February 14: Cyril and Methodius, Monk and Bishop, Missionaries to the Slavs, 869, 885

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Cyril and Methodius

About this commemoration

Cyril and Methodius, brothers born in Thessalonika, are honored as apostles to the southern Slavs and as the founders of Slavic literary culture. Cyril was a student of philosophy and a deacon, who eventually became a missionary monastic. Methodius was first the governor of a Slavic colony, then turned to the monastic life, and was later elected abbot of a monastery in Constantinople.

In 862, the King of Moravia asked for missionaries who would teach his people in their native language. Since both Cyril and Methodius knew Slavonic, and both were learned men—Cyril was known as “the Philosopher”—the Patriarch chose them to lead the mission.

As part of his task among the Moravians, Cyril invented an alphabet to transcribe the native tongue, probably the “glagolithic,” in which Slavo-Roman liturgical books in Russian and Serbian are still written. The so-called “cyrillic” alphabet is thought to have been originated by Cyril’s followers.

Pressures by the German clergy, who opposed the brothers’ teaching, preaching, and writing in Slavonic, and the lack of a bishop to ordain new priests for their people, caused the two brothers to seek foreign help. They found a warm welcome at Rome from Pope Adrian II, who determined to ordain both men bishops and approved the Slavonic liturgy. Cyril died in Rome and was buried there. Methodius, now a bishop, returned to Moravia as Metropolitan of Sirmium.

Methodius, still harassed by German bishops, was imprisoned at their behest. Eventually, he was released by Pope John VIII, on the condition that Slavonic, “a barbarous language,” be used only for preaching. Later, the enmity of the Moravian prince caused Methodius to be recalled to Rome on charges of heresy. Papal support again allowed him to return to Moravia and to use Slavonic in the liturgy.

Methodius completed a Slavonic translation of the Bible and of Byzantine ecclesiastical law, while continuing his missionary activities. At his funeral, celebrated in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic, “the people came together in huge numbers … for Methodius had been all things to all people that he might lead them all to heaven.”

Mural by the Bulgarian icon-painter Zahari Zograf


I    Almighty and everlasting God, who by the power of the Holy Spirit didst move thy servant Cyril and his brother Methodius to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people: Overcome, we pray thee, by the love of Christ, all bitterness and contention among us, and make us one united family under the banner of the Prince of Peace; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II    Almighty and everlasting God, by the power of the Holy Spirit you moved your servant Cyril and his brother Methodius to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people: Overcome all bitterness and strife among us by the love of Christ, and make us one united family under the banner of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Jeremiah 26:12–15

Ephesians 3:1–7

Mark 16:15–20

Psalm 69:8–18

Preface of Apostles

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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15 thoughts on “February 14: Cyril and Methodius, Monk and Bishop, Missionaries to the Slavs, 869, 885

  1. New Hebrew Scripture reading: Does this really fit the commemoration?
    Bio. They need a ‘They died in 869 and 885.’ statement, respectively.

  2. The collect has a lot to say about unity and disunity—‘a hostile and divided people… bitterness and contention among us… make us one united family’. Is this referring to the hostility of German bishops to the Moravian mission? I really know next to nothing about Moravia and Moravians, but my assumption from the fact that they use their own name is that they think of themselves as a different people from the Germans. If that’s not the case, the bio should make it clearer, if it is the case the references to disunity need to be better explained. The fact that the king and the prince weren’t on the same page wouldn’t seem to make the Moravians a ‘hostile and divided people’ either.

  3. Obviosly these saints are important, both historically and in the contemporary ecclesiastical wold for heir place as the founders of Slavic Christianity, and at least we know who hey are and what they did, unlike Veaentine. I don’t share Michael Hartney’s vew that the OT reading is unsuitable, but I do thnk we could find a more appropriate passage

    • Unsuitable is a bit strong a word for my question: “Does this really fit the commemoration?”
      Let me agree with Dr. Mitchell that another reading might be “more appropriate”. 🙂

  4. This is the first time at the site and my feedback only relates to the Collects, which I feel are just lovely.

  5. The closing quote – Is there a name for showing a direct quotation with punctuation marks but no attribution? (Pointless?) (Wasted ink?)


  6. The title should be transparently clear, but they didn’t do EXACTLY the same things and didn’t die in the same year. I’d find it clearer if it were:

    “Cyril (869) and Methodius (885), Missionaries to the Slavs” — then let “monk” and “bishop” appear where they do in the biography. As it is now, (“Cyril and Methodius, Monk and Bishop, Missionaries to the Slavs, 869, 885”) it introduces a distraction (which one is the monk or the bishop? are both of them monks and bishops?)

  7. The “student of philosophy” rather understates Cyril’s credentials. He was (in modern terms) a professor of philosophy. Moreover, both brothers were experienced diplomats and administrators, as wel as being outstanding linguists. Cyril had been an ambassador to the Arabs, and the two served together on a diplomatic/evangelical mission to the Khazars in 860. That would have been a particularly delicate undertaking, given that the ordinary Khazars were still pagans, while the aristocrats had converted to Judaism in the 8th century.
    The loose quote comes from LFF, where it’s similarly unsourced. If the original author cannot be located, or failed to make a note of the source, perhaps HWHM can plead Gibbon’s exception (see Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Ch 27, note 25) or Hebrews 2:6 or 4:4.
    While it’s no fault of the saintly brothers, there’s an irony to all the references to unity in the collect and bio. As it worked out, Christianity, which tended to unify the western Europeans (pre-Reformation, at least), divided the Slavs. They were forced to choose between the Roman Church with its Latin mass and the Orthodox rites in their native tongue. The Poles, Croats, Slovenians, Czechs, and Slovaks accepted the authority of Rome, while the Rus, Ukrainians, Serbs, and Bulgars clung to their Slavonic liturgy and eventually developed their own national churches. Thus the Bishop of Rome’s 1980 decree recognizing Cyril and Methodius as the patron saints of Europe was a less-than-auspicious blessing for the then-embryonic European Union.

  8. Line 1, first paragraph: add “(born about 828)” after “Cyril”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “(born about 817” after “Methodius”.

    Line 6, fourth paragraph: add ” 869 at” after “in”

    Line 3, last paragraph: insert at the start: “He is believed to have died in 885, probably at his See city, Nitria, in what is now Slovakia.”

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