Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Veneration of Saints Cyril and Methodios in Greece


By John Sanidopoulos

Both Saints Cyril and Methodios were born in Thessaloniki, Greece in the early 9th century. Their missionary activity in the Slavic lands, which was done on behalf of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and their death took place later that same century, with Cyril reposing in Rome in 869 and Methodios in Great Moravia in 885. Their disciples immediately recognized them as Saints, and soon after their repose so did all those lands in which they reposed and had successful missions, especially in Bulgaria, Moravia and Rome. However, despite the fact that much was written about them in Greek over the centuries, they were not recognized as Saints for many centuries in Greece and by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This is probably due to the fact that, according to the custom of the Orthodox Church, Saints are usually initially recognized at the local level, where they flourished and where their holiness especially shined. And as the veneration of these Saints grows locally, it becomes officially recognized and their veneration spreads outside of their local area.

Thus it was not until the second half of the 19th century that their veneration spread to their birthplace of Thessaloniki, having spread there through the Church of Bulgaria, where they had long been known and venerated. In 1885 the first church in Greece dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodios was built in Thessaloniki, though this was a Bulgarian church. Because this was a Bulgarian church in Greece, it tended to have nationalist tendencies, viewing Cyril and Methodios as symbols of their own nationalist ideas, therefore their veneration left Thessaloniki when the Bulgarians left during the Second Balkan War of 1913. After this time tensions increased between Bulgaria and Greece, and it came to its peak of tension in 1945 when the Bulgarian Church went into schism.

1970 Greek stamp depicting Sts. Cyril and Methodios

Saints Cyril and Methodios did not enter into the calendar of the Metropolis of Thessaloniki until 1957, when Metropolitan Panteleimon instituted the celebration of the Synaxis of All Saints Who Shined Forth in Thessaloniki and Pleased God, which was initially celebrated on the Second Sunday of Matthew and later moved to the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers. A Divine Office was composed for this by the Athonite monk Gerasimos Mikragiannanites, and he placed the Synaxarion of Saints Cyril and Methodios under May 11th. With this these Saints became more known, especially in scholarly circles. Knowledge of the two brothers in Thessaloniki became especially established in 1963, when the Metropolis of Thessaloniki and the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki dedicated a scholarly conference to them and their missionary work in the Slavic lands, which was done to honor the anniversary of eleven centuries since their missionary work began, as well as the thousand year anniversary of Mount Athos. A much larger Pan-Orthodox and ecumenical conference took place three years later in Thessaloniki in 1966. It was during the latter conference that serious talk began in order to collect funds and build the first church dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodios in their hometown of Thessaloniki.

Church of Saints Cyril and Methodios in Nea Paralia, Thessaloniki

On May 11, 1971 the foundation was put down for the first Greek church dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodios in Thessaloniki. To increase the awareness of these two Saints among the people, in 1970 stamps were issued with their image by the Greek government. In 1972 something known as "Cyralleia" was established, which were philanthropic actions and athletic games with participating European teams, especially from the Balkans, and this took place around the time of the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodios. A chapel dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodios was established in 1974 in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Xirokrini, Thessaloniki. Then on November 30, 1974, as an ecumenical gesture, Pope Paul VI gave Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios a portion of the relic of Saint Cyril, for the purpose of placing it in a church in Thessaloniki dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodios. The Patriarch kept this relic in his patriarchal chapel until February 7, 1976 when he gave it to Metropolitan Panteleimon of Thessaloniki. It was initially placed in the Church of Saint Demetrios, and that day a Great Vespers was served in honor of the Saints. A church was not completed and consecrated for the Saints until May 12, 1985, on the 1100 year anniversary since the repose of Saint Methodios.

Today there are many churches in Greece dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodios. In Thessaloniki alone there are three: in Xirokrini, Nea Paralia and Euosmo. There are also churches in Xanthi, Langada, Alexandreia and at the site of the 2014 Olympics in Athens. Other churches are in Promachonas, Serres and Doiran, Kilkis, while there are chapels in the catacombs of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Piraeus and on the campus of the Orthodox Academy of Crete in Chania. Greek churches to Saints Cyril and Methodios are also in Kirchheim unter Teck, Germany and Ostend, Belgium.

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