Our Slavic Apostles
Our ancestors were Christianized at the end of the ninth century, while they were under the suzerainty of the Moravian empire, by the disciples of SS. Cyril and Methodius. With Christianity, the holy brothers gave us our beautiful Byzantine-Slavonic Rite and tied us into the sphere of Slavic culture. Justly then we venerate them as our Slavic Teachers and Apostles. They are remembered in our Liturgy on May 11.
The birthplace of our Slavic apostles was the city of Thessalonica, capital of the Macedonian province of the Byzantine empire. During the eighth century, some Slavic tribes settled in Macedonia and slowly pushed out all alien elements, thus making the whole province predominately Slavic. The Macedonians were soon Christianized by the Byzantine missionaries accepting their Rite.
St. Methodius was born in 815 A.D., and chose for himself an administrative career as a magistrate. But soon he abandoned his promising position and in 855 retired to a monastery called "Polychron" on Mt. Olympus in Bithynia, Asia Minor. His biographer tells us that after Methodius "received his monastic tonsure and was invested into a religious habit, he eagerly practiced humility, faithfully observing the monastic rules and devoting himself to his books." Eventually, after his return from the mission to the Khazars, he became a superior of the said monastery.
Constantine, generally known under his religious name Cyril, was born in 826 A.D. From his youth he was interested in learning and made for himself a brilliant career in the court of Constantinople as a scholar and philosopher. Soon he became disgusted with the cunning court intrigues and retired into solitude. Later, he followed his older brother to the monastery on Mt. Olympus, as it can be inferred from his biography: "He went to Olympus where he joined his brother Methodius. There he began to lead a monastic life, praying without ceasing to God and having conversation only with his books."
News of their learning and holy life soon spread, reaching eventually the imperial court. Emperor Michael III (842-867), sending a delegation to the Khazars to strengthen their friendship, chose both brothers as members of the delegation. There is no doubt that during such political missions, religious questions were also discussed. The official language of the Khazars was Hebrew with which St. Cyril became well acquainted.
During their journey, in the winter of 858, they were stranded in the Greek city Kherson in the Crimea, and there they discovered the holy relics of the martyred Pope Clement I (about 88-100). Pope Clement was exiled to Crimea by the emperor Trajan to work at the stone quarries of Kherson and there suffered a martyr's death. In 868, SS. Cyril and Methodius took these relics to Rome and deposited them in the basilica dedicated to St. Clement.
After their return from a highly successful mission to the Khazars, in the autumn of 861, St. Methodius retired again to his monastery on Olympus, while St. Cyril remained at the court of Constantinople as a teacher of philosophy. There he also wrote his Memoirs of the mission to the Khazars which were later translated by St. Methodius into Slavonic.
During the summer of 862 the Moravian Prince Rostislav (846-869) sent his delegation to Constantinople in order to seek an alliance with Byzantium against the threatening Franks. To secure the Emperor's assistance, the prince also insisted that missionaries be sent to him "to explain to us the Christian truths in our own language." Emperor Michael III, signing the alliance with Rostislav, sent to Moravia two missionary brothers, SS. Cyril and Methodius, who were already familiar with the Slavic tongue and customs from their native Tessalonica. Having translated parts of the Holy Scriptures and Liturgical Books into the Slavonic language, they arrived in Moravia in 863. In a short time they achieved great success among the Slavs. They gathered around themselves many disciples, preparing them for missionary work in their Slavic tongue.
Because of Byzantine intervention in Bulgaria, the campaign of Louis the German, King of the Eastern Franks, in 864 against the Moravian prince was unsuccessful. But the Frankish and German missionaries began their own campaign against SS. Cyril and Methodius and their "heretical Slavic Liturgy." Both brothers were then summoned to Rome, where they completely justified themselves and Pope Adrian II sanctioned the use of the Slavonic language in the Liturgy. In Rome, after having received the religious habit, St. Cyril died on February 14, 869, and was buried with great solemnity in the basilica of St. Clement.
Pope Adrian II consecrated St. Methodius as a bishop and, appointing him a Metropolitan of an ancient see of Sirmium (modern Sriem, Yugoslavia), made him a Papal Legate fro the Slavs.
Unfortunately, by the time of his return to Moravia, the Franks again took an upper hand there, since Rostislav's nephew, Prince Svatopluk (870-894) made an alliance with the Eastern Franks. These Franks blinded Prince Rostislav and imprisoned him in one of their monasteries. On his return to Moravia, St. Methodius was arrested by the Bavarian troops and tried by the local synod on charges of being an imposter and usurper of episcopal powers. The synod, in which several German bishops took part, was presided over by the Archbishop of Salzburgh. It was three years later that St. Methodius was released from the prison after Pope John VII threatened to suspend all the responsible bishops.
At that time the political situation in Moravia changed once again, this time in favor of St. Methodius. When people revolted against the Frankish nobles, Prince Svatopluk tried to placate them by supporting the rebellion. Thus in 874 Svatopluk became once again the undisputed master of the Moravian empire which was ratified by the peace treaty with the Franks. There followed a period of great political expansion under the Moravian prince, at which time the Carpathian region was also incorporated into the Moravian realm. The missionary work of St. Methodius again began to flourish.
The ambition of Svatopluk to extend his power into Frankish territory, unfortunately, made him subservient to the German missionaries, headed by Wiching of Nitra, in Modern Slovakia. They again used smear tactics against St. Methodius in Rome, accusing him of: a) heresy b) illegal usurpation of archepiscopacy, and c) scandalous use of the Slavonic language in the Liturgy. St. Methodius cleared himself before Pope VIII, who became his staunch defender. In 880, Pope John VIII sent to Svatopluk a bull, Industriae Tuae," by which he approved the juridiction and work of St. Methodius among the Slavs, sanctioning also the Slavonic Liturgy.
To placate the prince, the pope appointed Svatopluk's protege, Wiching, a bishop of Nitra, who carried on his intrigues and campaign against St. Methodius and his followers.
In 882 St. Methodius, in order to inform the Emperor and the Patriarch about the progress of his mission, made a journey to Constantinople. It was undertaken in the atmosphere of peaceful reconciliation between Rome and Constantinople, after the Pope cleared Photius from his suspension from the patriarchal see. St. Methodius became a champion of the reunion between Western and Eastern Churches, having approval from both for his missionary work in Moravia. Thus, he secured the pepetuation of our Byzantine-Slavonic Rite.
Having a premonition of his approaching death, St. Methodius recommended as his successor one of his most capable disciples, Gorazd, native of Moravia and well instructed in Greek, Latin and Slavic letters. But when on April 6, 885 St. Methodius died in Velehrad, bishop Wiching of Nitra hastened to Rome and, forging some documents, induced Pope Stephen VI (895-891) to condemn St. Methodius and the Slavonic Liturgy and appoint him as the administrator of the Metropolitan See of Moravia instead of Gorazd.
Wiching, taking control of the ecclestiastical affairs in Moravia, began the persecution of the disciples of SS. Cyril and Methodius. Many of them were sold into slavery, others exiled, while some of them had to flee the country. Finally, Svatopluk had enough of Wiching's intrigues and expelled him from his realm. But it was too late to save Moravian suzerainty. In 906 the Franks invited the Magyars, who destroyed the rising Moravian power in Central Europe, and permanently settled between the Danube and Tisa Rivers which is the Hungary of today.
Since our ancestors inherited both Slavic Christianity and Slavic culture from the Thessalonian Brothers, we justly refer to them as our Slavic Apostles and Teachers and should try to emulate their veneration with other Slavic nationalities.