27 February 2009

'With His Letters He Directed Everyone on the Road to Salvation'—St Cyril the Apostle to the Slavs

Today, 14 February on the Church’s calendar, we commemorate St Cyril, the Apostle to the Slavs (827-869). While he is commemorated with his brother according to the flesh and fellow Apostle to the Slavs, St Methodius on 11 May, today is the day of St Cyril’s own repose.

There is of course, a great deal that can be said about St Cyril, about his life and mission. But I’m afraid I’m not equal to the task of saying much of it. I will confine myself to posting two things relevant to him. The first is from a eulogy by his disciple, St Clement of Ohrid. St Clement has praised his teacher much better than I could hope to do, and on the basis of first-hand knowledge of the man. As Thomas Butler has written, ‘Unlike many hagiographic works, this pohvala is not a mechanical blending of slim data and extravagant praise [though I’m afraid that is what I have excerpted from it!]: it is written with an eye for detail and with sentiments of admiration and love that most likely would come from one who knew the Apostle to the Slavs personally’ (Monumenta Bulgarica: A Bilingual Anthology of Bulgarian Texts from the 9th to the 19th Centuries, ed. and trans. Thomas Butler [Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic, 2004], p. 87). This is taken from Butler’s translation of the eulogy (pp. 89-91, 93):

A Memorial and Eulogy to our Most Blessed Father and Teacher of the Slavic People, Cyril the Philosopher, and St Methodius the Teacher. Bless us, O Father!

Lo, there shone for us lovers of Christ the resplendent memory of our most blessed father Cyril, the new apostle and teacher of all countries, who with piety and beauty shone on the earth like the sun, enlightening the whole world with the rays of the triune Godhead. Divine Wisdom created her shrine in his heart and the Holy Spirit was constantly resting on his tongue as on the Cherubim, distributing its gifts according to faith. As the Apostle Paul said: ‘To everyone is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ’ (Eph. 4:7). ‘He who loves me,’ said the Lord, ‘him will I love too, and I shall appear to him myself and I shall create my dwelling place in
him, and he will appear to me as a son and I shall be as his Father’ (cf. John 14:21, 23).

Seeking that same Fatherland, this most blessed father and our teacher left all the beauty of this life, home and wealth, father and mother, brothers and sisters. From his early youth he had been as pure as an angel, declining and fleeing life’s pleasures, constantly abiding in psalms and hymns and meditation, pursuing the one path by which he would rise to Heaven. Therefore God’s grace flowed from his lips. As the most wise Solomon said: ‘On the lips of the wise lies compassion, on his tongue he bears the law and mercy with which he tied the blasphemous lips of the heretics [no citation].’

. . .

Now the Slavic nation being in ignorance and sinful darkness, he appeared as their pastor and teacher, through the mercy and charity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And he closed the mouths of the wolves, the trilingualist heretics, exposing like a prophet their dumb language; and with his letters he directed everyone on the road to salvation. It was in Rome that the Lord deigned that his body should rest, and when one calculates his labor and his travels there is no one to whom one could give praise.

. . .

What hidden place did he not sanctify with his steps? What art remained concealed from his blessed spirit? Giving testimony to all nations concerning the mysteries, in an everyday, understandable language, he preached to some in writing and to others by teaching. Divine grace flowed from his lips, and for that God blessed him unto the ages. And so, what lips will testify to the sweetness of his teaching? What tongue will succeed in expressing the feats and labors and goodness of his life?

For the Lord showed those lips to be more radiant than the light, enlightening those who were benighted by sinful fraud. His tongue effused sweet and lifegiving words. Thos most holy lips flourished in holy wisdom. His most holy fingers created religious instruments [books] and decorated them with shining gold letters [interestingly reminiscent of the Sinai Codex Theodosianus!]. By that godspeaking mouth were quenched those who thirsted to know God, and through it many enjoyed lifegiving food. Thus did God enrich many nations with divine knowledge.

. . .
The second thing I’d like to post is an Old Slavonic ‘Alphabet Prayer’, which may well have been written by St Cyril himself (see Butler’s discussion of authorship on p. 48). It certainly reflects his philosophy and epitomises much about his mission to the Slavs. Butler notes that it is written in the Byzantine twelve-syllable metre, but with some irregularities. He also points out that the alphabetical acrostic is imperfect, but that some of these irregularities may have arisen when the poem was transliterated into the Cyrillic from the Glagolitic alphabet (p. 48-9). Here it is then (Butler, pp. 51, 53):

With this prayer I pray to God:
O God of all creation—Founder
Of the visible and invisible,
Send the Lord Living Spirit
To inspire in my heart a word
Which will be of benefit to all
Who live within Thy commandments.
For Thy lamp is the very lamp of life
And a light for the paths of the one
Who seeks the gospel word
And begs to receive Thy gifts.
For now the Slavic race is hurrying, too—
Everyone has converted to Christianity
Wanting to be called Thy people.
They heartily implore Thy mercy, God!
But give me now Thy expansive word
O Father, Son, and Most Holy Spirit
As I beseech Thee for help.
For I raise my hands to Thee always
To receive strength from Thee and wisdom.
For Thou givest strength to the worthy,
Healest every being.
Deliver me from the Pharaoh’s malice
Grant me cherubic thought and intellect
O venerable, Most Holy Trinity.
Transform my sadness into joy
So I may begin to write with wisdom
Thy most marvelous wonders.
Having received the strength of the Sixwinged
I walk now in the path of my teachers
Following their name and deed.
I shall make public the word of the Gospel
Giving praise to the Trinity in the Godhead
Which every generation sings—
Young and old—with their understanding.
A new tongue, giving praise always
To the Father, Son, and Most Holy Spirit:
To Whom be the honor and power and glory
From all creation and from all that breathes
Unto the Ages of Ages.

If I have time and if they occur to me, I may post other things related to St Cyril today.

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