Theologists, Missionaries (826 and 815 – 869 and 885)
Constantine and Michael were two brothers from Thessaloniki, theologists and missionaries, who under the order of Emperor Michael disseminated Orthodox Christianity to the Slavs and created their first alphabet, the Glagolitic. While their work’s importance in Greece is somewhat negligible, they are considered as the most important saints of all in the Slavic civilization.
During the 9th century, when Emperor Ratsislav of Moravia sought help from the Byzantine Empire to neutralize the Franco-Bulgarian alliance that had posed as a threat to his empire, he turned to Byzantine Emperor Michael, who chose 2 theologists to introduce Orthodox Christianity to Great Moravia and translate its teachings to Slavic language, as part of a treaty, in return for the Byzantine Empire’s support. These two theologists were brothers Constantine and Michael. Constantine had graduated from the University of Constantinople with a degree in philosophy. Because of his ease to learn languages very quickly, he had great success as a diplomat of the Byzantine Empire with the Arabs and the Khazars. Michael, the older brother, had a familiarity with the Slavic language having worked in the monastery of Polichronos in Asia Minor.
There had been many missionaries from various kingdoms prior to the two brothers that were preaching the word of Jesus Christ. However, Constantine and Michael were the ones to successfully disseminate Christianity to them because they taught it in the Slavs’ own native language. Since there was no written Slavic language, they created the Glagolitic alphabet, the very first alphabet of the Slavs, which was used to translate hundreds of Christian works from Greek to Slavic, including the whole mystery of the Divine Liturgy. Many new words were created using Greek roots to express higher notions and meanings from Christianity. Thus, the Slavs could adore their God and perform the ecclesiastical mysteries in their own language.
Constantine and Michael laid the foundations of the Slavic literature; they transformed it from a language that was limited to expressing daily activities to a language that could express their God’s adoration. Michael translated the entire Old and New Testament as well as the Holy Scripture from Greek to Slavic with the help of two of his students while Constantine wrote numerous original treatises in Slavic.
Constantine and Michael received the highest honours from Pope Nicolas I for their offering to the Slavs. Shortly before his premature death, Constantine received the name Cyril while his brother Michael changed his name to Methodius and continued his work as a missionary in Moravia, preaching Orthodox Christianity and challenging many conservatives of the old religion. Even though he had a respectable amount of followers, Methodius and his students were imprisoned, tortured relentlessly and eventually sold as slaves. Their original alphabet also fell into disuse shortly after Methodius’ death due to its complexity.
The consignment of the two brothers to the Slavic world is enormous and eternal. After their deaths, their students and followers disseminated Christianity and scripture to Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Russia, where they found fertile ground to grow. The Glagolitic alphabet was replaced slowly over the centuries by the Cyrilic, so named in honour of Cyril, made by Climent of Ohrid, one of Methodius’ greatest students. It is the one used to this day by over 10 nations in Europe and Asia. Both earned the title of “equal-to-apostles” and co-patron saints. They were canonized by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and are commemorated on May 11th or May 24th.
- Άγιος Κύριλλος καὶ Μεθόδιος Φωτιστές των Σλάβων. Ορθόδοξος Συναξαριστής. Saint.gr. Web.
- Gonis, Dimitrios. Ιεραποστολικοί αγώνες των αγίων Κυρίλλου και Μεθοδίου-Αποτίμηση της προσφοράς τους. Βιβλιοθήκη «Πορφυρογέννητος». Apostoliki-diakonia.gr. Web.