May 11, 2020

Saint Rastislav, Prince of Great Moravia (+ 870)

St. Rastislav of Moravia (Feast Day - May 11)

Saint Rastislav (Rostislav; Rastiz) the Prince of Great Moravia, and Equal of the Apostles, became Prince in 846, following the death of his uncle Mojmir I. At that time, missionaries from Greece, the Balkans, and Germany were already preaching in the territory of Great Moravia. Prince Rastislav was among those who received Holy Baptism, and soon afterward he decided to enlighten the entire country with the light of the Christian faith.

Wary of the Frankish missionaries, who were subject to Louis (Ludwig) the German, King of East Francia, Prince Rostislav sought to increase his maneuverability and attempted to curtail the activities of the Frankish missionaries in his realm.

At first, Rastislav asked Pope Nicholas I of Rome to send him some missionaries who knew the Slavic language. When his request was refused, he turned to the Roman Emperor Michael III in Constantinople. As the Life of Saint Cyril says:

"For Rastislav, the Prince of Moravia, through God's admonition, took counsel with his Moravian princes and appealed to Emperor Michael, saying: "Though our people have rejected paganism and observe Christian law, we do not have a teacher who can explain to us in our language the true Christian faith, so that other countries which look to us might emulate us. Therefore, O lord, send us such a bishop and teacher; for from you good law issues to all countries."

On the advice of Patriarch Photios of Constantinople (Feb. 6), Michael in 863 sent Prince Rastislav two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodios, who had been educated in the Slavic language while in Thessaloniki, who translated the Bible, the Divine Liturgy, and other books into Slavonic. Icons and other items which were required for the Church Services were also provided, and Christian schools were established. Christianity spread rapidly throughout Great Moravia with the full support of Prince Rastislav.

The Frankish clergy soon came to realize that the activities of the two brothers represented a threat to their influence. As the missionaries from Constantinople enjoyed Rastislav's protection, Louis the German dispatched Bishop Solomon of Constance to Rome where he described how the diocese of Passau had been "fragmented and brought to ruin" by the defection of the Moravians.

Louis the German was also planning to launch a major campaign against Rastislav with the support of Boris I of Bulgaria. Although at the last minute the latter pulled out of the campaign, Louis' new expedition against Rastislav was a success. In August 864 Louis the German invaded Moravia, crossing the Danube to besiege the civitas Dowina (identified, although not unanimously, with Devín Castle in Slovakia). The king apparently took Rastislav by surprise, and trapped him within the fortress. Unable to escape the Frankish siege, Rastislav surrendered, turned over a numerous high-ranking hostages and swore a new oath of fidelity. The king's campaign, however, did not result in the subjugation of Rastislav.

Early in 868 Louis the German's son Carloman fought two successful engagements against Rastislav and returned with plunder. In 870, Svatopluk, the nephew of Rastoslav who governed a principality in Moravia, entered into negotiations with Carloman without Rastislav's knowledge, and accepted Carloman's lordship over his person and his realm. Rastislav was "beside himself with rage" when he learned of his nephew's betrayal, and arranged for assassins to strangle Svatopluk at a banquet. The latter, however, was warned of the plan and evaded death by pretending to go hawking. When Rastislav set out with his soldiers to hunt down his nephew, Svatopluk captured his uncle and sent him in bonds to Carloman.

Rastislav was dispatched under guard to Regensburg (Louis' capital city) while Carloman invaded Rastislav's realm and subdued all of his fortresses. Louis the German had Rastislav presented to him bound with a heavy chain. While the assembled Franks, Bavarians, and Slavs condemned Rastislav to death for treason, the king commuted his punishment to blinding and imprisonment. Rastislav died in prison in Regensburg.

Saint Rostislav was glorified by the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia at Prešov in October of 1994.