Thursday of the 5th Week in Course 2019
Ss Cyril and Methodius
After Pentecost, the Catholic Church was made up exclusively of Jews. In fact, for many years it was considered a Jewish cult. But Gentiles who had made a study of religion and who had become Jews or followers of Jews found the teachings of Rabbi Jesus to be very attractive, particularly because the cult we follow demands baptism and offers the other sacraments, but does not insist on strict dietary laws and circumcision. So they came to the Church and accepted her disciplines. This created some tensions with those who continued to follow the strict Mosaic law.
St. Mark, writing probably in Rome, served a community made of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. So he, like St. Luke, emphasizes stories like this one of the Syro-Phoenician woman, a Greek and non-Jew. She comes to Jesus, like so many, begging for her daughter to be exorcized of her unclean spirit. Jesus seems to be cruel, but He was probably mocking those who considered salvation to be only for the Jews: “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” The Jews were accustomed to dehumanizing their Gentile neighbors. The woman throws the joke right back at the Master: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs, a sign of her persistence and faith.” The daughter is cured immediately. So, almost from the very beginning, the Gospel was preached to those who were not Jews, because it is God’s will that all be offered the gift of eternal life, of the sacraments, of salvation.
God’s intention from the creation of Adam and Eve is that humans be members of a single family. Sin disrupted that human unity, of course, but God’s intention continues to be to bring us together in His Church. “It is not good for man to be alone.” So in every age He has raised up prophetic figures who mobilized the faithful to associate and promote evangelization.
God did that in the 9th century, a time Westerners know as part of the Dark Ages, by raising up Ss Cyril and Methodius in the Eastern Roman Empire. It was not a propitious time for Catholicism. The Vikings were ravaging much of Western Europe. The Muslims were overrunning the islands of the Mediterranean, capturing Messina in Sicily and occupying southern Italy. But the Holy Spirit raised up some great leaders, especially Pope John VIII (8th), who supported Archbishop Methodius as he and Cyril worked to spread Catholicism into the territories we call Russia.
Theirs was a work of evangelization and inculturation, for they developed not only catechetical tools for the Slavs, but even a written language, one that evolved into the Cyrillic characters we recognize in Russian writing today. They antedated Vatican II by a millennium, adapting the Sacred Liturgy of the East to the Slavic language and temperament.
“The brothers wrote the first Slavic Civil Code, which was used in Great Moravia. The language derived from Old Church Slavonic, known as Church Slavonic, is still used in liturgy by several Orthodox Churches and also in some Eastern Catholic churches. It is impossible to determine with certainty what portions of the Bible the brothers translated. The New Testament and the Psalms seem to have been the first, followed by other lessons from the Old Testament.” In other words, the readings used in the Liturgy had priority for translation.
St. Cyril died on this day in the year 869. “Methodius now continued the work among the Slavs alone; not at first in Great Moravia, but in Pannonia,” which we know as the area around Croatia. His life was not one of ease, because his mission came into conflict with German rulers and bishops. But his work was instrumental in spreading the faith of Christ into the East, and so Pope St. John Paul II declared them two of the “Patron saints of Europe” in 1980.
As the Church learns to breathe with both lungs, east and west, we pray together with our Orthodox and Eastern Catholic brethren: “Saints Cyril and Methodius, pray for us.”