Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
Feast day: February 14
Cyril must have often wondered, as we do today, how God could bring
spiritual meaning out of worldly concerns. Every mission he went on,
every struggle he fought was a result of political battles, not
spiritual, and yet the political battles are forgotten and their work
lives on in the Slavic peoples and their literature.
Tradition tells us that the brothers Methodius and Constantine (he
did not take the name Cyril until just before his death) grew up in
Thessalonica as sons of a prominent Christian family. Because many
Slavic people settled in Thessalonica, it is assumed Constantine and
Methodius were familiar with the Slavic language. Constantine became a
scholar and a professor known as "the Philosopher" in Constantinople. In
860 Constantine went as a missionary to what is today the Ukraine.
When the Byzantine emperor decided to honor a request for
missionaries by the Moravian prince Rastislav, Constantine was the
natural choice. He knew the language, he was an able administrator, and
had already proven himself a successful missionary. But there was far
more behind this request and the response than a desire for
Christianity. Rastislav, like the rest of the Slav princes, was
struggling for independence from German influence and invasion.
Christian missionaries from the East, to replace missionaries from
Germany, would help Rastislav consolidate power in his own country,
especially if they spoke the Slavonic language.
Constantine and Methodius were dedicated to the ideal of expression
in a people's native language. Throughout their lives they would battle
against those who saw value only in Greek or Latin. Before they even
left on their mission, tradition says, Constantine constructed a script
for Slavonic, a script that is known today as glagolithic. Glagolithic
is considered by some as the precursor of cyrillic which is named after
Arriving in 863 in Moravia, Constantine began translating the liturgy
into Slavonic. The German priests didn't like losing their control and
knew that language has a great deal to do with independence. So when
Constantine and Methodius went to Rome to have the Slav priesthood
candidates ordained (neither was a bishop at the time), they had to face
the criticism the Germans had leveled against them. The pope approved
the use of Slavonic in services and ordained their pupils.
Constantine never returned to Moravia. He died in Rome after assuming
the monastic robes and the name Cyril on February 14, 869. Legend tells
us that his older brother was so grief-stricken, and perhaps upset by
the political turmoil, that he intended to withdraw to a monastery in
Constantinople. Cyril's dying wish, however, was that Methodius return
to the missionary work they had begun.