Christians as missionaries: the testimony of the Holy Brothers

A sermon of His eminence the Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Elder and Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered during the Liturgy of the Saints Cyril and Methodius, in the skete dedicated to them, in Bitushe, on the 24th of May, 2021 year of our Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

We are so grateful, dear brothers and sisters, to the merciful God Who has gathered us here again, to this sacred place we have dedicated to the Holy co-apostolic All-Slavic and great teachers of ours, Sts. Cyril and Methodius. It is really sad and devastating to see that the good potentials and predispositions of people – which undoubtedly everyone has in himself – are not encouraged and nurtured, but on the contrary – neglected, they fade in time and even disappear. This phenomenon in our time is, unfortunately, quite common. And this is because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people able to develop those potentials in others, to extract the good and the beautiful from them and to improve them. Of course, not everyone can do that, because it takes a lot of hard work, enlightenment, and sacrifice. Let’s take an example from everyday life: how much effort, patience and the right pedagogical approach is needed to teach a small preschool child to read and write and to progress in the right direction in life. Not everyone is able to teach and develop the good in others. Well, if it is difficult for the general affairs of daily life and human development, then how much harder it is to find a teacher, counsellor, educator of the Divine Science of the Lord Jesus Christ, which requires incomparably greater devotion, knowledge, patience and self-sacrifice?! That is why Christ says in His Gospel: The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few (Matthew 9:37). Here he refers to His followers, first of all the Twelve Apostles, but also to all those who will obey them and will have to continue their work, to work in the fields of God – those who will have to preach the Gospel everywhere in the world, according to His words: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). We Slavs, have been sent by God really divine pedagogues, priests, God-fearing preachers and creators of our national identity – namely, these great apostles of Christ, the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius, who were able to teach whole nations in the Word of God. These two chosen Evangelists of the Gospel of Christ went through a great struggle and sacrifice, leaving behind all the pleasures of the world, the glorious career, the honours and the luxury offered by the royal court of the great Byzantine Empire. Saint Methodius, an educated and gifted military leader and legislator, left the mundane titles and ranks and went to pray in a monastery. The monastic life and hesychasm out of love for Christ, was also desired by his younger brother Constantine the Philosopher, who as a librarian worked at the Great Church of St. Sophia. He was close to the Byzantine Emperor and his companions, he was even given a proposal to marry a princess from the court of the emperor, but he preferred the wisdom of God more than any beauty of this world. At that time an appeal came from the Slavs in Moravia, from prince Rastislav to the Roman court, requesting missionaries to preach Christianity in a language they could understand. The Moravian Slavs wanted to hear about Christ, to learn about Him, because they saw that He was the Truth, the Way, the Light and the Life, but until then they could not understand well those who had preached about Him. So, the Byzantine emperor Michael III sent the Holy Brothers, who laid the foundation of an entire civilization in Christ, of which we are a part too. From primitive tribes, wanderers and barbarians, as the Slavs were called until then, just like all nations that were not enlightened by the light of the Gospel, they became an enlightened people, a civilized people, with their own literature and culture.

Saints Cyril and Methodius made a great apostolic deed, or, as their biographer, St. Clement of Ohrid, says, they completed the deed begun by the first apostles Peter and Paul, so they took their part and were called Equal to the Apostles and Messengers of God, missionaries. But all who enlightened the nations in the truth, in the absolute Truth, which is Christ God, and gave them His light, were also missionaries. Missionaries are all those who have justified the words of Christ: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). As disciples and followers of Christ, these words are addressed to all of us. We will probably never be given the opportunity to create a new alphabet in our lives, or to translate the Scriptures, or to go somewhere far away and preach to people who do not know about the immortal Sun Christ, but surely, we are required to testify Christ in our environment. Every baptized Christian who partakes of the purest Body and Blood of Christ carries Christ in him and is called to be His missionary in the place where he lives and functions. True, not every Christian is obliged by the Church to teach and preach with words, but we are all obliged to witness Christ with our lives, by taking part in His grace and joy.

First of all, His witnesses and missionaries, preachers of God’s light, should be the teachers and pedagogues in our schools. Schools used to be places of true education and training, where our people acquired the image of Christ upon themselves. I will not go all the way back to the distant history but will refer to the recent one, to illustrate just how much the Church cared for the enlightenment of the people. Namely, till the end of the First World War, all schools in our beloved Homeland had been established and maintained by the Church. Created during the ruling of the Ottoman Empire, they were the only source of education and place of enlightenment for the people. Ecclesiastic schools and religious education were also present in the Royal Yugoslavia, but due to political pressures and propaganda and the imposing of foreign jurisdiction, the temptations were great and many people distanced themselves from the Church. Then came the sinister communism, which in every possible way tried to eradicate the living word of God from the hearts of the people. But he did not succeed in that completely, because the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius and their disciples managed, with much prayer, love and fatherly care, to imprint in the hearts of our ancestors the teaching of the Word. After all, their goal was not simply to create alphabet for the Slavs, but through that alphabet and literacy to teach the nations about Christ the Crucified and Resurrected One. That is why in our first alphabet Glagolica, which had been kept by our ancestors for centuries, the basic signs are the cross, the circle and the triangle. The cross as a symbol of Christ’s victory and His weapon of peace, the circle that signifies the perfection and infinity of God and the triangle as a symbol of the Holy Trinity. How much prayer, sacrifice and enlightenment were needed for our first teacher St. Cyril, together with his brother St. Methodius, to create this wonderful divinely inspired alphabet! And then the first thing they translated with the new letters was the Gospel of St. John the Theologian: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1) – to show that the most important thing is to become human through the Word, for man without Christ cannot even be called a man. Because the Word of God has descended from Heaven, incarnated in human nature, becoming a model for a perfect man, to make us true people.

Less than a hundred years have passed since the time when Church meant everything to our people, and today in our society there is a debate, or rather an undemocratic monologue of certain structures who think, against the will of the majority of the people, that school itinerary should no longer contain the subject called religious education. Furthermore, it is not even religious education in the real sense, because it is so much adapted to the nihilistic influences, that it refers more to ethics than to religion. After all, it is called: Ethics of religions. But unfortunately, some people are bothered by that as well. How absurd: today there are those in our country who, with the language and literacy that the Holy Brothers of Thessaloniki left us as the most sacred heritage, offend and blaspheme their work and cut the root from which our culture grew! Really sad. Therefore, let us all pray to Saints Cyril and Methodius to forgive us that as a society we trample on their labour and sacrifice and plead with them not to leave us, but rather to send us enlightenment and knowledge of God. Because, if we do not know about our faith, especially we who have the whole civilization based on Christianity, then we will return to primitivism and barbarism. I recently read an analysis in which education and science experts in France came to the conclusion that young Frenchmen could no longer adequately understand French philosophy, literature, and science. Do you know why? Because Christianity has received very little attention in the educational process in France in the recent decades. They are becoming more and more primitive, they cannot understand their own culture, their writers. Because all the old literature, not only in France, but all over Europe, is inspired by the Gospel. Most writers were pious people. Not to mention the music! The great composers who are still admired by the world today were extremely pious. Shall we talk about the medical science? The greatest physicians, researchers, and inventors were deeply pious people. In their books, records, memoirs, you can read their wonderful thoughts about the Creator. The same applies to us Slavs, to us Macedonians. Our entire culture is based on Christianity, on the Gospel of Christ. If we want to preserve our civilizational identity, we should do our best to become witnesses of Christ, missionaries of His education and love in our daily lives. For instance, missionaries should be the parents in the family. First, they need to learn to love one another so that children can be taught to love one another. They need to forgive one another, so that their children may learn to forgive. To read the Bible in front of children, to pray in front of icons in front of their children. This is missionary work. Thus, they will encourage and develop the gifts and good potentials in them. It’s essential to teach them to believe, to have trust, to have love. These are the gifts that Christ wants to multiply in us. That is why throughout history he sent us such Divine people who learned and adopted the Christian virtues themselves, so that others could learn from them as well. He appointed the Apostles, and their followers, and He sent us our Apostles, Saints Cyril and Methodius. We have a special responsibility to these great Teachers of our people, who left everything and engaged in preaching among barbaric peoples and with love, labour, prayer and long-suffering transformed their primitive customs into Christian, taught them in writing and most importantly – taught them to worship the Word, the eternal spiritual Sun, Christ our God. Let us pray, my dear ones, that the animosity against God should stop in the Macedonian society and that everyone should understand that it is essential for us to maintain the religious education in our schools, and to inspire our Church leaders to work as hard as possible, in order to properly spread the Word of God. Let us also pray for the rapid construction of this skete here, which, thanks to the Dzikovski family from Skopje, is being built for that very purpose: to reach as many souls as possible, especially the young children who are the future of our country and our Christian identity. I hope that by the next year the lodging will be completed, and the temptation with the pandemic will be completely over, so that this theological school dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius together with the temple, will start functioning. And let us not forget, my dear ones, that we are witnesses and missionaries of Christ. Therefore, let us keep sacred in our hearts everything that Christ has given us. And He has given us a lot! At baptism we have received His immense grace. We have been justified, cleansed and sanctified, as a prayer says at the end of the act of baptism. Then, we partake of the body and blood of Christ, becoming of one blood and body with Him. Let us preserve that sacred treasure and pass it on to others along with the fear of God. We are all called to be missionaries.

Be good missionaries of Christ!

Christ is Risen!