Cyril and Methodius and the Cyrillic Alphabet
During the Sochi Olympics we've seen plenty of Russian writing, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet.
Today we remember two brothers, Cyril; his actual name was Constantine, (827-868) and Methodius (825 – 885). They were born to a noble family in Thessalonica in northeastern Greece. Cyril became a priest and undertook a mission to the Arabs. He then was a professor and the librarian at the cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople. Methodius became a governor in a district settled by Slavs. Both then retired to a monastery. In 861 the Byzantine emperor sent them to work among the Khazars northeast of the Black Sea. (Think of the area around Sochi) In 863 the ruler of Greater Moravia asked for missionaries. He wanted someone who would work in the local language rather than Latin.
However, Slavonic had no written form. Thus in order to translate the scriptures and liturgy into Slavonic they invented an alphabet using Greek letters as the basis. When two similar sounds in Slavonic each needed a letter they would use a plain letter followed by a fancy letter. Thus in Russia a “plain a” is written “A”. A “fancy a” is written like a backward “R”. When no Greek letter sufficed, they used a Hebrew letter.
When they encountered German missionaries representing the Holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne who insisted on uniformity in language and culture they went to Rome to plead their case. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo II on Christmas Day in 800. The brothers brought with them some purported relics of Clement the bishop of Rome in about 100.
They were received with honor. Constantine entered a monastery and took the name Cyril, by which he is now remembered. Thus the Cyrillic alphabet is named after Cyril. He died a few days later. Methodius was sent back to Moravia with full authorization to use the Slavonic language in worship. However, he ran into trouble with those who now ruled the area. He was deposed and thrown in prison for two years. Pope John VIII secured his release and instructed him not to use the Slavonic liturgy. He was summoned to Rome in 878 to face charges of heresy. He was cleared and given permission to use Slavonic. He died April 6, 885.
Today the Czechs, Serbs, Croats, Slovaks and Bulgers regard the brothers as the founded of Slavic literature.
When I read the actions and politics of the church such as we have with Cyril and Methodius, I’m amazed that the church has lasted 2,000 years. We need ever to pray,
Almighty and everlasting God, who by the power of the Holy Spirit moved your servants Cyril and Methodius to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people: Overcome all bitterness and strife among us by the love of Christ, and make us one united family under the banner of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.