Our fathers among the saints Cyril and Methodius were brothers who brought Orthodoxy to the Slavic peoples of central Europe in the ninth century. In preparation for their mission to the Slavs they devised the Glagolitic alphabet to translate the Holy Scriptures and other Christian writings into what is now called Old Church Slavonic. Glagolitic later developed into the Cyrillic alphabet which is now used in a number of Slavic languages. The two brothers have been recognized as saints, equals to the apostles, for their missionary work. Many details of their lives have been obscured by the legends that have arisen about them.
Constantine (later Cyril) and Michael (later Methodius) were born early in the 9th century in Thessalonika into a senatorial family. The years of their birth are uncertain. Constantine, the elder of the two, may have been born in 826, while Methodius is believed to have been born in 827. Their father, Leon, was Drungarios of the Byzantine Roman Thema of Thessalonika, whose jurisdiction included the Slavs of Macedonia. Their mother is believed to have been Slavic. Being raised in an area with both Greek and Slavic speakers endowed the brothers with a good knowledge of the two languages. As befitting their family’s position, they were well educated.
At a young age the brothers lost their father and they were raised under the protection of their uncle Theoctistos, who was a powerful official in the Byzantine government, responsible for postal services and the diplomatic relations of the empire. In 843, he invited Constantine to Constantinople to continue his studies at the university there. He was ordained a deacon in Constantinopole. As Constantine was knowledgeable in theology and had a good command of the Arabic and Hebrew languages, his first state mission to the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil was to discuss the principle of the Holy Trinity with Arab theologians and thus improve the Empire’s diplomatic relations with the Abbasid Caliphate.
Theoctistos also arranged a position as an official in the Slavic administration of the empire for Michael. He soon went to the monastery at Mount Olympus where he was tonsured with the name Methodius. In 860, Emperor Michael III and Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, sent the brothers to the Khagan of the Khazars on a missionary expedition in an attempt to forestall the Khagan from embracing Judaism. The mission was unsuccessful as the Khagan chose Judaism for his people, but many people embraced Christianity. Upon their return, Constantine was appointed professor of philosophy in the university.
Then in 862 the two brothers were invited by Prince Rastislav of Great Moravia to preach Christianity in his domains. This request was a fallout of the efforts of the Slavic princes in central Europe attempting to maintain their independence from their Germanic neighbors. Rastislav was looking for Christian missionaries to replace those from the Germans. In the end this mission would continue for the rest of the brothers’ lives, as the brothers were dedicated to the idea that Christianity should be presented to the people in their native languages as was the practice in the East. To accomplish their work they developed the Glagolitic alphabet, the precursor of the Cyrillic alphabet, and began the translation of the Scriptures and Christian literature into the Slavic language.
The German clergy had used their liturgical language, Latin, as a measure to maintain their influence in Moravia and therefore were unhappy with the work of Constantine and Methodius, and they used this difference to attack the brothers. After laboring for about four years, the brothers were called by Nicholas I to appear in Rome to defend their work. The area in which they worked was within the jurisdiction of Rome. However, before their arrival, in 869 Nicholas died and was succeeded by Adrian II. After Adrian was convinced of the orthodoxy of the brothers, he approved their use of Slavonic in their church services and commended their work. He then consecrated Methodius bishop. Constantine took monastic vows in a Greek monastery in Rome. He was given the name Cyril, the name by which he is now commonly known. Cyril was not to return to Moravia as he died shortly thereafter. The date of Cyril’s death is uncertain, but appears to have been shortly after his consecration, both perhaps in February 869, with his death most probably on February 14.
Adrian II reestablished the old diocese of Panonia, as the first Slavonic diocese of Moravia and Pannonia, independent of the Germans, at the request of the Slavic princes Rastislav, Svatopluk, and Kocel. Here Methodius was appointed to the new diocese as archbishop. However, on returning to Moravia in 870, King Louis and the German bishops summoned Methodius to a synod at Radisbon, where they deposed him and sent him to prison. After the Germans suffered military defeats in Moravia, John VIII freed him three years later and restored Methodius as Archbishop of Moravia. Soon his orthodoxy was again under question by the Germans, particularly over the use of Slavonic. Once again John VIII sanctioned the use of Slavonic in the liturgy but with the stipulation that the Gospel must first be read in Latin before the reading in Slavonic. Also, Methodius’ accuser, Wiching, was named a vicar bishop to Methodius, and from this position he continued to oppose him. With his health damaged during his long struggle with his opponents, Methodius died on April 6, 885, after having recommended as his successor his disciple, the Moravian Slav, Gorazd. The brothers are remembered on May 11. St. Cyril’s repose is also commemorated on February 14, and St. Methodius’ repose is also commemorated on April 6.
The brothers Cyril and Methodius are most renowned for the development of the Glagolitic alphabet that was used to bring literacy and Christian literature to the Slavs in their own language. With further development by their disciples it became the Cyrillic alphabet, which is now used by many of the Slavic peoples. However, the work of the brothers in translating the Holy Scriptures, the services, Nomocanon, and other Christian literature into Slavonic has been the greatest example of Orthodox missionaries bringing Christianity to the peoples of the world.
While events only a few decades after the death of Methodius seemed to destroy their work in Moravia, their work became the foundation of Slavic civilization in eastern and south-eastern Europe and provided the language footings for the missionary efforts in the coming centuries. It is for this continuation of the practice of the Holy Apostles of speaking of Christianity in the languages of all the nations that Ss Cyril and Methodius are remembered as equal to the apostles. It is to this heritage that the revived Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands (Moravia) look as their origins.