An Opportunity to Understand Christian Unity

On the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius

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By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, FEB. 16, 2012 ( Sts. Cyril and Methodius, of Byzantine origin and culture, preached and carried out a mission of inculturation of the Gospel in Slavic lands. 

They were held up as a model in a Mass celebrated on Tuesday in St. Clement’s Church in Rome.

Cardinal Franc Rodé, retired prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, commented on the example of Saints Cyril and Methodius after the Mass he celebrated together with the Greek-Catholic bishop of Bratislava, Peter Rusnak; Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; and the future auxiliary bishop of Bratislava, Josef Halko. 

The Mass was in the Roman rite, but used the polyphonic singing and ceremonial of Eastern character. This annual celebration is organized in turn by the Pontifical Croatian, Slovenian, Czech and Slovak Colleges. This year it was the turn of the Slovak College, with the assistance of the Pontifical Nepomuceno College.

St. Cyril lived in the 9th century. He was active in the evangelization of Pannonia and Moravia, and invented an alphabet known today as the Cyrillic alphabet. Methodius was his brother. Both are venerated by the Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox.

Example of fidelity

In comments made to ZENIT, Cardinal Rodé highlighted the importance «of the example of Cyril and Methodius, who despite the tensions between the Church of Constantinople and that of Rome, demonstrated that one could be of Byzantine culture while recognizing the supreme authority of Peter.» To the extent that, «despite the existing tensions Popes Adrian II and John VII recognized their cultural project.»

The cardinal recalled that at the time of Cyril and Methodius the Church was suffering from internal tensions. Moreover, the two brothers arrived in a Slavic territory where various political interests collided.

They spread the word of the Gospel, preached and written in the Slav language. Their arrival in local villages was considered dangerous by those who wanted to control the territory for themselves.

Cardinal Rodé recalled that last year Benedict XVI evoked Cyril and Methodius in an address in which he praised their great patience and dignity in coping with the difficulties they met. That is why, «the Slav peoples have great love for these two great apostles and this has stayed in the collective memory,» continued the cardinal.

Despite the number of difficulties «their holiness is manifested in their sincere love for a less well-educated people as compared to the great, refined, superior civilization of Byzantium. They entered into this less evolved world where the villages received them with great love. Cyril and Methodius wanted to bring Christ and his message close, so that it could be received not as a foreign word, but as a familiar, homey word that reaches the heart.»

Opportunity for unity

Cyril and Methodius, «are a great opportunity to understand unity: sons of Byzantium, of Byzantine culture, they worked in complete agreement with the Successor of Peter. They asked the Pope of Rome for his approval of their project of evangelization and inculturation of the Gospel in the Slav territory, mentality and language.»

Moreover, the cardinal pointed out, «they also, therefore, are of cultural importance as they are at the origin of the literature of the Slav peoples.»

His Eminence specified: «We have seen this diversity here also today. There were bishops of the Eastern rite, priests of so many different nations, where diversity in the unity of faith, recognition of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the apostolic succession do not constitute a problem.»

Positive elements of cultures

The Church does not want uniformity and she recognizes the different traditions, mentality, spirituality, as well as, recently, the authenticity of certain elements of the Anglican Communion. Thus the Church recognizes the positive elements that are genuinely Christian, evangelical, of the different cultures, whether Slav or of other Eastern Churches, such as the Armenian, Maronite, Chaldean, etc., the cardinal added.

Ecumenism «cannot be forced; impatience can even harm the idea of the ecumenical project,» he stressed. «Let us leave it to God, to the Lord, to unite us when and how He wishes.»

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