By Leo XIII
Encyclical Grande Munus (1880)
The great duty of spreading the Christian name was entrusted in a special way to Peter, the head of the Apostles, and to his successors. It urges the popes to send messengers of the Gospel to the various peoples of the earth, as the affairs of the merciful God demand.
For this reason they sent Augustine to the Britons, Patrick to the Irish, Boniface to the Germans and Willebrord to the Flemish, Dutch and Belgians. Often they sent other men to other peoples to care for their souls. So in the exercise of their apostolic duty, they commissioned the holy men Cyril and Methodius to go to the Slavic people. Through their presence and more especially through their labours, those people have seen the light of the Gospel and have been led from their barbarian ways to a humane and civilised culture.
All Slovenia has continued to celebrate the work of Cyril and Methodius, well-known peers of the Apostles, and the Roman Church has honoured both of them with just as much fervour. The Church honoured both of them in many ways while they lived, and in death it did not want to be without the remains of one of them. The Bohemians, Moravians, and Croatians were accustomed to celebrating religious feasts annually on March 9. Since 1863 Pius IX granted them permission to hold their feasts on July 5 and to discharge due prayers in memory of Cyril and Methodius. Not long after that, when the great council was held at the Vatican, many bishops humbly requested from this Apostolic See that their cult and appointed feast be extended to the whole Church. Until now the matter has been under study. But because of the change in the status of the government in those areas over the years, it seems like an excellent opportunity to help the people of Slovenia, whose well-being and salvation greatly concern Us. Therefore, We shall not allow Our paternal love to fail. We wish to promote and increase the devotion to these most holy men who once spread the Catholic faith and recalled the Slavic people from ruin to salvation. They now serve as our heavenly advocates and will powerfully defend us. Moreover, in order to bring out more fully what kind of men We propose for the veneration and worship of the Catholic world, We wish to give a brief history of their deeds. The brothers Cyril and Methodius, born in Thessalonica, went as boys to Constantinople in order to study the humanities in the chief city of the East. The spark of genius already discerned in these young men soon became apparent. They both advanced quickly, especially Cyril, who became so distinguished in learning that he won for himself the title of “the Philosopher”. Soon after this, Methodius undertook the monastic life. Under the influence of the Patriarch Ignatius, the Empress Theodora commissioned Cyril to teach the Christian faith to the Khazer tribes who dwelt beyond the Chersonese. These people had asked that suitable priests might be sent to them from Constantinople. Cyril accepted the mission willingly and departed for Tauric Chersonese so that, as some relate, he could study the language of the people. It was at this time that he had the good fortune to discover the remains of Pope Clement I. This courageous martyr was thrown into the sea by order of the Emperor Trajan and was afterwards buried with the anchor to which he had been fastened. The anchor, together with the ancient tradition, made it very easy to identify the remains. With this priceless treasure, Cyril went into the towns and homes of the Khazars. In a short time, after abolishing many superstitions, he won for Jesus Christ these people, who were taught by his word and moved by the spirit of God. To the new Christian community Cyril gave an example of selfcontrol and charity by refusing all the gifts offered to him by the inhabitants, except the slaves whose liberty he restored to them when they embraced Christianity. He soon returned to Constantinople to enter the monastery of Polychronius, which Methodius had entered.
Meanwhile, reports of the great events happening among the Khazars reached Rastislav, Prince of Moravia. Aroused by their example, he negotiated with the Emperor Michael III for an evangelising mission to be sent from Constantinople, and his wish was granted. Thus, the great worth of Cyril and Methodius as seen in their previous accomplishments, together with their zeal for helping their neighbours, caused their selection for the Moravian mission.
As they began their journey through Bulgaria, which had already been converted to Christianity, they let pass no opportunity for increasing the faith. Upon reaching Moravia, they were met by a large crowd who had come with great desire and joy to greet them. Without delay the apostles strove to penetrate their minds with the doctrines of Christianity and to raise their hopes to heavenly things. They did this with so much force and with such energetic zeal that in a very short time the Moravian people gave themselves to Jesus Christ.
Much of their success was due to Cyril’s knowledge of the Slavic language, which he had acquired earlier. The influence of the Old and New Testaments as translated by him into the vernacular was also considerable. The whole Slavic people owe much to the man who gave them the Christian faith and with it the advantages of civilisation. Cyril and Methodius were also the inventors of the alphabet which afforded the Slavic tongue the means for a written language, and they are even looked upon as having formed the language. Another report from these remote provinces announced to Rome the glory of their deeds. And so, when Pope Nicholas I ordered the brothers to Rome, they obeyed without hesitation. They began their Roman journey quickly, bringing with them the remains of St Clement. At this news Adrian II, who was elected to replace the late Pope Nicholas, went out with the clergy and the people to greet the illustrious visitors. The body of St Clement was brought with great portents into the basilica constructed at the time of Constantine, in the very tracks of the ancestral home of that invincible martyr. Cyril and Methodius then recounted to the Supreme Pontiff and his clergy the apostolic mission they had fulfilled with so much holiness and labour. They were accused of acting in opposition to ancient customs and contrary to holy rites in making use of the Slavic language for religious matters. However, they pleaded their cause with such indisputable and noble reasoning that the pope and all the clergy praised them and approved their course of action. Both then took an oath in the Catholic manner and swore that they would remain in the faith of St Peter and of the popes. After that they were created bishops and consecrated by Adrian himself, and many of their disciples were raised to different grades in Holy Orders.
However, it was divine foresight that Cyril should die on February 14 869, more mature in virtue than in age. After a splendid public funeral like that given to popes, he was buried with honours in a tomb which Adrian had built for himself. Because the Roman people could not bear to send the holy corpse to Constantinople though his grieving parent asked for it, it was brought to the basilica of St Clement and buried near him whom Cyril had held in reverence for so many years. As he was taken through the city among festal songs and psalms – not so much in the manner of a funeral as that of a triumph – the Roman people made offerings of heavenly honour to the holy man.