clement of Rome he laid the foundation of a great literary tradition, devoid of empty pathos but captivating as “a feast of tongue and mind“.
In Oration Against the Trilingual Heresy (according to the so-called trilingual dogma, Christianity could be professed in only three languages – Hebrew, Greek and Latin) he developed a new, richly substantiated logic, much more viable than its Hellenic prototype. A powerful intellect, he created the first Slavonicalphabet with the same ease with which he had translated the eight sections of grammar in Herzon, from the only recently mastered Hebrew language. With a similar effortlessness he read the prophecy about the coming of Christ on Solomon’s goblet in Hagia Sophia and “had a perfect understanding of Samaritanbooks“, thus converting foreigners to his faith.
After Cyril was buried, by the order of the Pope, at the St. Clement church in Rome, Rome andConstantinople seemed to make peace. However, their rivalry could not come to an end, nor could Cyril’s work be left unfinished, so Methodius took over. For another fifteen years, until his death in Velehrad, he worked on the Old Bulgarian translation of key biblical and liturgical texts, attracted disciples and followers, and was appointed to a high ecclesiastical office in Pannonia and Great Moravia. He was later persecuted, brutalised, imprisoned, then eulogised again with the vicissitudes of the irreconcilable rivalry. Struggle and hard work, rather than quiet creation, marked the life of that true stoic, who not only had the courage to follow his younger brother “as an obedient servant“, but also to tell the German court: “I am no better than those who, for spreading the truth, left this world in suffering“. “My brother,” Cyril told him before he died, “we were harnessed together to plough the same furrow“. Cyril sowed the seeds, Methodius tended them and lived to see the first crop. His disciples left Moravia and headed for Bulgaria. That was where they would find the most fertile soil. As Cyril wrote in a short hagiography: “Little though I taught them, they learned much themselves“.