Saints Cyril and Methodius were born in modern-day Greece and believed to be the oldest and youngest boys in a family of seven children. Promising careers awaited both of them, as well as comfortable lives of privilege given their nobility. Methodius, originally named Michael, climbed the ranks of civil service through political and administrative service — for a time he served as a governor on behalf of the emperor. Cyril, originally named Constantine, was on track to obtain a prestigious, lifelong academic post.
Both were destined by God’s providence for another path, however. Unsatisfied with what they had and yearning for more, which they knew was only to be found in God, they gave up the positions and career paths that awaited them, opting for lives of deeper devotion to God. Serving God more directly in their new vocations, Cyril and Methodius found that the Lord used their gifts and talents in a way more profitable to advancing the kingdom.
Having obtained theological mastery in his scholarship, Cyril’s skills were useful in delicate negotiations on behalf of the emperor. He was ordained a priest after completing his education and became a monk not long before his death. Methodius became a monk earlier in life and served as a deacon and abbot for many years, before being ordained a priest and later a bishop after Cyril’s death.
In 862, through the Byzantine emperor, God called the holy brothers to the important evangelical work that would define their lives and ministry — and eventually earn them the title of co-patrons of Europe. It was likely, just as much for political reasons as religious, that the prince of the Great Moravian Empire called upon the Byzantine emperor’s assistance in spreading Christianity among his realm. But through this, God allowed Saints Cyril and Methodius to build up a civilization and culture that made Moravia shine as a model of Christian society.
While Christianity already had been present in Moravia, it was widely rejected. So the prince desired a fresh approach to spreading the Gospel among his people. Cyril and Methodius took an inventive approach to bringing the Good News to the people of Moravia. Their efforts were rooted in translating the Bible into a language that would be intelligible to the Moravian people.
This required standardizing and codifying a language from among the disparate parts of Moravia. St. Cyril is credited with devising the Glagolitic alphabet — the oldest Slavic alphabet and the foundation for the modern Cyrillic alphabets — named after the saintly linguist and still used throughout Eastern Europe and northern and central Asia. Cyril and Methodius also sought papal approval for a translation of the liturgical rites into the same language in which they translated Scripture. Several Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches still use Church Slavonic as their liturgical language.
Not everyone appreciated the efforts of Cyril and Methodius, particularly the Germanic bishops who complained about them to the pope. They were summoned to Rome in 867, and they arrived the following year — where they greeted a new pope, Adrian II. They brought along the relics of St. Clement, the fourth pope. It was then that the pope gave permission for the liturgical translation they produced, and he ordained Methodius and several of their followers to the priesthood.
St. Cyril died in Rome in 869 and St. Methodius returned to labor another two decades in Moravia — most of those years as an archbishop, an office he had been appointed to by the pope for his loyalty to Rome and which cost him much, including imprisonment. He died in 885.
Their feast day is Feb. 14.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter at @HeinleinMichael.