Pastor's Blog

Cyril and Methodius: God’s Word in Eastern Europe

Posted under: Reformation — by Leroy Demarest

As we progress through church history leading up to 1517, and beyond, we shouldn’t neglect two brothers born in Thessalonica in the first decades of the 800s. Constantine and Michael were born to an officer in the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire Army. They would both go on to successful careers in education and politics/ministry respectively. However, both felt called to serve the church. As such they would answer the call and serve in Moravia, present day Czech Republic, at the request of Prince Ratislav of Moravia.

Constantine, who would later be known as Cyril, and Michael, who would later be known as Methodius, would begin serving in 863 AD working with the people group that we would know as the Slavs. While the Prince had asked for people to teach the people of Moravia “Christian truths in our own language”, teaching and preaching outside of the Latin language was quite controversial.

Furthermore, we should note that though the great schism of the 1000s had not occurred yet, there was certainly a territorial tension between the Eastern and Western Church. Because of this territorial tension, any cause for dissension and strife was used to jockey for power in the church. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised, whenever the flesh supersedes the Spirit in us, that as the brothers ministered to the Slavic people that those in Western Church would cry foul. For example, the archbishop of Salzburg claimed that the brothers had crossed the invisible line that separated the Eastern and Western Church.

In 868, the brothers were summoned to Rome to defend themselves, successfully, before Pope Adrian II. However, while in Rome, Cyril died. Methodius would go back and continue serving the church and working in the Slavic tongue. Both brothers carried out the call of the Prince, preaching and teaching in the native language. They also worked on an alphabet so that the translation of the bible from Latin to Slavonic could occur. This was an adaptation of the Greek alphabet, at the time of known as Old Church Slavonic or Old Bulgarian. This would be modernized to Cyrillic (named after Cyril), the alphabet used today in countries like Bulgaria, Russia, Czech Republic, Ukraine and many others.

But, any iota that could be used to stir up strife and condemn them was used. The fact that the brothers were teaching in something other than Latin, and the fact that they translated the Bible, was used against them. To multiply the issues was the confluence of division in the church and the political power associated with the church. The brothers had the blessings of Prince Ratislav, but when politics changed so did their blessings. Methodius, he was the only one alive by this point, was jailed and treated poorly because of the “scandalous use of the Slavonic language”. He was only released because Pope John VIII stepped in.

Methodius continued teaching even after Pope Stephen V took power. However, upon Methodius’ death the new Pope condemned the use of the Slavonic language and liturgy, exiling their disciples. However, persecution can help the church grow and it did in this case as well. Their work would develop both the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox Churches and the Cyrillic alphabet, opening up literacy and biblical reading to Eastern Europe and Russia. They would also foreshadow other church leaders that we now know as reformers or pre-reformers such as Tyndale, Wycliffe, Waldo and Luther.


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