When Cyril died on this day, February 14, 869, he left behind him one of the greatest legacies any man has given the world. His influence and that of his brother Methodius reverberates down to our own day. So lasting is their imprint that the two are called "the Apostles of the Slavs."
Around 860, Rastislav, a prince of Moravia, requested the Byzantine emperor to send someone to teach his people about Christ. Patriarch Photius delegated the noble-born brothers Cyril and Methodius to the task.
They were a logical choice. Both were learned and pious. Inhabitants of Thessalonica (also known as Salonica, a major city in the region of Macedonia), they were no strangers to Eastern Europe.
Furthermore, they had carried out diplomatic missions for Byzantium with the Abassid Caliph and later with the Khazars. As if that were not enough, Cyril was a professor of some standing at the University of Constantinople and had won the nickname "the Philosopher." Of Slavic origin themselves, the brothers knew the language and began developing a special alphabet to capture its sounds. Based on the Greek alphabet, their Glagolitic script was developed by followers into the Cyrillic which became the alphabet of learning and commerce in Eastern Europe.
With this script the brothers translated scriptures, church liturgy and other writings into the Slavic tongue. These Old Church Slavonic writings taught salvation through faith in Christ in words the people could understand. Christianity spread among the Slavic peoples as a consequence.
Later, Magyar invasions and German opposition wiped out the religious gains the brothers had made, but not the alphabet or the religious writings. Disciples transplanted Christianity to Bulgaria and carried the precious translations South with them. When Vladimir of Russia converted to Christianity a century later, he adopted the Orthodox faith. Copies of the brothers' works made their way to his court where they influenced the Russian church for many centuries. A variation of Cyrillic script became the alphabet of Russia.
Cyril died in Rome and was buried in the Basilica of St. Clement. German bishops of the Roman Catholic church had criticized the brothers and argued that the slavs should use Roman-style worship. Cyril and Methodius travelled West to defend their practices. Pope Hadrian II accepted their work with enthusiasm but this did not please the Germans.
In the end the Germans got their way. When Methodius returned to Moravia as a papal legate, he was consecrated as archbishop. The Germans, however, seized him. After an uncanonical trial, they imprisoned him for three years in a monastery. It took the intervention of another pope to free him. He died April 6, 884, fifteen years after his brother.
- Abraham, L. "Cyril and Methodius, Sts." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Cyril and Methodius." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.
- "Cyril, St. and Methodius, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Obolensky, Dmitri. Six Byzantine Portraits. Clarendon, 1988.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles