May 11, 2022

Saints Cyril and Methodios of Thessaloniki, Teachers of the Slavs

By Panagiotis K. Chrestou,
Professor of the Theological School 
of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki


By the beginning of the 9th century, more than one thousand one hundred years had passed since the establishment of the city of Thessaloniki (315 BC). During this period, the city had undergone days of great glory and terrible suffering, still, it remained glorious and proud.

As it was the capital of Illyria during the Byzantine period, it came great battles to protect Hellenism and Christianity from the barbarians that continuously arrived from the North: the Goths, Huns, Avars and Slavs.

Protector in those battles was the all-glorious martyr Demetrios, would appear over the city walls in a white mantle and continuously empower the defenders when the raiders narrowed the siege. That's why the Thessalonians never missed a chance to express their gratitude towards their saviour Saint.

By the end of the 7th century, the invasions seized and Thessaloniki entered into a new flourishing period. Up until then, Saint Demetrios strongly protected the city from barbarian invasions, but since that time, he strengthened it to enlighten them through word and spirit. This work was not unknown within the city's Christian tradition, which during the times of the apostles was a centre of the transmission of the Gospel to the Greeks. That is why Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in praise: "so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaea who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaea, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we don't need to say anything". Those words were about to be reconfirmed during the times of the great missionaries Cyril and Methodios.

The scholar priest John Kameniatis at the beginning of the third century describes the city and it's outskirts in vivid colours. Abundant plains, he says, open up towards both sides of Mount Hortiatis. The north side for the greatest part is taken by two lakes with abundant fish and the rest of it is cultivated land or grazed by farm animals. The plain extending to the mountain's southern side and east of the city is characterized by indescribable beauty, with fields, vineyards, gardens, vast forests and plentiful water. Numerous monasteries by the mountain's foothills and plain embellish the passersby and visitor's eyes. Yet another plain towards the city's west extends equally fruitful.

Thessaloniki at the time was large with numerous inhabitants. It was surrounded by strong walls and towers. Crowds filled up its marketplace and main avenue which divided the city in two parts. From the corners of the earth, the city's economic bloom defined it a centre of attraction for merchants' interests and pirates' plundering intentions.

Magnificent churches and dominating public buildings adorned the city's squares and crowds were admitted in order to fulfill their religious and social needs. The Archbishop's throne was then honoured through two acclaimed men of foreign districts, Joseph the Hymnographer and Leon the Mathematician, later to become Dean of Constantinople's university.

But the city's luminous crown was knitted by two of her own offspring, Cyril and Methodios.


The two brothers' parents were of devout origin. Their father, Leon served in Thessaloniki as a drungarius, that is a chiliarch, thereafter promoted to general. He then gathered Macedonia's political and military power in his hands. They bore seven children of which the last, Constantine was born in 827. Methodios may have been born in 820.

The Godly atmosphere that prevailed at Leon's home, granted the first boost in the brothers' the spiritual occupation. Very often, their steps would guide them to the city's magnificent churches, to 'Acheiropoieton' Church (Not Made With Hands) and 'Hagia Sophia' Church (Holy Wisdom), and yet more often to the city's patron St Demetrios Church, of which they would watch the procession every year on the main avenue. At other times they would exit the great walls to go around the numerous monasteries that were scattered in the country. Their involvement in the church's devoted life educated and enlightened their character.

When their father passed away, Methodios had completed his studies. He had frequented a program of classes destined for the ones trained for a place in the highest positions of public service. Through the empress Theodora, he was appointed commander of 'Sklavenia', that is a province of the Greek Empire that was inhabited by a majority of Slavic population, that had peacefully invaded scarce populated areas. There he dedicated himself in the systematic learning of the Slavic language, of which he was already familiar through his family's Slavic originated servants.

A few years later, he left his office, to retire in Bythinia's Olympus. This mountain was what later became Athos: a mountain where monks reside. He settled in one of its monasteries and dedicated himself zealously into practice, prayer and theological study.

Constantine, renamed into Cyril during the last days of his life, demonstrated as of his youth remarkable learning ability. At the age of 14, his age when his father passed away, he had memorized Gregory the Theologian's writings. He later went to Constantinople to continue his studies in the university there, that had just been re-instituted and operated under the administration of Leon the Mathematician, a distinguished scientist, former archbishop of Thessaloniki. He was hosted in the capital and had as his guardian the avenues' logothete, that is, the prime minister, Theoktestos, his relative. Next to Leon and Photios he studied geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric, literature, dialect and philosophy. He had special ability also in language learning. He was a phenomenon of multilingualism not only in that era, in which methods of foreign language teaching were unknown, but also all through the ages; as, apart from the Greek language, he spoke Slavic, Syrian, Hebrew, Samaritan, Arabic, Khazarian (Turkish), Latin, possibly other languages too.

In contrast to his brother, Constantine did not leave the capital, even if, at some point he wanted to follow his example and go into an ascetic monastery in Bosporus. He was anointed priest, appointed the patriarchy's librarian and finally emerged philosophy professor in the Constantinople's university. From then on, he was named Constantine the Philosopher. He too was living ascetically.

The two brothers were preparing themselves for the great missions for which they would have been called. They held a remarkable ability in taking action and had gained enviable scientific training. They were striving also for another thing, spiritual perfection. In their monastic cells they succeeded in ascending to God through prayer and this ascent was a continuous experience for them. They were men in body and angels in spirit.


The Greek Byzantium was for the last two hundred years in a state of retraction (reduction of territorial extension) due to three causes: firstly, due to the recurrent raids of barbaric tribes, especially via the north and south, causing continuous afflicted bleeding; secondly, due to their aversion in conquering foreign terrain, originating from the desire to conserve and transmit this ancestral legacy; and thirdly, due to its one hundred year civil strife over the icons. Taking advantage of this situation were on one hand the Arabs, through an unanticipated awakening, on the other the Slavs, in a long-term methodical infiltration, managing to deprive the Byzantium many of its richest provinces, like Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and large sections of Thrace and Illyria.

Christianity, was also under continuous strain in that same period. While, from the time the persecutions stopped, up until the appearance of the above people around the empire's borders, Christianity managed to extend into the depths of Africa and the remotest parts of Asia, but as of then, it rapidly retreated and lost one after the other, almost all possession in these continents, up until the northern areas of Haemus' Peninsula.

In the midst of the ninth century, there was a notable radical change in things, that coincided with the cessation of iconoclasm. Under the rule of three men, emperor Michael the 3rd, prime minister Vardas, and Patriarch Photios, Byzantine Hellenism reformed internally, got militarily reorganized and revived spiritually. This spiritual regeneration was mainly the power that mobilized the entire state's growth.


Part of the plan included confronting Muslims, who, after having taken the empire's rich terrains, never ceased raiding the eastern provinces, targeting mainly to plunder them. Many million Christians still lived under the rule of the Muslim Arabs. It was necessary for those people to regain courage and for the conquerors to treat them more mildly. But Byzantine arms were unable to significantly influence this situation.

In the year 856, Photios was sent to the Caliphate of Baghdad, for political negotiations. A few years later, around 860, Constantine was entrusted with another mission in discussions that were to take place with Caliph Moutavakil, pertaining in improving the position of Christians living there. There was hope that through discussion fanaticism and Arab fury would recede, but more so, there was hope that the enslaved Christians' spirit would revive, when announcing that a powerful co-Christian had visited the Caliphate's capital and embarrassed Muslim theologians.

He arrived in the Caliphate's capital with a secretary, in an age of increased pressures and persecutions against Christians. Among other things, the rulers had forced the Christians to paint on their homes the form of the devil. In his visit, Constantine was ironically asked by Muslims what this depiction meant. He replied in characteristic brilliance: "I see devil depictions and conclude that inside those houses live Christians; as, devils cannot coexist with them, they exited their homes. Where I do not see those depictions, obviously the devils are still living inside".

In a discussion with Muslim theologians during a symposium, Constantine pointed out one of the most notable differences between them. The Christians he said, march towards obtaining perfection through ethical battles and go through difficulties on their way, but their achievements are more spiritual. Muslims do not struggle ethically, because their religious law does not entail restrictions, and that is why, they cannot improve ethically.

Constantine's mission to the Arab state brought about some relief amid Christians there. On his way back, he passed by his brother Methodios' monastery, in Olympus, and stayed with him for a while to rest.


Constantine's last mission was not a coincidental and isolated fact. For the last two centuries both Christianity and the Greek empire were diminishing because of Arabic invasion. Now, it was time to awaken and sharply grow after the long century contraction. Unfortunately, the attempt to expand towards the east did not come to any result. But even if Christianity lost ground southwards and eastwards due to the bloody violence from Muslims, there was still room for action towards the north.

Patriarch Photios realized at the right moment that the Slavs and Turks of the north, the Khazarians, having been in touch with Greeks for a very long time, were ready to be won over and enter the group of Christian people, and simultaneously in the circle of civilized humanity.

In order to secure the foundation of all efforts towards that direction, a careful study of their traditions was to be prioritized, especially of the Slavic people, a literary configuration of the Slavic language and a translation of the necessary books in it. In order to prepare for his endeavor, a special centre of Slavic studies was formulated in Constantinople, in which missionaries and educators were trained. Constantine was appointed overseer of the centre by Emperor Michael and Photios, who from that moment onwards undertook organizing all enlightened missions.

In the year 860, numerous Russian troops invaded Constantinople in unseen cruelty using wooden canoes. Photios characterized it as follows in one of his speeches: "the illogicality of attack, the unexpectedness of speed, the inhumanity of barbaric tribe, the cruelty of their behaviour, and the aggressive conviction, present this disaster as if a lightning was sent from heaven". Fortunately the invasion was repelled just as unexpectedly as it had been initiated.

The Russians were then a Slavic nation under the small Scandinavian tribe, the Varangians, that had descended from lake Ladoga. Even though Russians were subdued, their language prevailed and finally the Varangians were blended with them. At the time, they held the areas in between the great rivers of Dnieper and Don. During their invasion to the capital of the Greek empire, legendary Tsargad, they experienced in full her glow, and amid repulsion, her power.

So they realized that it was better to maintain friendship with the Greeks rather than enmity. And Byzantium eased them in it. It would have been of great use to send representatives capable to put in place the basis for Christianizing the Slavs in the north, but also the Khazarians that were located to their east. This would also be beneficial from a political point of view; because Christianity always brought about moral disciplining and up to a certain point appeased aggressive intentions of the barbarians it was accepting.

The emperor and Photios could not have found a more suitable person than Constantine. Him, having just recently returned from his mission to the Arabs, accepted the order without hesitation, and took Methodios with him, seemingly he had followed him to the capital from Olympus. Methodios was older than Constantine, but subdued to his brother, because he was more qualified for the mission. The first focused more in prayer, while the other in speech. But later too, Methodios became a very strong reformer.

The two brothers took the boat to Kherson of Crimea. Crimea's regime was utterly liquid: to their east, the Khazarians dominated, north the Russians and west the Hungarians, while various tribes of these groups were also inhabiting inside the peninsula. There, resided also a number of Greek inhabitants and a few monks.

On a day when the missionaries were in a Greek monastery and performed the liturgy, a crowd of Hungarians attacked them, ready to tear them in pieces. The brothers were not at all shaken. They only said "Lord have mercy" and continued the liturgy. When the raiders saw that they were not frightened, they remained astonished and did not touch them.

In Crimea, Constantine excelled in his ability to create literary and translation works. He met educated rabbis and through them he was given the chance to improve his knowledge in the Hebrew language. There, he also translated Hebrew grammar, appearing for the first time. He also met an elder Samaritan, that showed him the Bible of his community, meaning the Samaritan Pentateuch, which he accomplished to read.

Between the Russians he found excerpts from the Gospel and Psalms translated into the Slavic language in Syrian characters. Then, yet again, they realized that they needed a new alphabet, able to yield all the sounds of the Slavic language.

Just before they continued east, they pulled out of the sea St Clement's holy relic, bishop of Rome. According to an old tradition, Clement was exiled to Kherson in 100 A.D. and his captors threw him at sea tying a rock around his neck. The brothers took his holy relic to the Church of Kherson and carried away with them part of it, which they later transferred to Rome. Constantine wrote in his honour: Clement's life, encomiums and hymns.

This mission's results were very significant. They did not proceed internally in the Russian country, but they did come into contact with its representatives in Crimea and areas north of the city. The Russians allowed for the free entry of missionaries in their country and accepted a bishop. This way, solid bases were created for the complete Christianization of the vast country during the coming century.


After several months stay in Crimea, the missionaries went to Khazaria. During that time exactly, the leader of the Khazarians requested the mission into his country through a delegation, to prove Christianity's supremacy against the Jewish and Muslim religion, so that his people would accept it.

The two brothers were ordered to visit his country. The Khazarians, a branch of the Turkish family, occupied at the time the area ranging from Crimea to Lower Volga, and from Euxinus to Caspia. They were more civilized than other Turkish tribes and their country was an attraction pole for Greeks, Arabs, and Jewish merchants.

They retained friendly relations with the Byzantines since the seventh century. Justinian II fled there and married one of their Khagan ruler's daughters. A few decades later, the daughter of another Khagan, Irene, became wife of of Constantine V. Now their leaders felt the necessity to be more closely connected to them. One way of doing that, was to accept the Christian religion. They believed in one God, obviously, directly influenced from Christianity. But Judaism and Islam had already spread among the people there. Whatever idolatry lost, they gained. So, the necessity to react was urgent.

Constantine and Methodios left Kherson on a boat and debarked on Euxinus' eastern shores. Atil was the capital of Khazaria, but the Khagan used to live at times also in Sarkel, a city near Euxinus, built by Byzantine architects.

Successive discussions took place on Khagan's table, with spokesmen first of Judaism, then also Islamism, but they were defeated. The impression made was great. Two hundred officials were immediately baptized by the missionaries and others stated that they would later follow their example. The Khagan declared the same thing in a letter to the emperor.

The missionaries returned to Constantinople again through Kherson.


The Slavs appear for the first time in history in the end of the first century A.D. At the time, they were living east of the Germans, in the area of Vistula. During the sixth century, three tribes existed, the Slavs, the Vends and the Antons. They were separate smaller groups, but foreigners commonly named them Sklavins or Sklavs.

After consecutive movements that begun during the third century and lasted up to the ninth century, they spread to the greatest part of Europe, from Don to the Alps, and from Baltic to Haemus. Their actions, at least during the earlier times, were peaceful. Their great growth and expansion can be explained from the fact that they did not engage in battle and so did not suffer losses from warfare conflict. When they permanently settled in the areas acquired, they also formed militarily.

By the ninth century they had stabilized the positions they now hold in that area with only a few subsequent differentiations. The Russians then held, as we have seen, the areas between Dnieper and Don, while on their surroundings lived other Slavic branches, that later amalgamated. The Poles lived around river Vistula. Elbe was inhabited by Velets, Abordites and Sorbs, that later merged with their neighbouring tribes. The Moravians, Czechs and Slovakians also occupied their present region and part of Pannonia. In the rest of Pannonia settled the Slovenians. Northern Illyria was shared between the Croats and Serbs, while northern Thrace was occupied by the Bulgarians. Various branches living in the Greek regions were either expelled or later assimilated.

The Slavs lived as nomads in huts that were informally built. Slowly, they developed agricultural and pastoral settlements. They built forts for their safety, 'grads', that evolved into towns; but this development was only noted during the ninth century. Justice was established by their warlords and traditions. There was no writing or education.

It was impossible for them to have churches; instead of priests they had wizards, through which they sought help during difficult times in their life. The rites would be performed by family leaders or fathers, that safeguarded their sacred symbols. It seems that the Slavs' initial deity was the goddess of fertility. This explained their immoral sexual life. Thereafter, the god of the sun or fire prevailed, that was given a different name under each Slavic branch. Through him were accepted a multitude of nymphs and spirits, who were believed to reside in fire, water, trees and houses. They worshipped their forefathers, but did not retain any representations of hades; they believed that the soul was material and wondered around the earth after death. Their widows often committed suicide so that they would be buried in with their husbands, while children and elderly were murdered during times of hunger. In comparison to other people, they were late to be Christianized. This was due to the fact, that for many centuries they were nomads, and wherever they settled, they would force the locals to flee their land or assimilate. Wherever they met Christianity, as in Thrace, or Illyria and Pannonia, they destroyed it.

The first elements of Christianity were acquired by the slavs from the inhabitants of the above areas, who remained there. Those people, despite having lost their religious form, managed to retained the basic elements of religious faith, which they unconsciously transmitted to the invaders. This is the reason why the southern Slavs were the first to approach the idea of the one God. But Christian faith was also spread through war prisoners, merchants and missionaries. Greek missionaries worked in all Slavic nations, while the Italians and Germans were limited to the western Slavs.

Christianity helped the Slavic nations in strengthening their national power and socially organizing themselves so that they could enter the group of civilized nations.


During the two missionaries' return to Constantinople from Khazaria, Emperor Michael III and Patriarch Photios manifested great satisfaction. Taking the opportunity, they tried to persuade Methodios not to return to Olympus, because they considered him essential in serving the Church. They proposed that he accepts to be made bishop, designating him probably for Russia, but he refused it, so they were forced to send someone else. He granted their request not to return to Olympus, but to become reverend in the Monastery of Polyhronios located in Propontis, east of Cyzicus. In this way, he remained closer to the capital.

Constantine was made professor of the Patriarchal School of Theology, housed in specific buildings of the Holy Apostles. He taught, studied and prepared himself for something magnificent, which was waiting for him.

In year 862, the ruler of Moravia, Rostislav, sent a delegation to Constantinople and requested someone to teach Christianity to his subjects. The Byzantium and the ecumenical patriarchate had arranged things in such a way so that the leaders of the uncivilized nations would themselves ask for the missions. The letter brought in by the delegates stated: "We are Slavs, simple people. Our people rejected idolatry and honour Christian law, but we do not have a competent teacher to preach to us real faith in our language. Other people will obviously follow our example. Send us, Lord, such a bishop and teacher. Through you, indeed, the good law is transmitted to all countries".

Immediately a council was held with President Emperor Michael III, in which Prime Minister Vardas, Patriarch Photios and other personalities participated. They all wanted Constantine. He was invited by the emperor, who said: ""I know, philosopher that you feel tired, but you need to go there, because no one else can handle this mission". The philosopher answered, whether he was tired, or whether he was sick, he would go there with joy; as long as they had an appropriate alphabet for their language. Certainly, he himself had translated text into Slavic in Greek characters, and noticed that not all sounds could be pronounced. The emperor then said: "My grandfather, my father and many others have searched for the alphabet, but could not find it. How could I accomplish that?"Constantine felt weak, but the emperor continued: "If you want, then God can help you find it, because he gives to the ones that ask and opens to the ones that knock".

The philosopher left the council, and according to his practice begun praying with some of his partners. God's help was not late to appear. Constantine, after having been illuminated by God, created the first Slavic alphabet and thereafter occupied himself with translating John's gospel. "In the beginning was the Word".

The script style that Cyril invented is called Glagolitic. While it is based initially on Greek minuscule characters, it rounds, complicates and changes them. For the sounds that are absent from the Greek language, it uses Hebrew characters, or others invented by himself. Cyril wanted to emphasize with this difficult script, the Slav's national and lingual mannerism. Later, the script was altered into using Greek capital letters and was simplified; in this way, the well known 'Cyrillic alphabet' was formed.

The language in which the two brothers translated the biblical and liturgical texts was the one spoken then by the southern Slavic tribes, that had entered into Greek empire terrain. Many Dragovites and Sagudates were coming to Thessaloniki for trade reasons and even more people were working as servants in Thessalonian noble families. Members of those families and merchants too, were in necessity learning many words of that unrefined dialect, as the non culturally developed migrants, were unable to learn the eclectic and complex Greek language, otherwise communication would be impossible. Naturally, people of Constantine's and Methodios' intellect easily understood the mechanics of this language.

Because all slavic branches had been separated just four hundred years ago, there were no grand differences in dialect. Subsequently, the southern Slavic language was understood by western and northern Slavs.

But the linguistic form that was used by the two brothers was not perfectly identical to that spoken dialect, as it had been changed through their writing. It acquired compound words, new linguistic types and solemn character. Even if, to a certain point it was an artificial language and was never completely used in oral speech, it constituted the base of development of all national Slavic languages and became a means of unity of Slavic people from that time until today.

Before Constantine embarked on that great voyage, he translated the four Gospels, the epistles of the New Testament, and a collection of patristic texts. He also wrote grammar and speeches. In translating the Gospels, he inserted as an introduction one of his poems, that shows the missionaries' aspirations:

A mouth that bears not sweetness
alters man into stone;
far more a soul deprived of letters
numbs out within human existence.
Considering this, brothers,
we offer you proper advice,
which delivers the entire universe
from brute life and passions.


During the ninth century, Moravians were under monarchical rule in rural form. Residing in the area that was once inhabited by Longobards, they were subdued to the German state, but were continuously under revolutionary movements and at times enjoyed complete independence. Under the control of their leaders –except Moravians– were also the Czechs, Slovakians, various groups of Poles and Slavic tribes of Elba. They were in a state of growth that stopped a few decades later because of the Hungarian conquest.

Christianity begun spreading to Moravians from the Greek, Italian and German missionaries. The ruler and several nobles were baptized, but the people remained in idolatry. When Rostislav said that the people had accepted Christian faith, he was preempting a development that he hoped, would not delay. He turned to Byzantium, in order to obtain a bishop, aiming at the complete diffusion of Christian faith and the formation of a Church in his country. The turning point towards the Byzantium came because of two reasons; firstly, because he knew that there existed a preparation of translation of ecclesiastic books in the Slavic language, and secondly, because he had no fear of political interference, as he did from the German state.

The Byzantium did not send over a bishop, as, from the Orthodox Greek point of view bishops were to govern a specified province and were unable to carry out missionary work. This is why, instead of a bishop, they sent over a team of missionaries. The team, with leaders Constantine and Methodios, set off to Moravia in the spring of 863. Their team was also composed of Clement, Naum, Angelarios, Sawas and some other companions, that were later distinguished for their missionary work.

Emperor Michael III, equipped the mission's leader with a letter saying: "Here, I send you the one to whom God has revealed this alphabet. He is a devout and Orthodox man, very wise and a philosopher".

Most probably, they followed the road through Traianoupoli, Philippi, Thessaloniki, Skopia, Naissus, Singidun (Belgrade), Sirmium, until the Moravian borders, where emperor delegates were expecting them.

The people of Moravia warmly received the Greek missionaries. Besides, it was not a small honour made to those proud but uneducated people, through the visit and stay of such educated Byzantine monks, that granted the alphabet and books translated in their native language.

First stop for the missionaries was Rostislav's palace, located in today's Mikultschutz. Thereafter, they stayed in a part of today's Stare Mesto, where the first Byzantine missionaries were formerly settled, and many Greek merchants. In their time, it was called Belgrade.

The Moravians lived in rural settlements, in families. Every region had one or more forts, 'grads', were chiefs and their armies resided. These forts were later developed into towns. Belgrade, is most probably the only fort of Moravia that had already developed into a town.

Constantine and Methodios dedicated themselves to their work using systems and effectiveness. Firstly, they founded a school for the study of youth coming from noble families that were learning the alphabet, grammar, the Holy Bible and the liturgical services.

At the same time they extended their teachings to the people and baptized the ones that embraced Christianity. Through this learning process they sent their partners out to the country's scattered settlements. In this way, Christianity, that had spread into few forts having obtained wooden churches, was proclaimed until the country's other end, not only amongst Moravians but also Czechs, Slovakians and Poles.

The missionaries translated the liturgical services so that they could be slowly used in their devotion according to calendar procession. They were preoccupied also in building stone churches, many of which have today been discovered through archeological extractions.

The work of those Greek missionaries was much more successful than the Italian or German counterparts. But Greeks accepted them, despite the fact they noted that, not only did they allow malpractices, but also brought in superstitions from the idolatrous Moravians. But instead they rose against them. Taking the opportunity of Rostislav's submission to Ludovic the German in 864, a little after the arrival of the Greek missionaries, to discourage and accuse them. They claimed that God could only be adored in three languages, the Hebrew, Greek and Latin (meaning, the languages that Pontius Pilate wrote on the Lord's Cross), but not the Slavic. Constantine rapidly overturned their claims and characterized them trilingual and 'Pilatics'. Nevertheless, the reasons behind this attack were different. The Germans were outraged by the formal invitation of the Greek missionaries because they disliked the Byzantines. From their side too, the Greeks ignored the Germans considering them barbarians and contenders of the emperor's title. And besides, Slavs characterized them as 'nemets', that is, barbarians. Leader of the German clergy of Moravia was Vihig, while that of the Italians was John.

Rostislav, pressured by the political developments, tried to get them to compromise. He invited all teams to express their views, but they did not come to an accord.

The missionaries remained for this initial period, three years and four months in Moravia, that is, from winter of 863 to the beginning of year 867. They had already trained many students, among which 100 theologians, but they were short of priests to perform the liturgical service. It was known, that the only priest amongst them was Constantine but it was obvious that some of his partners were anointed, as also from the old Greek missionaries that were added to them. But they were not enough to cover the Church's needs that were continuously growing. They needed to ask for the anointment of one or two bishops so that priesthood could pass on to others.


The two brothers left Moravia, after leaving there some of their companions. Initially, they went to Vladinski Costel, capital of Pannonia. This country, once belonging to the Roman empire, was already occupied by Slovenians. Christianity was destroyed but now was again on the rise. The ruler, Kocel, was Christian, he envied Moravians' luck for having found such teachers. He had come into contact with the missionaries earlier also. Now, they were arriving at his country to fulfill his request, to teach the Slovenians. Their leader received them in justified enthusiasm, he himself learned Slavic script and read their books. They remained in Pannonia for six months and trained 50 students.

Afterwards, the missionaries continued on their way. What was their destination? Certainly, Constantinople. They had received a grand mission from Emperor Michael III and Patriarch Photios. They had followed all their requests and now, seeing that the Churches of Moravia and Slovenia could be organized into metropolises, went to the empire's capital to accept anointment.

But when still at Pannonia (Slovenia), they received bad news. Boris of Bulgaria had detached the Bulgarian Church from the patriarchate's influence and turned towards the west. So it was not wise to pass through Bulgarian territory heading for Constantinople, but instead they took the sea route. So they descended to Venice. They were received in aggressive manner by western bishops, priests and monks, accusing them of using Slavic language in their devotion. Constantine answered that all people had the right to read the Bible and worship God in their native language.

The Venetians placed the missionaries under confinement, while pope Nicholas I, that was in strong opposition to Photios, called them into Rome for questioning. They arrived in December of 867. But already, the situation had changed. Nicholas was dead, and new pope became Adrian II. The clergy and people of Rome enthusiastically received the missionaries, because, as they later were informed, had brought them a precious present, the holy relics of St Clement. For this reason, and because the pope wished to maintain good relations with Constantinople, there were obstacles in the brothers' wishes. The pope accepted the Slavic books and placed them inside a central church in the city.

After that, in order of the pope, the bishops of Formosa -later to become pope- and Gauderich, they anointed Methodios and three of his students into priesthood, while another two into readers. The post anointment liturgy was serviced in Slavic.

The two brothers and their students stayed in Greek monasteries by Rome and awaited their anointment into bishops. But time was passing and the anointments were delaying. The pope was hesitating because he feared the spread of Greek influence in the area he considered his own.

In the meantime, Constantine, having a weak organism fell ill. When he understood that his end was drawing near, he wore his vestment and remained dressed all day, while he happily said: " I am no longer a servant of the emperor nor of anyone else on this earth, but only to the all-powerful God, I did not exist, I existed and will exist into eternity. Amen". The following day, he wore the monastic vestment and was named Cyril. He remained 50 days in this garment, but when he realized the day of his death, he prayed: "Lord, my God, You who have created all angelic orders and heavenly powers; You who have stretched the heavens, set the earth and created everything from nothing; You who always hears the ones that do your will, the ones who fear You and keep Your commandments, listen to my prayer, and guard your faithful flock, the head of which you have placed me, Your servant, the incapable and unworthy. Save them from the impious and idolatrous evil of the one who blaspheme You. Destroy the heresy of the three languages".

He died at age 42 in 869. The pope ordered for a grand funeral, but Methodios did not agree. He thought to transfer the relic to Constantinople, but the Romans forbid it. In this way, Cyril was buried in St Clement's church, at the right side of the Altar.


Moravians and Slovenians impatiently waited for the brothers, but they were not showing up. Kocel of Slovenia requested for Methodios in a letter so the pope sent him in the spring of 869, a little after Cyril's death. The pope, in his letter to Kocel and Rostislav was praising Methodios' Orthodox spirit, instructed that the liturgies would be performed in Slavic and characterized wolves the ones that ignored the books written in this language.

However, discontent in Slovenia was great, because the Slovenians were asking for a bishop and the pope hesitated to anoint Methodios into a bishop. He feared the possibility that Methodios would reclaim independent the Church of Slovenia and Moravia, as he truly sought to. Kocel acted decisively. He sent back Methodios into Rome escorted by 20 Slovenian officials and demanded he was anointed into bishop, warning that otherwise he would request it from the Byzantines. And the leader's decisiveness won. The pope anointed Methodios into a bishop and he moved to the capital of the Slovenian state, with the tittle of archbishop of Sirmia, Illyria's old capital, located a little more south than Danube.

The ecclesiastic system created following the two brothers' activity was self-headed, according to Byzantine perception. The two great sections of the united then Church were distinguished by this, because of their differences in traditions and mentality. In the west, the ideal of absolute concentration and unity, inherited from ancient Rome, demanded that the Christianized areas would focus on created units of one and unbreakable western Church in Latin –and for that period– under the power of the German state. In the east, the ideal of a federal union, that was inherited via the Greek and Christian past, compromised that the Christianized areas would form self-headed Churches in their local languages, and would remain under the political power of independent states.

In this way, that Church would not administratively depend on neither Constantinople, nor Rome, but would communicate with both. It would have been founded according to instructions from Constantinople and the Greek spirit of autonomy. In fact, it formed a prototype, based on which the other slavic Churches formed, with the only difference being that they had been luckier in terms of foreign factor intervention.

Methodios' activity was stronger now that he held a higher position. He anointed a vast part of his students, Slovenians, Croatians and Serbs, to which his jurisdiction extended. The Croatians and Serbs had accepted the first missionaries' from the Byzantine possessions of the Adriatic, under the Byzantine government care. Now Christianity was proceeding inside them extensively and deeply. All three Churches maintained Slavic character, but the Croatian one turned later to Rome under ruler Branimir, who in year 879 murdered Zdeslav. In Slovenia, this character was partly retained until our time, despite the fact that Roman Catholicism later prevailed. In fact, they also retained the initial Slavic script, Glagolitic.

During the same time, Methodios anointed many of his students from Moravia, which he sent back to their country to continue their work. Among them was Gorazd.

But this work ceased early. The German Church and political leaders discontented over Methodios' activity results. It gave Slavic Churches, not only Slavic but also Greek character, to the Latin's clergy big disappointment, and closed the path for a new turn towards Germany.

At exactly that point in time, Ludovic the German invaded Moravia in three armed groups and subdued it again. Rostislav, having invited the Greek missionaries to this country, was dethroned and blinded. Kocel feared the same for himself. That's why, when German clergy arrested Methodios and drove him to Germany, he did not react.

In November of 870, Methodios was trialled by Bavarian bishops in Regensurg, claiming he had supposedly acquired an area belonging to the archbishopric of Salzburg.

During that time there was a strong tendency of German Church schisms from Rome, that we can see at the present situation. Methodios named his persecutors 'barbarians' in front of Ludovic. After being condemned he was imprisoned in the Elvagen monastery in Swabia. They did not permit him any communication with the pope and they killed his messenger, monk Lazarus. From his students, some escaped to Moravia, Croatia and Serbia, while others remained hidden in Slovenia.

Pope Adrian was never informed about his adventures and the new pope John VIII learned about it somehow late. Then the pope wrote to king Ludovic and objected, because an archbishop, seated -under his opinion- always in Rome and certainly in Germany, was expelled. He also wrote to archbishop of Salzburg, Adalvino and to various other German bishops.

After this intervention Methodios was freed, while his persecutors had charged him to life in prison.


The pope's intervention was not the only reason for Methodios' freedom. In it contributed also the mediation of emperor Basil of Macedonia, for which he ordered a delegation to Ludovic in 872, and the change of situation in Moravia. The new leader there, Svatopluk, Rostislav nephew, gained independence after a new revolution, among the leaders of which was priest Slavomir. The clergy of the slavic Church of Moravia always worked for the political independence of their nation.

After two and a half years of imprisonment, Methodios was set free. Now, he no longer returned to Slovenia but to Moravia, maintaining the tittle of archbishop of Sirmia. His numerous students enthusiastically received him in the summer of 873 after six years of anticipation.

From then on started the peak period of the newly established Church of Moravia. The great missionary took up a double task. From the one hand he continued to train theologians, clerics and teachers, on the another he extended preaching to wide masses of people. He placed clerics in all the settlements, while all inhabitants, after having abandoned their idolatrous delusions, believed in the one true God. He then visited all areas included in the state of Svatopluk and inhabited by slavs like Bohemia, Saxony Silesia and south Poland. He baptized himself the first Czech Christian ruler Borivai. He reached up to the region of Kiev, where he preached to the Russians.

This task was accomplished under difficult circumstances in Moravia, as Svatopluk in 874 was forced under a new tough battle to succumb to the Germans. The German clerics became audacious again, while the ruler, so that he would not irritate them, found the following compromising method of stabilization: he followed the Latin method of worship while his people were allowed to follow the Slavic. In this way Methodios was slowly alienated from the ruler and in fact at a time when he transferred his capital to distant Nitra. There were also some complaints intervening from Methodios' comments in relation to Svatopluk's moral conduct. For these reasons and for the fact that the ruler and the surrounding people wished to avoid any reason of dispute with the Germans, the Greek mission found itself in an unfavorable position.

Svatopluk pressured by two priests, the German Vihig and Italian John, turned to pope John VIII, because he aimed at transferring liability of any action to another person. The pope then wrote to Methodios: "We heard that you do not preach all that the Roman Church has been taught from Peter, the foremost of the apostles, and all that he daily preached, and you are leading people into deception. So, in this letter we demand that you immediately present yourself in front of us in no delay, to hear you out and familiarize ourselves with your teachings. We were also informed that you perform the liturgical service in a barbarian tongue, Slavic, while in the letter brought by bishop of Ancona, Paul, we had forbidden you to perform the Holy liturgy in this language". The invitation to Rome was also justified by the pope's need to see whether Methodios was keeping what his written and oral promises to the holy roman headquarters.

Methodios was forced to proceed to Rome in 879 where he would have been trialled. At the same time, Vihig was sent as the representative of the Moravian ruler, whom Svatopluk aimed, at substituting Methodios, in case he was dismissed. Things however changed there. Methodios' personality was so strong that only through his presence he managed to influence situations. Besides, it was obvious that at that time there was great confusion between popes' views. Former popes said different things to latter, and political views of the same person was often erratic. The change in John's positions was due to the fear that western Slavs would depart from Roman influence, like what had happened to the Bulgarians.

So, John the VII in a new letter required completely the opposite of what he requested in the previous letter. He said that he briefly examined Methodios, and found that he retained the symbolic faith of the Roman Church, that at the time was identical to the Greek. The addition of 'filoque', that is that the Holy Spirit stems also from the Son, was not yet introduced into their beliefs but existed as a teaching, especially among German theologians. In addition, he asked that the Lord's works be preached in Slavic, because the Holy Bible commands that we give glory to the Lord, not only in three, but in all languages.

Methodios proving he was indifferent to it, translated in Slavic also the Latin liturgy that was then in effect, so that it was possible to perform either eastern or western liturgy in his Church.

In this way he returned righteous as bishop in Moravia. The pope though, so as to fulfill the ruler too, commanded Methodios to anoint Vihig as bishop of Nitra and requested one more person, so that the bishops in the area would become three and create a metropolis.


Many years had passed since the two brothers left Constantinople in 863. Their intention to revisit it in 867 did not materialize, as we have seen. During the following year Cyril died, while Methodios, endlessly working in the midst of thousands of obstacles, did not get the chance to visit. But always thought he needed to attempt to complete this long trip for many reasons. Firstly, because he wished to see for one more time his birthplace, where he was raised, studied and lived in his youth; secondly, because it was necessary that he exchanged thoughts with the Byzantine rulers for the course of his work; and thirdly, because the German clerics spread rumors that he had lost trust in the Greek emperor. Besides, Patriarch Photios and Emperor Basil had requested his visit to the capital.

In 881 pope John asked him back into Rome, because Vihig's accusations continued. But he refused this time, because it was too much for him, to enter in a never ending continuity of invitations and questionings. This fact constituted one more reason to speed up his transfer to Constantinople.

The trip took place in 881. In the capital he was enthusiastically greeted by rulers, clergy and people. They were informed of his marvelous achievements in the distant countries of central Europe, and the joy of seeing up close the great missionary was indescribable. The Byzantines approved his actions in those countries and discussed the future of the Slavic Church of the west. Unfortunately, Constantinople could not dynamically help him, because the Bulgarians were interfering between the Byzantium and Moravia. But they suggested that he retain his self-headed Church and not accept any interventions.

In this opportunity Methodios briefed Photios about the spread of the teachings that concerned the stemming of the Holy Spirit also from the Son. It was then, that the patriarch wrote his well known letter in which he opposes those teachings. Methodios left a priest and a deacon as his delegates in Constantinople also to work in the centre of Slavic studies.

In his return he passed through Bulgaria and met with king Boris in the capital of Preslava and advised him in forming the Bulgarian Church. He promised to send some of his students for this work, that in fact went there, but only after his death.


After his return from Constantinople, Constantine zealously dedicated himself in translating text necessary for his Church. It seems like in the capital they advised him to be very careful in doing so. His adventures and multiple duties forced him to neglect this point. In the year 883, he translated the whole Old Testament, apart from the Psalms that were translated by Cyril and the Books of the Maccabees. He begun to translate in March, and completed it within seven months, on the eve of the holy celebration of his protector, St Demetrios.

He also translated some patristic texts and the Canon Law. In this way, he granted to the Moravians and the rest of the Slavic people, their first written laws, that allowed the formation of social life, based on objective and impersonal expressions, independent of rulers' will.

Some of his students were also dedicated in the work of text translation.

Year 884 was marked by a new clash in Moravia, this time dogmatic. It seems like the reason behind it was Photios' letter disclosure relating to the Holy Spirit in the west. Just like Photios, so Methodios was calling heretics the ones who were using the term 'filoque' and accepted the emergence of the Spirit by the Son. Vihig reacted furiously and created problems to Methodios. The archbishop was forced to resort to the final means of anathema, which he expressed with the priests' congregation.

Svatopluk was so impressed that he then on became Methodios' friend. This is how Moravian Church unity was achieved, but unfortunately only for a little while.

Methodios was approximately 65 years old when he felt his end approaching. His students, touched and concerned asked him: "Reverend father and teacher, which one of your students must take your place?" He appointed a famous student of his, Gorazd, saying: "He is a free man and comes from your country, trained in books, Latin and Orthodoxy. Let it be God's will and let it be amiable to you as it is to me".

It was not a paradox to appoint his successor. This constitutes a simple wish of the missionary, that was accepted by all the clergy and the people of Moravia. It was very possible that Gorazd was already a bishop; meaning he was already chosen and anointed as bishop of Nitra in the place of the anathematized Vihig. But now it was not choosing a bishop, but appointing him with the archbishop's throne.

On Palm Sunday of 885, Methodios went to the Cathedral of Belgrade, where all the people were gathered. He was very sick. He thanked Constantinople's emperor, the ruler of Moravia, the clergy and the people. In the end he said: "My children, wait for me until the third day". And so they did. At dawn of the third day he spoke his last words: "Lord, I submit my spirit into Your hands", and died in his clergy's arms, on the 6th of April, 3rd Index, year 6393 since creation, that is, the 6th of April of 885.

His students performed the funeral ceremony in Greek, Latin and Slavic at the same time, while immediately after that they placed his relic in the Cathedral. In this way, Methodios was added to the fathers and patriarchs and prophets and apostles and teachers and martyrs. Countless people followed the funeral. They all cried over the good teacher, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, free men and slaves, passers by and villagers, sick and healthy.


Gorazd zealously took over governance of his Church. But his enemies did not let him do so for long. Vihig, since Methodios' end seemed to approach, went to Rome to assure his succession. He persuaded pope Stephen V to re-oppose the Greco-Slavic Church of Moravia. In his letter, he demanded that they accept the teachings in relation to the emergence of the Spirit by both the Father and Son. At the same time he was acknowledging Vihig as the leader in governing that Church and forbid Gorazd to take duty, before he came to Rome and was recognized by the pope himself. This last point meant that to start with he would need to accept Gorazd as a bishop, but not leader of the Moravian Church. Likewise, it forbid use of Slavic language that was presumably introduced by Methodios, despite the prohibition of pope John VIII. Stephen had no knowledge whatsoever of those things; because John finally did allowed its use.

Svatopluk, to whom Stephen's letter was addressed, remembered the old sympathy he retained for Latin worship. He ignored Vihig's anathema and got courage. Through his tolerance, the German clergy set again the dogmatic discussion on the emergence of the Spirit. Gorazd and Clement opposed them, but they would not seize to attack.

Then, Svatopluk, pretending he wanted to compromise, invited the leaders of opposing groups to Nitra, and stated: "I am almost illiterate and I am not familiar with dogmatic truths. So, I will submit the Church to whoever swears that he retains the Orthodox faith". Before he finished his speech, the Germans -obviously having conspired- swore, while the Byzantines refused to give this oath, because they considered it idolatrous.

Svatopluk handed over the leaders and clergy of the Greco-Slavic Church to the Germans. In total, they numbered 200. they were the ones that were then present in Nitra, as also the ones that served in Belgrade and other similar big centres. The ones working in small settlements and distant provinces were not affected, at least not initially.

Those poor priests were tortured in the beginning, then, the younger were sold as slaves to the Jews, while the elderly -among which were also their leaders- were imprisoned. The ones that were sold, were freed a few months later in Venice from the emperor's delegates handing over ransom sums. There on, they made their way to Constantinople and were scattered among the Slavic countries. The prisoners, after being handed over to cruel soldiers, were abandoned near the shores of Danube in cold weather. Some of them died. The survivors followed various paths. The Greek ones walked along Danube, until they reached Belgrade. Among them was Clement, Naum and Angelarios, that were later distinguished in the formation of the Bulgarian Church within the city centre of Ohrid.

The locals hid in friends' or relatives' homes or escaped to the provinces, that were not touched by the persecutions, like Bohemia or Poland. Among them was Gorazd. In 899 Moravia's Greco-Slavic Church reformed with a new archbishop and three bishops. Most probably, the archbishop was Gorazd.

During the first part of the 10th century, Moravia was again taken over by a new invader, the Hungarians. Together with the nation, the Church was also destroyed, but its relics remain until today. Over the centuries, in Belgrade, a pilgrimage takes place to honour the hierapostolic Saints Cyril and Methodios.


Christianity took a rapid and grandiose course in midst of the Slavic nations. After long preparations it begun in 860 and was almost completed within twenty years, apart to the Russians, that came a few decades late.

The events that are historically mentioned in relation to the Christianization of those nations, could appear to be isolated and incoherent actions. If this was the truth, it would be impossible to explain why within only 20 years all these events took place within the Slavic nations, that had not happened during the previous centuries. Indeed, there is a connective link between them and behind them evidences the power that motions a well designed plan. That power was the Ecumenical Patriarchate, that planned all this work. Two brothers from Thessaloniki executed this plan, Cyril and Methodios, who tirelessly worked amid all Slavic nations, Russians, Moravians, Slovenians, Croatians, Serbs, Slovakians, Czechs, Poles and Bulgarians.

Their work was mainly religious. Through their actions and those of their students, all Slavic nations entered the group of Christian nations. But together with Christianity they were given civilized powers. Together with the ideals in faith, the apostles taught them also love and kindness and planted in them the spirit of sacrifice. They gave them the first written laws, with which they formed a reality of good law and good order. They gave them a written language to use in theology, literature, science and education. This language formed the link between all Slavic nations.

For this reason the Slavic nations feel eternal gratitude towards the two Thessalonian brothers, while Thessaloniki, together with all the Greek people justifiably feel proud of them.

Publication by the Committee
for the Celebration of the 1100th Anniversary of Saints Cyril and Methodios,
Thessaloniki 1967