His Beatitude the Metropolitan Rastislav, Archbishop of Prešov, Primate of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, visited Pope Francis today May 11, 2018. This marks the first visit to Pope Francis by the Metropolitan, elected in January 2014.
During his stay in Rome, May 9- 12, the Metropolitan will meet His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch in the offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Metropolitan will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the tomb of Saint Cyril in the Basilica of Saint Clement.
The Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia is one of the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Byzantine tradition, and has its origin in the evangelization of Great Moravia by Saints Cyril and Methodius.
In his address to the Metropolitan, the Holy Father expressed his joy to welcome him and his delegation, and appreciation “for the spiritual bonds that unite us and encourage us to continue in mutual edification and in the common search for peace, a gift of the Risen One.”
The Pope expressed his view that the visit, is “a gift to grow in mutual edification, strengthening our spiritual bonds and friendship.”
Illustrating such bonds, the Pope said, is the presence here in Rome, in the ancient Basilica of San Clemente, of the tomb of Saint Cyril, Apostle of the Slavs, whose preaching has spread the faith in the lands where your Church carries out its mission. The Pontiff recalled that the Metropolitan celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. Cyril’s tomb, paying homage to this illustrious saint, revered by the Christians of the East and the West.
The persecuted are an urgent appeal
The figure of St. Cyril, Pope Francis said, inspired him to share fraternally with the Metropolitan and delegation three brief thoughts.
According to tradition, it was the brothers Cyril and Methodius, coming from Salonika, to bring to Pope Hadrian II the relics of St. Clement, one of the first Bishops of Rome, who died in exile under the emperor Trajan. The gesture of Cyril and Methodius reminds us that we Christians have inherited – and we continually need to share – an immense common patrimony of holiness.
“Among the many witnesses, countless martyrs have professed fidelity to Jesus in past centuries, such as San Clemente, but also in recent times, for example when atheistic persecution has affected your countries. Even today the sufferings of many brothers and sisters persecuted because of the Gospel are an urgent appeal, which challenges us to seek greater unity. May the example of Cyril and Methodius help us to enhance this patrimony of holiness that already unites us!”
To proclaim the Lord is not enough
A second aspect, which reminds us of the Holy Apostles of the Slavs, the Pope added, concerns the relationship between evangelization and culture.
“Byzantine culture, the holy brothers had the audacity to translate the Gospel message into a language accessible to the Slavic peoples of Greater Moravia. By incarnating the Gospel in a given culture, they gave development to the culture itself. The apostolate of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which Pope John Paul II proclaimed as co-patrons of Europe, remains for all of us today a model of evangelization.”
“To proclaim the Lord is not enough to reaffirm the patterns of the past, but we must listen to the Spirit, who always inspires new and courageous ways to evangelize our contemporaries. The Spirit does so today, even in traditionally Christian countries often marked by secularization and indifference.”
Reconciliation in diversity
The Pope’s last thought came from Saints Cyril and Methodius, who he noted, succeeded in overcoming divisions between Christian communities of different cultures and traditions. In this sense, he said, we can say that they were “authentic precursors of ecumenism.” (John Paul II, Letter Slavorum Apostoli, 14).
“They remind us so that unity does not mean uniformity, but reconciliation of diversity in the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis concluded, praying: “May the witness of Saints Cyril and Methodius accompany us on the journey towards full unity, encouraging us to live this diversity in communion and to never be discouraged in our journey, which we are called to do by the Lord’s will and with joy.”
“I ask the Lord, through the intercession of Saints Cyril and Methodius, that we may one day reach full unity, towards which we walk. I beg you to offer your faithful the assurance of my prayerful remembrance and my cordial greeting in the risen Christ. Invoking upon all the blessing of the Lord and the protection of the Mother of God, I ask you to reserve me a place in your prayers.”