Vol. XIX, No. 10
Saints Cyril and Methodius
Models for Today
“THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out. Indeed it can be said that their memory is particularly vivid and relevant to our day,” wrote Pope John Paul II in his 1985 encyclical Slavorum Apostoli (Apostles to the Slavs).
The encyclical reaffirms the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter of 1980 that had proclaimed Saints Cyril and Methodius co-patrons of Europe — one hundred years after Pope Leo XIII extended the cult of the two saints to the whole Church, and sixteen years after Pope Paul VI had named Saint Benedict patron of Europe. Pope John Paul observed that the lives and work of “the two holy brothers” are particularly relevant in our own time — especially so in light of the Church’s focus on evangelization, recent controversies concerning translation of sacred texts into local languages, and the intensified focus on unity among Christians.
“We can read in their lives and apostolic activity the elements that the wisdom of divine Providence placed in them, so that they might be revealed with fresh fullness in our own age and might bear new fruits,” the pope writes.
Pope John Paul begins Slavorum Apostoli with a biographical sketch of the saints whose 9th-century missionary mandate to the Slavs included translating Scripture and liturgical texts into the native language of the people in order to evangelize them. The brothers were truly “Heralds of the Gospel,” the title of Chapter III.
Illustrative excerpts from Slavorum Apostoli follow. — Editor
III Heralds of the Gospel
9 …The truth and the power of their missionary mandate came from the depths of the mystery of the Redemption, and their evangelizing work among the Slav peoples was to constitute an important link in the mission entrusted by the Savior to the Church until the end of time. It was a fulfillment — in time and in concrete circumstances — of the words of Christ, who in the power of His Cross and Resurrection told the Apostles: “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation” [Mk 16;15]; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” [Mt 28:19]. In so doing, the preachers and teachers of the Slav peoples let themselves be guided by the apostolic ideal of Saint Paul: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Gal 3:27-28].
Together with a great respect for persons and a disinterested concern for their true good, the two holy brothers had the resources of energy, prudence, zeal, and charity needed for bringing the light to the future believers, and at the same time for showing them what is good and offering concrete help for attaining it. For this purpose they desired to become similar in every aspect to those to whom they were bringing the Gospel; they wished to become part of those peoples and to share their lot in everything….
10 …For the purposes of evangelization, the two holy brothers — as their biographies indicate — undertook the difficult task of translating the texts of the Sacred Scriptures, which they knew in Greek, into the language of the Slav population which had settled along the borders of their own region and native city. Making use of their own Greek language and culture for this arduous and unusual enterprise, they set themselves to understanding and penetrating the language, customs, and traditions of the Slav peoples, faithfully interpreting the aspirations and human values which were present and expressed therein.
11 In order to translate the truths of the Gospel into a new language, they had to make an effort to gain a good grasp of the interior world of those to whom they intended to proclaim the word of God in images and concepts that would sound familiar to them. They realized that an essential condition of the success of their missionary activity was to transpose correctly Biblical notions and Greek theological concepts into a very different context of thought and historical experience. It was a question of a new method of catechesis….
Cyril and Methodius, true models for all the missionaries who in every period have accepted Saint Paul’s invitation to become all things to all people in order to redeem all. And in particular for the mission- aries who, from ancient times until the present day, from Europe to Asia and today in every continent, have labored to translate the Bible and the texts of the liturgy into the living languages of the various peoples, so as to bring them the one word of God, thus made accessible in each civilization’s own forms of expression.
Perfect communion in love preserves the Church from all forms of particularism, ethnic exclusivism, or racial prejudice, and from any nationalistic arrogance. This communion must elevate and sublimate every purely natural legitimate sentiment of the human heart.
IV They planted the Church of God
12 …The sacred rites in all the Churches within the borders of the Byzantine Empire had long been celebrated in Greek. However; the traditions of many national Churches of the East, such as the Georgian and Syriac, which used the language of the people in their liturgies, were well known to the advanced cultural milieu of Constantinople. They were especially well known to Constantine the Philosopher [Cyril], as a result of his studies and of his many contacts with Christians belonging to those Churches, both in the capital and in the course of his journeys.
Both the brothers were aware of the antiquity and legitimacy of these traditions, and were therefore not afraid to use the Slavonic language in the liturgy and to make it into an effective instrument for bringing the divine truths to those who spoke it. This they did without any spirit of superiority or domination, but out of love of justice and with a clear apostolic zeal for peoples then developing.…
14 …This merit is all the greater if one takes into account the fact that their mission was exercised in the years 863-885, thus in the critical years when there emerged and began to grow more serious the fatal discord and bitter controversy between the Churches of the East and the West.
V Catholic Sense of the Church
16 It is not only the evangelical content of the doctrine proclaimed by Saints Cyril and Methodius that merits particular emphasis. Also very expressive and instructive for the Church today is the catechetic and pastoral method that they applied in their apostolic activity among the peoples who had not yet heard the Sacred Mysteries celebrated in their native language, nor heard the word of God proclaimed in a way that completely fitted their own mentality and respected the actual conditions of their own life….
We know that the Second Vatican Council, twenty years ago, had as one of its principal tasks that of reawakening the self-awareness of the Church and, through her interior renewal, of impressing upon her a fresh missionary impulse for the proclamation of the eternal message of salvation, peace, and mutual concord among peoples and nations, beyond all the frontiers that yet divide our planet, which is intended by the will of God the Creator and Redeemer to be the common dwelling for all humanity. The dangers that in our times are accumulating over our world cannot make us forget the prophetic insight of Pope John XXIII, who convoked the Council with the intent and the conviction that it would be capable of preparing and initiating a period of springtime and rebirth in the life of the Church.
And, among its statements on the subject of universality, the same Council included the following: “All men are called to belong to the new People of God. Wherefore this People, while remaining one and unique, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the purpose of God’s will may be fulfilled. In the beginning God made human nature one. After His children were scattered, He decreed that they should at length be unified again…” [Vat II, LG 13]
17 We can say without fear of contradiction that such a traditional and at the same time extremely up-to-date vision of the catholicity of the Church — like a symphony of the various liturgies in all the world’s languages united in one single liturgy, or a melodious chorus sustained by the voices of unnumbered multitudes, rising in countless modulations, tones, and harmonies for the praise of God from every part of the globe, at every moment of history — this vision corresponds in a particular way to the theological and pastoral vision which inspired the apostolic and missionary work of Constantine the Phil-osopher [Cyril] and of Methodius, and which sustained their mission among the Slav nations.
In Venice, before the representatives of the ecclesiastical world, who held a rather narrow idea of the Church and were opposed to this vision, Saint Cyril defended it with courage. He showed that many peoples had already in the past introduced and now possessed a liturgy written and celebrated in their own language…
20 The message of the Gospel which Saints Cyril and Methodius translated for the Slav peoples, drawing with wisdom from the treasury of the Church “things old and new” [Cf. Mt 13:52], was transmitted through preaching and instruction in accordance with the eternal truths, at the same time being adapted to the concrete historical situation.…
VI The Gospel and Culture
21 The Brothers from Salonika were not only heirs of the faith but also heirs of the culture of Ancient Greece, continued by Byzantium. Everyone knows how important this heritage is for the whole of European culture and, directly or indirectly, for the culture of the entire world. The work of evangelization which they carried out as pioneers in territory inhabited by Slav peoples contains both a model of what today is called “inculturation,” the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures and also the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.
By incarnating the Gospel in the native culture of the peoples which they were evangelizing, Saints Cyril and Methodius were especially meritorious for the formation and development of that same culture, or rather of many cultures.…
30 Remember, O Almighty Father, the moment when, in accordance with your will, the “fullness of time” arrived for these peoples and nations, and the holy missionaries from Salonika faithfully fulfilled the command that your Son Jesus Christ had entrusted to His Apostles; following in their footsteps and in those of their successors, they brought into the lands inhabited by the Slavs the light of the Gospel, the Good News of salvation and, in their presence, bore testimony…
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 2 June, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, in the year 1985, the seventh of my pontificate.
John Paul II
Related Page from the Women for Faith and Family Liturgical Calendar — Sts. Cyril and Methodius
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