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of the Day

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinFebruary 11, 2005 Issue 

Brothers invented language

The Russian alphabet sprang from these two monks spreading the faith

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Saint of the Day graphic

Ss. Cyril & Methodius

When: c. 825-869 (Cyril) and c. 826-884

Where: Moravia (now a region in the Czech Republic)

What: Apostles to the Slavs

Feast: Feb. 14

Patrons: Of Europe

Back in the 1960s, when the Mass was again being celebrated in vernacular languages - including English - after centuries of being only in Latin in the Roman Rite, it upset many people. Even though the changes had been approved by Pope Paul VI at the direction of the Second Vatican Council, many people refused to accept the change.

It wasn't the first time this happened in the church. It also happened in the 9th century when Ss. Cyril and Methodius began using, with papal approval, the Slavonic tongue to celebrate Mass and preach, over the objections of the German bishops.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born into a senatorial family at Thessalonika, Greece. Cyril (nee Constantine, the name he used until weeks before his death) became a noted philosopher and teacher at the imperial university in Constantinople. Methodius was governor of a Slav colony before becoming a monk.

Cyril eventually joined his brother at the monastery, but soon Emperor Michael III sent them to the Dnieper-Volga regions of Russia to work as missionaries.

After they returned, Methodius became abbot of a Greek monastery, but Prince Rostislav of Moravius soon asked Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, to send both brothers to work as missionaries to the Moravians.

German missionaries had been working there with limited success. The prince believed the brothers would do better if they used the Slavonic language. They did, developing an alphabet their followers transformed into the Cyrillic alphabet (named for Cyril and still used in Slavic countries and Russia).

They preached in Slavonic and translated the liturgy and part of the Bible (Methodius later translated all but Maccabees) into Slavonic. That angered the German bishops, who questioned their orthodoxy and refused to ordain their candidates for priesthood.

Cyril and Methodius went to Rome to appeal to the pope, Adrian II, who decided they were not heretics, appointed them bishops and approved their use of Slavonic in the liturgy. While in Rome, Constantine officially became a monk and took Cyril as his religious name. He died about seven weeks later while in Rome and it's not clear if he was ordained a bishop.

Methodius returned as Archbishop of Moravia and Pannonia, with no ties to the German bishops. That upset them more, so they had him imprisoned. Two years later, a new pope, John VIII, freed Methodius, but forbade his using Slavonic in the liturgy.

Methodius disregarded the ban and a half-dozen years later was summoned to Rome, where he convinced the pope that he was not a heretic and to let him use Slavonic in the liturgy. His troubles with the Germans continued until his death, but to this day both Catholic and Orthodox Bulgarian, Byelorussian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Slovak and Ukrainian churches use the liturgical language the two brothers devised.

Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints, Patron Saints, Saints for Our Time, Saint of the Day and Voices of the Saints

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