Veneration of SS. Cyril and Methodius
Only fifty years after the death of the Apostles of the Slavs did Pope John IX (914-328) canonize them. However, devotion to them did not become universal until 1880, when Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) extended the feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius to the Catholic Church as a whole by his encyclical "Grande Munus."
The Slavs initiated the veneration of their Apostles, right after their death. But because of the adverse political and religious climate over the centuries, they were forgotten. It was not until the Cyrillo-Methodian millennial celebrations, at the end of the last century, that devotion to the saintly Brothers was once again restored.
Unfortunately, this restoration coincided with the millennial celebration of the Hungarians, who were determined to destroy our national life. They denounced the renewal of veneration of SS. Cyril and Methodius by our people, since "it could easily develop into a Slavic national holiday, of which on Hungarian territory there is no need" (cfr. art. "Oborona Kiriliki," in Naukovyj Zbirnyk Prosvity, Uzhorod 1936, p. 109). For this reason our magyarized clergy boycotted the feast and failed to perpetuate the veneration of the Slavic Apostles. Consequently, the Cyrillo-Methodian cult was not known in our Mukachevo and Prjashev Eparchies until after World War I.
St. Cyril "fell asleep in the Lord" on February 14, 869, after making his monastic vows. During his last illness he had "a heavenly vision" and began to sing: "My heart is glad and my soul rejoices, because they said to me: 'We will go up to the house of the Lord' (comp. Pss. 15:9; 121:1)."
As the hour of his death drew near, lifting up his hands to the Lord and weeping, he prayed:
"O Lord, my God, Who has created the Angelic Choirs and all the Heavenly Powers, Who brought all things from non-being to being, You always hear the prayers of those who do Your Holy Will and who in fear of You keep Your Commandments. Hear, therefore, O Lord, my humble prayer, preserve Your faithful flock You have entrusted to me, a humble and unworthy servant. Deliver them from the godless and heathen malice of those who blaspheme against You, destroy trilinguistic heresy, expand Your Church and keep her firmly united. Make Your chosen people unanimous in the profession of their Faith and inflame their hearts with the truth of Your Word. You bestowed on us a great favor by calling us to preach the Gospel of Your Christ and they (i.e. Methodius and his disciples) are now ready to do their good work pleasing to You. All those, whom You have placed in my care, I render up to You, since they are Yours. Guide them by Your strong right hand and protect them that all may praise and glorify Your Holy Name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen."
After having exchanged a kiss of peace with all present, St. Cyril continued: "Blessed be the Lord, Who did not leave us a prey to our enemies, but breaking their snares has set us free" (comp. Ps. 123:6-7). Saying these words, he expired.
St. Methodius intended to return his brother's remains to their native land, as they had promised their mother, but Pope Adrian II insisted that St. Cyril be buried in Rome. His relics were placed "on the right hand side of the main altar in the basilica of St. Clement and soon many miracles were reported." Grateful people "painted his image over his grave and burned candles in front of it." In this manner the veneration of St. Cyril began. (The above description of St. Cyril's death was taken from-the Slavic Life of Constantine).
With similar reverence and sobriety the Slavic Life of Methodius describes the death of the older brother, who ended his earthly pilgrimage on April 6, 885 and was buried in his cathedral at Velehrad, Moravia.
After having appointed one of his best disciples, the priest Gorazd, as his successor, St. Methodius became ill. Nevertheless, on Palm Sunday he went yet to church, where he bade farewell to the prince, the clergy, and the people. Three days later, uttering Christ's words: "Lord, into Your hands I commend my soul" (Lk. 23:46), he died surrounded by his clergy.
St. Methodius was buried with great solemnity in the presence of a great multitude, who accompanied his bier with the burning candles all the way to his resting place in the cathedral. Men and women, young and old, poor and rich, free and bonded, widows and orphans mourned their "Good Shepherd and Teacher" who truly had been "all things to all men, that he might save all" (comp. I Cor. 9:22).
As in Rome at the grave of St. Cyril, so also at Methodius' sepulchre in Velehrad many miracles were wrought. His resting place became the center for numerous pilgrims, who came from near and far to implore his intercession.
In a short time the veneration of the saintly Brothers became common among the Slavs. However, the Byzantine Church, which was their "Alma Mater," never inscribed their names into the diptychs of her Saints. For their fidelity to Rome, the Church of Constantinople completely ignored two of her most prominent sons.
Early devotion to SS. Cyril and Methodius can be proven by Slavic liturgical manuscript ("Sluzhby"), dating from the XI and XII centuries, but preserving much earlier tradition. They may have originated even at the end of the IXth century. There are services composed separately as well as some common offices in honor of St. Cyril and St. Methodius. The Slavists Lavrov, Pavic, and Kostic analyzed the offices preserved in Codex Zographensis and Menologion of Moscow, both from the XIIIth century and concluded, that they most probably were composed by the disciples of SS. Cyril and Methodius.
In the canon of the office honoring St. Methodius, Professors J. Pavic and D. Kostic independently discovered an acrostic, the first letters of which formed the sentence: "I sing of you well, Methodius!-Constantine." Thus the author of the Methodian Office would be Presbyter Constantine, who had come from Constantinople with the Brothers. Having been exiled from Moravia after the death of St. Methodius, he became bishop of Preslav, Bulgaria. The office must have been composed about 833, when Constantine became Bishop. It was written exactly according to the Byzantine pattern of liturgical veneration of a Saint.
From internal criteria and the somewhat corrupted acrostic of St. Cyril's office, Professor Kostic concluded, that it was most probably composed by his disciple Sava, at the end of the IXth century. The common office, as it can be derived from the internal criticism of text, was composed either in Bulgaria or Macedonia, during the tenth or eleventh century.
Parallel with the Byzantine-Slavonic offices Roman- Glagolitic offices were also composed in honor of SS. Cyril and Methodius, as early as the Xth century. They contain in their "Lectionaries" rich historical information on the life and work of the saintly Brothers. Written in the Glagolitic alphabet, these manuscripts more faithfully preserved the original text, although the manuscripts are dated from the XVth century (e.g. Glagolitic Breviary in the Vatican, dated 1465; another in Moscow's Lenin Museum, dated 1443). These copies were made from the manuscripts originating in Bohemia and later transferred to Croatia.
Because of Schism and the Byzantine influence, the Slavs ceased to venerate SS. Cyril and Methodius. It was only in the middle of the last century, under the influence of the Panslavic movement, that the Holy Synod of Moscow in 1863 restored the veneration of the Slavic Saints and reprinted their common office from an old Menea. Their common feast was established on May 11th, believed to be the day of Methodius' death (cfr. Bulgakov, Nastolnaja Kniga, Kharkov 1900, p. 167-168).
Pope Leo XIII, in 1880, ordered the feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius to be celebrated by the Catholic Church on July 5th. But in 1885, the Holy Synod on the occasion of the millennial celebrations of St. Methodius' death, issued the following liturgical decree for the Eastern Rite:
1) Since St. Methodius died on April 6 and not on May 11, his commemoration will be made in the Menologion on April 6th.
2) The 14th of February, the anniversary of St. Cyril's death and the 6th of April, the anniversary of St. Methodius' death, will be celebrated with the Polijelej.
3) The common commemoration of SS. Cyril and Methodius will be celebrated on May 11th, as a feast-day of middle solemnity.
4) The common office will be taken according to the services reprinted in 1869,'Sluzhba Prepodobnym Methodiju i Kirillu, Uchitelem Slovianskim' (cfr. Nikolskij, Ustav Bogosluzhenija, S. Peterburg 1900, p. 524-525)."
These changes were accepted by the Liturgical Commission in Rome and introduced into our Menologion, in 1950 (cfr. Chasoslov, Rome-Grotta Ferrata, 1350). They bind us today. We used to observe a Seminary Day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 11th as the feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius. We only hope that this practice will be revived again and spread among our people in the United States.
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