„These two most blessed and God – pleasing men proved to be nothing less than Moses and Aaron. Endowed by the same God’s Spirit from above, bestowed with a double blessing, they took the people out of the darkest devil’s sea, sank the imaginary Pharaon and destroyed all his power. Since they armed themselves with the faith and the power of Cross, they took the people not to the desert but directed them toward the light of knowing God. They didn’t extract water out of a stone as those did; but with faith quenched the thirst of those thirsty for the Word of God. They took water not from an insensitive stone as those did; but for the salvation of the faithful gave them the blood and the water that ran out of the imaculate ribs of our Lord Jesus Christ, as an eternal nourishment and endless life. They fed the people not with an angelic bread; but for the forgiveness of sins gave them the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
(from the Praise of Sts. Cyril and Methodius by St. Clement of Ohrid ).
Today the Church shines bright with the glittering memory of the most blessed fathers of ours, Cyril and Methodius, the new Apostles and Teachers of the Slavic nations, who blazed with faith among the Slavs like the Sun, enlightening them with the light of the Holy Trinity. As honourable disciples of the Byzantine spirit and culture, and being deeply in love with the wealth of the Slavic tradition, they were very familiar with since childhood, the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius were justly deemed worthy to be summoned by God as Apostles and teachers of the Slavic people, giving them the most precious gift – the redemptive faith and love for the Holy Trinity and the one true God. Since they were His loyal servants, they responded without any hesitation or doubt and having been well prepared, went on their apostolic venture to serve the Gospel amidst pagan nations, who craved deep inside for good teachers that could open their way to salvation and eternal life. The truth and the strength of their powerful message came from the hidden mystery Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and salvation; their evangelizing mission once accomplished among the Slavic people, hasn’t ceased to bring harvest and reaches beyond this life to eternity, where they are now, endowed with glory, rejoicing alongside the One Who entrusted them with this blessed and holy assignment. Because they truly fulfilled the words which Christ addressed to His apostles: “Go around the world and preach the Gospel to every human being”.
This glorious evangelic accomplishment made the memory of the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius glow even brighter at the Bigorski Monastery, where their holiday is celebrated with particular reverence and great festivities. The crowded church in their skete above the village of Bitushe shone with festive beauty; and the wonderful natural suroundings rejoiced together with all the faithfull. The joy became even greater when after the festive Liturgy, the youngest members of the Macedonian Folklore Education Center “Mitevi” honored the present guest with their cheerful and educative performance in the vast yard of the skete. A true delight for the faithful was the emotional sermon of our beloved Elder, Archimandrite Parthenius who, filled with such reverence toward these two Holy Teachers and Enlighteners of ours, didn’t hide his great gratitude because of the great love and nobility they showed toward our Slavic genus:
Christ is risen!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
My dear ones, great is the deed of the preachers and teachers of the word of God, and even greater the legacy they have entrusted us with, as their spiritual children, to continue this holy mission. Therefore St. Apostle Paul, regarding the teachers of the Divine word, wrote: Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow (Hebrew 13, 7).
Today we celebrate the memory of two magnificent teachers of the Divine faith among the Slavic and many other nations, the holiday of two God-Enlighted preachers, the Holy Equal to the Apostles Cyril and Methodius, who being endowed by the Holy Spirit, succeeded in bringing half of Europe and a part of Asia to the light of Christ, to the life-giving Word of God. The mission of these two spiritual men was impossible, their fit – incredible! They were supposed to build themselves fully, as a living sacrifice, in the foundation of the new Church, and that meant nothing less than a voluntary crucifixion. To build a Church it means to constantly shed your spiritual blood. Our Saviour Lord Jesus Christ Himself founded His Church in the same way – by crucifying Himself on the Cross, becoming a foundation of faith. And all those who followed Him through the centuries till today, shed their martyr and spiritual blood, starting with the holy Apostles, who willingly died for the true revelation of God. The Apostles gave their life, the martyrs too, the righteous and reverent followed their example, but none of them died. On the contrary, they were given eternal life, because they preached about the ever – living and resurrected Christ.
These two Equal to the Apostles saints were also sent to martyrdom, as if lambs among wolfs, to nations uncivilized, aggressive and wild, prone to terrible sinful habits. People who were drowned into dreadful vices, locked completely in Adam’s downfall. The sin, once made, when repeated several times, turns into a slavish habit, which totally chains men, so that it becomes impossible for them to break free, except through great fit, prayer and repentance – the only means to attract the redemptive grace of God. Don’t ever forget what a terrible addiction the sin is when it turns into a habit! If by any chance you happen to fall into some kind of sin, strive immediately to repent and get out of it. St. John Chrysostom says: “Falling into a sin is not that terrible, it’s human, but what’s terrible is staying in it – that’s something demonic. Having this in mind, let us try to avoid sin and defeat it always, because our passions are constantly present in us and sin is something, we have to fight with all our lives. Without this struggle, without the Christian fit, we would resemble the pagan nations that didn’t know Christ, Who is the Light, Path, Life and Truth. Their spontaneous religions and beliefs were in itself very negative and produced many dark habits, which having been deeply rooted in the human souls, in everyday life, constantly dragged them downwards, not allowing them to rise their inner look towards the heavens, towards the sublime. You know how hard it was for the Apostles to liberate the Romans and Helenians, who were pagans, from their slavish sinful habits, although they were civilized nations and had their alphabet, science and philosophy. Imagine now, just what the two brothers from Thessaloniki and their then few pupils went through, when they were to preach the word of God to a nation pagan and uncivilized, without even a language and an alphabet! They were to do something impossible, which usually takes a very long time: introduce these nations to Christianity. In order to do that, first they had to create a Slavic alphabet so that these nations could hear the teaching of the Truth in their own mother tongue and in future leave their destructive sinful habits. That’s why St. Constantine the Philosopher gave in to an intense prayer and being enlightened by God, perceived profoundly the essence of the Slavic language, the core of the nation’s spirit and created a work not of man but Divine: he created an alphabet to our forefathers, directing them, through those first written words, to the salvational teaching of Christ. And the first thing he translated, together with his brother Methodius, was the Gospel of St. John the Theologian, thus the first words ever to be written in Slavic language, with the new Slavic alphabet Glagolica, were: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1, 1). What these men of the heavenly philosophy wanted was to show the Slavic nations that Christ is the Light and He holds the beginning of revival of human life. Little bit further on, in the same chapter of the Gospel, St. John mentions the Forerunner and Baptist, who came to testify the Light, preaching repentance to people. Our Holy Father Cyril knew well what is required for a nation drowned deep into the sinful habit. Only the repentance could place a good foundation in them, so that’s why he started his mission with the translation of this particular Gospel.
It’s truly immortal and holy, this deed accomplished by the Holy Brothers. While serving the Liturgy I kept reminding myself of them and their legacy and it constantly brought tears in my eyes. What exquisite men they were! Giants of the Spirit! Let us never forget what they did for us and strive to fulfill what they have entrusted us with! Not just to hold the Holy Gospel in our hands, but also read it and try hard to live according to it.
Today the humankind is facing a horrible phenomenon and that is the neopaganism, returning to the old sinful way of life, according to which it’s normal to live in Adam’s downfall, in sin. In the ancient pagan times people even adored sin. They were extremely egoistic, considering the lusts and pleasures of this world as something right, acceptable. If we but look into the lives of the ancient nations, even of the civilized ones of that time, we would encounter a grotesque picture: what destructive and dark beliefs and rituals these nations had before they became Christians, before they were ennobled by the Holy Spirit. But unfortunately, today, these Christian societies are getting more and more distant from the Holy Gospel and returning to such paganism. We are horrified by the fact that the sinful habits are becoming legitimate and slowly turning into a “normal” way of life. We, the Christians, are responsible to preach with our personal example, i.e. our behavior and our deeds of love and light, trying to bring back to God those who have embraced such sinful way of life. These people have distanced themselves from God, and thus, from the real happiness. They don’t know the Church as a community of joy and spiritual grandeur. We, the faithful, who are members of God’s Church, should attract these people and bring them to Christ, and that can only be done through love. Let the Sts Cyril and Methodius be our examples in this, because back then they didn’t get disgusted at all from the people they were supposed to preach the Gospel to. And while preparing for their mission, in no way did they take the army of the Byzantine Emperor with them, so that they could punish the people for their sinful life and correct them by force. On the contrary. They themselves suffered persecutions and temptations and prison only and only to win over these people with love and show them the path to eternal life and beauty. So, our nation became Christian, ennobled and sublime. In this holy deed the Thessaloniki Brothers followed the example of the Apostles and were, therefore, called Equal to the Apostles. We should follow the same path. Remember: a sinner can never be released from his addiction to sin by force, only with love! First, we should make effort to abandon the sinful habits in us, and then we could cure and correct with love our neighbors who suffer. And in no way should we judge them, having always before our eyes the example of our crucified Lord, Who, while on the Cross, forgave everybody, even to those who crucified Him. Let us also have constantly in mind the event with the adulteress, who was supposed to be stoned to death, according to the Hebrew Law. But then, He Who knows everything, without even saying a word, bent down and started writing in the dirt the sins of those who judged her the most and insisted that she should be stoned. Afterwards He said: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8, 7). So, they all, one by one, having seen their sin written in the sand, threw the stone away and left ashamed. Only our Most Kind Lord and the woman sinner remained. Then He told her: Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (John 10, 11). This is the kind of love we should treat people with, if we want to bring back to Christ this world, which, unfortunately, as we have said before, is returning to paganism. To do that, we should first become real Christians, because obviously we are not that anymore. Lately it makes me sad to see how people of the Church treat those who have chosen the sinful, pagan way of life and want to manifest it in public. What cruelty they express when they judge and offend and insult them. These people should be pitied, not condemned. Instead of helping them with prayer and good example, we send them to hell beforehand. But if we act like this, how are we to bring them closer to Christ? In this wrong way we only close the doors of the Church for them, and it should be opened to all, since it is a kind of hospital to this world, and only through it this world could be cured from sin and find salvation. We, the Christians, should be open to all people, no matter what they are like, no matter what kind of sins and vices they might have. The God Man can heal them all. There is no sin that He couldn’t erase with His love. All the sins, even the greatest ones, are but a small spark in the vast sea of His love. Therefore, only love, love, love, my Christians! And love is patient, and what’s most important – doesn’t behave unseemly (compare I Corinthians 13, 4-5). We cannot force others to leave their sins, when we ourselves give in to sinful habits. And then we judge those who are not in the Church, for not going to church… in fact we are put before a greater responsibility, because although we know about Christ and read the Gospel every day, we are often worse than many others who haven’t heard about Christ. There is no single human being who doesn’t want to be well, to be happy and fulfilled and loved, so those who have fallen into terrible sinful habits, just seem pleased with themselves and peaceful, but deep inside they suffer and seek salvation, and though unaware of it, they actually seek Christ.
Let us pray to our Holy Equal to the Apostles Fathers Cyril and Methodius, to intercede before God for all the nations which are their spiritual heritage, so that they could abide in peace and harmony, and that the Holy Gospel they strived hard all their life for should be established firmly in all of us.
Christ is risen!