Saint Brigid Religious Education
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West Hartford, CT 06110

St. Cyril

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 him.

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.

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