23 May 2014

Our fathers amongst the saints

Our Fathers amongst the Saints, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Equal-to-the-Apostles

Holy and Right-Believing Rastislav, Prince and Confessor

A blessed feast of the brotherly Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Enlighteners of the Slavs and our spiritual fathers amongst the saints; and of the holy right-believing confessor Prince S. Rastislav of Great Moravia, pupil of these two wise and tireless Saints and the father of our nation!

Methodius (known in the world as Michael) and Cyril (in the world Constantine) were two brothers, whose father Leon was a member of a respected Greek senatorial family, and whose mother Maria is believed to have been Slavic; both brothers thus grew up with a command of both languages as well as a thoroughgoing education. Constantine became a wise philosopher, and indeed a professor at the University in Constantinople; Michael entered and devoted himself to the monastic life, where he became known as Methodius. They were sent at the behest of the Emperor of New Rome Michael III to the Slavic lands in answer to a request by King Rastislav to bring Christianity to his people. Rastislav, even though he ruled over what was then a vast and diverse territory, was nonetheless pressured both externally and internally. Internally he had to confront the ignorance and pagan superstitions of his people, and externally he was trying to secure his nation’s independence from the superior foreign power of the Eastern Franks. It is likely that in his early life he was held as a hostage for his uncle Prince Mojmír at the court of the Eastern Frankish king, Louis II. However, once he became prince of the Moravians, he entered into an alliance with the Bulgarians and rebelled against the Eastern Franks, scoring several important victories but also leaving himself in a vulnerable position.

Louis began sending Frankish missionaries into Rastislav’s territory in a political attempt to undermine his rule from within; after which Rastislav sent ambassadors both to Old and New Rome asking for missionary aid which would not leave him again vulnerable to Frankish rule. Old Rome ignored his request, but New Rome (Emperor Michael III along with his uncle Caesar Bardas and Patriarch S. Photius the Great) ‘responded by sending Constantine [Cyril] and Methodius, many gifts, an imperial letter, and Constantine’s recent invention of a script for the Slavic tongue’ – Glagolitic, which evolved into the modern Cyrillic alphabet.

The brothers fell prey to the politics of the time. The German king, furious at the brothers’ interference in what he considered his territory, directed his vassal bishops (chief among them Dietmar of Salzburg) to attack the brothers’ orthodoxy on account of the fact that they did not preach or deliver the Liturgy in Latin but rather in the Slavic tongue. The Pope of Rome who heard their case, Adrian II, was not swayed by the self-serving sophistry of the Franks and, once he ascertained the right belief of the two brothers, quickly granted them permission to continue their missionary work in Moravia. Constantine, however, returned home to take holy orders (whereupon his name was changed to Cyril) and meet his repose.

Methodius, however, continued his work amongst the Slavs – though he still faced stiff opposition from the machinations of Salzburg. Rastislav was betrayed by his nephew Svatopluk into the hands of the Franks led by Louis’s son Carloman, who had his eyes put out and cast him into prison in Bavaria, where he died. Methodius also was taken prisoner by the Franks – though Adrian II managed to secure his release and declared him, contra the claims of Salzburg, the legitimate archbishop within the territories of Moravia and Pannonia. Later popes were less sympathetic: John VIII appointed a German adjutant, Wiching, to Methodius to undermine him; after Methodius’s repose, Stephen V refused to recognise Methodius’ successor Gorazd, appointed Wiching as archbishop, and had the disciples of Methodius driven out of Moravia.

Though the mission of the two brothers in their earthly life was plagued with political intrigues and machinations against them, their hard toils in Constantinople, Rome and Moravia bore most wondrous fruit after their deaths. They ignited a great wave of religious, literary and cultural illumination across all of Eastern Europe, which enlightened the Bulgarians, the southern Slavs, and later the Kievan Rus’ and all their daughter nations – rightly indeed are they called our fathers amongst the saints, since it is thanks to them that the Slavs have their civilisation! For this reason they are remembered fondly even in those Slavic nations, such as my great-grandparents’ homeland of Czechia, where the Orthodox legacy has been interrupted.

Dearest fathers in faith, holy and wise, please pray with us and intercede with the All-Holy to enlighten us, in our own age also!

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