You might have been expecting to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day today, but we don’t actually have that feast on the modern Liturgical calendar. Instead today we have the feast of two brothers: Saints Cyril and Methodius. They lived in the ninth century in an area of Greece inhabited by many Slavs, and eventually they became missionaries to the Slavic people.
Cyril was known as Constantine until he became a monk very late in life, and at that time took the name Cyril. Cyril and his followers invented an alphabet, known as the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used in some form in modern Russian language. Together with his followers, he translated the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy.
Cyril’s work was not universally accepted. He faced opposition from German clergy in the area who denounced the Slavonic liturgy and their use of the vernacular language in preaching. More than once, they went to Rome to answer charges of heresy and were exonerated every time. While in Rome, Cyril became a monk, and fifty days later, he passed away.
His brother Methodius, however, kept the mission work going for another sixteen years. He became the papal legate for all the Slavic peoples, was consecrated as a bishop and given a see in what is now the Czech Republic. When much of their former territory was removed from their jurisdiction, the Bavarian bishops retaliated with a violent storm of accusation against Methodius. As a result, Emperor Louis the German exiled Methodius for three years, at which time he was freed by Pope John VIII.
Legend has it that Methodius translated the whole Bible into Slavonic in eight months. He died on Tuesday of Holy Week, surrounded by his disciples, in his cathedral church.
Cyril and Methodius worked long and hard, and in the face of much opposition, to make the faith known. They made the faith accessible by inventing an alphabet and preaching in the language of the people. We too are called to make the faith known, meeting people where they are, and explaining it in a way that makes it accessible. The most honest way to do this is by living the Gospel so that we can be a witness for all to see – being people of integrity in our work, in our families, and in our communities.