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Sts. Cyril and Methodius, July 7

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

Cyril and Methodius were brothers, sons of a high senatorial family of Thessalonica. Methodius, the elder of the two brothers, became governor of a Slavic colony in Macedonia. A scholar, philosopher and linguist, Cyril became a monk in Bithynia. In 861 the Byzantine Emperor sent Cyril on a mission into the Dneiper-Volga regions of Russia to convert the Jewish Khazars, barbarians of south Russia. His brother Methodius accompanied him and they returned to their monastery after a successful mission.

Saints Cyril & Methodius

St. Methodius, right, holds up a parchment of the Last Judgement. St. Cyril (left) holds the Bible they translated to the Slavonic language

At about the same time, the Prince of Moravia asked the Emperor to send missionaries to convert his people. Since both brothers knew the Slavonic tongue, Emperor Michael III sent Cyril and Methodius there in 863. They taught the Moravians how to write, and they composed a new alphabet for them called Cyrillic, which marked the beginning of Slavonic literature. The alphabet is still used among the Russians.

Then the brothers translated the Bible and liturgical books into Slavonic, the common language of the peoples of the area and organized numerous Catholic communities in Bohemia and Hungary. In 868 they arrived in Rome and were warmly received by Pope Adrian II, who made them Bishops and allowed them to say the Mass in Slavonic. Cyril died while he was in Rome at age 42, and he was buried in the Church of St. Clement.

Methodius returned alone to Great Moravia, and was named Archbishop of Cyrinium in Serbia. He found many enemies in the Hierarchy who persecuted him and placed obstacles to his work because they opposed the Mass being said in Slavonic. Accusing him of heresy, they imprisoned him and held him captive for three years. Pope John VII came to his defense, and finally St. Methodius triumphed over his adversaries. He died in 885 with great manifestations of love by the people. His funeral was celebrated in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic. Cyril and Methodius received the title Apostles of the Slavs. Their feast day was extended to the universal Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

One can see in this biographical summary several interesting things.

First, it is curious that St. Cyril and St. Methodius were brothers, and as such they carried out a common work of great importance for the Church. Divine Providence sometimes decides to choose persons of the same family linked by blood to glorify the institution of the family. Here these two brothers were sent to make an extraordinary work, which was to convert those Slavic peoples. They were sent to the Balkans, but afterwards their work would spread to Russia and prepare its future conversion. For this, Divine Providence chose two brothers of a family with a social and political preeminence. St. Methodius had achieved the position of governor in a province, and St. Cyril was a scholar who became a monk.

Slavonic language - sample

The writing in the picture is a sample of the cyrillic script
invented by Sts. Cyril and Methodius for the Slavonic people

Second, it is interesting to observe how they did the right things to establish a new mentality in the people, and in a certain way to found a new people. They taught the Moravians to write, and for that they composed a new alphabet, called Cyrillic, still in use in Russia. That is, these people were so backward they did not have their own alphabet to express themselves. The two brothers invented adequate characters to express that language. For more than one thousand years their alphabet in Cyrillic has been – and still is – used by those peoples. To help such peoples express their thinking is truly a work of founders.

Then, after creating the new writing, one of the first things they did, perhaps the very first, was to translate the Bible to Slavonic. Those barbarian people had, as their first written work, the best written work that can exist, a highly civilized thing. They did not stop here; they went further. They founded numerous Catholic communities in Bohemia and Hungary. Those numerous groups living together as Catholics would irradiate those teachings to a broader area, to their neighbors.

Third, after this they went to Rome to pay their respects to Pope Adrian II. In that time of struggle between the East and the West, the visit and homage the two saints rendered to the Pope was very significant. They had founded a new liturgy, and they wanted to have the approval of the Pope, who granted it.

When St. Cyril died in 842, St. Methodius returned to the Balkans. The ecclesiastical Hierarchy just beginning to be established there turned against him with a violent opposition. This has happened to many founders. Finally, he triumphed and died with honors.

Now I ask you: Why didn’t Divine Providence send other founder saints to expand Christendom? It is my opinion that after the sin of the Revolution was committed, some mysterious thing happened in the economy of grace that halted the further expansion of Catholic Civilization. The Church continued to have saints for many other things, but not to extend the boundaries of Catholic Civilization. If this is true, it seems a kind of chastisement for the adhesion given to the Revolution. It is a chastisement that probably will last until humankind has harvested the worst fruits of its sin, like the prodigal son.

When this will happen, the economy of grace will probably change again, and Providence will send other founder saints to install the Reign of Mary.

I offer these considerations as a way for you to understand the roles of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, and the economy of grace of Divine Providence. It should also encourage you to ask God for the return of such graces and such saints. “Emitte Spiritum tuum, et creabuntur, et renovabis faciem terrae” - “Send forth Thy spirit, and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”


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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

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