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The 1150th Jubilee Year of Cyril and Methodius, co-patron Saints of Europe
When on December 31 1980 His Holiness John Paul II proclaimed Cyril and Methodius co-patron Saints of Europe, he wished to raise the awareness of all Christians and of all men of good will who have at heart the good and the unity of Europe, about the topical relevance of these preeminent figures, “Apostles to the Slaves”, role models and examples of spiritual support to the entire European continent, in the hope that all reasons for division between Churches, nations and peoples, in Europe and throughout the world, would be gradually overcome.
Born in Thessaloniki (in Slavish Solun), of a noble Greek family, Constantine – Cyril (b.827 – February 14 869) the youngest of seven brothers, already at a young age expressed the wish to devote himself entirely to the quest for wisdom that brought him to make the choice of priesthood, while Methodius (ca 812 – April 6 885), who initially undertook an administrative-military career, took the holy orders and became a monk at a later stage.
Their natural gifts, developed through their studies, turned useful in the diplomatic and religious missions they were eventually entrusted. Among these, the most important is undoubtedly the mission begun in 863 to the Slavish populations of the Empire of the Large Moravia, the first State of the Slaves, whose territory extended over today’s current Slovakia, part of the Czech Republic and Hungary.
On the request of the dukes Rastislav and Svätopluk, the Byzantine Emperor Michael III sent the two brothers Constantine-Cyrill and Methodius to the Moravian dukedom. In the first phase of the mission (863-867), and during the preparatory stage, St. Constantine-Cyrill, who had already entered the priesthood and was thus principle teacher played a major role. He devised a new type of alphabet, so-called Glagolitic, which reflected the phonetics of Slavish languages. After the death of St. Constantine-Cyrill in Rome, on February 14 869, St. Metodius was appointed at the head of the mission. He was thus consecrated bishop, archbishop and pontifical legate among Slavish peoples.
In addition to their primary evangelizing mission, the Slavish princes asked the bishop and the teachers to draw up good laws for their Country. The legislative opus of the Most Holy Brothers focused on canonical and civil legislation, with the implicit invitation to respect both laws, i.e., the law of God and positive human law, that should never contrast the fundamental norms of the first law of God.
Europe and the entire Western world, needed solid foundations on which to repose the much-needed legislation, especially regarding those themes encompassing ethical and legislative codes. More than ever, Methodius’ Exortation gains topical relevance today. There cannot exist a just law if it separated or even opposed to the law of God, both inscribed in the hearts of mankind and revealed. Indeed European juridical culture can act as the guiding light of humanity provided that it allows the light of the Gospel to illuminate its path. Each time that humanity has wished to develop its very own guiding lights based on distorted ideologies and on various – isms – especially those which interspaced the journey of humanity across the XX century, the vessel of mankind, attracted by those false lighthouses and by an untruthful light, was swept against the rocks and towards shipwreck.
The ecumenical dimension of the life, works and message of the Most Holy St. Cyril and Methodius deserve a special emphasis. The two Saints, offspring of the Church of Costantinople, united in life, in mission and in the glorification with the Church of Rome, are equally considered role models of righteous life and apostolate by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and they are also held in high consideration by the ecclesial communities born with the Reformation, announcing the Word of God, disseminating the translation of the Bible in the language of the peoples. In the deepest sense of the word, they are saints who reveal the Catholicity of the Church, which shuns private interests and instead focuses on the active co-responsibility and generous cooperation of everyone for the common good.
In the short range of time since the proclamation of the Most Holy Saints Cyril and Methodius as co-patrons of Europe, many aspects of the prophetical vision of John Paul II regarding the continent have been realized and others are currently under way. Today it is ever more urgent to unite also the soul of Europe, and this cannot be done without a union that encompasses the spiritual roots of this unity. The figures of the Saints Cyril and Methodius are an example of these roots, whose continuity enables the fruitful and vital growth of the tree of our Common Europe.
(*) segretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches
06/07/2012 - Cyril Vasil' (*)