The Prayerful Person is the Greatest Benefactor of Humanity

Sermon of His Grace Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered on the commemoration of Saints Cyril and Methodius, during the Holy Liturgy, at the Bigorski skete in the village of Bitushe dedicated to them, on May 24, 2024, the Year of Our Lord

Christ is Risen!

Most Reverend and Reverend Fathers,

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Dearly beloved benefactors,

Beloved brothers and sisters,

Once again this year, God has granted us the grace to gather liturgically in this holy assembly, to celebrate the memory of the great pan-Slavic teachers and enlighteners, the Holy Brothers of Thessalonica, Cyril and Methodius. Indeed, at every Holy Liturgy, we prayerfully and spiritually become one with all the Saints who have pleased God since time immemorial. Here, in the time-space of the Divine Eucharist, we partake of the one Cup and taste the one and indivisible Body of Christ, becoming brothers and sisters; we, the earthly ones, among ourselves, and at the same time, becoming brothers and sisters with the members of the heavenly Church. Thus, the earthly Church, still waging war against evil in the world, and the Heavenly Church – all become one.

The great merit of enlightening the Slavic people with God’s light, so that we too may be counted among the cultured nations through Christ and be established on the Holy Gospel, on those eternal principles of Christ through which man gains eternal life and fulfills his purpose, belongs to the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius, rightly called “equal to the Apostles” in their troparion. These two divine men indeed accomplished a sacred and apostolic work.

What did the Holy Apostles do? They established Christ’s Church in this world. Therefore, Saints Cyril and Methodius are called equal to the Apostles, because they preached the Gospel to many then unenlightened nations and founded there the holy and apostolic Church. And the Church, as we all know, is called Apostolic in the Creed because the Apostles, encouraged and inspired by Christ, became the founders of the evangelical principles and truths among the nations and the founders of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. After His bright and glorious Resurrection, the Lord appeared to the Apostles for forty days and taught them, finally sending them to establish His Church throughout the world, saying to them: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He sent them as enlighteners, as heralds of His light, as children of love, without weapons in hand, who were to preach Him, who is the light, the way, the truth, and the life, with word and deed.

Similarly, Saints Cyril and Methodius transmitted the light of the Gospel and established the Church among the Slavic and many other nations, giving them a spiritual foundation and identity and bringing them into the family of the Christian people. That is why these holy Brothers were called equal to the Apostles. And how did they become such? Through constant union with the person of Christ, through unceasing communion with Him in prayer. We know that both were especially devoted to the monastic life. Saint Cyril reposed as a monk, while his brother became a bishop, an archbishop. But although Saint Methodius held the highest ecclesiastical rank, he, as we read in his life, loved the monastic life above all. Although he had previously been a military commander in the Roman army, he left everything for Christ. Just like Saint Constantine, who was a philosopher, knowledgeable in many languages, respected at the imperial court, an advisor to the Roman emperor. Yet, for them, all these honors meant nothing compared to Christ, the Life-giver and Light-giver. Therefore, they strove so much in prayer, always wanting to be with God. For it is through prayer, beloved, that we most closely unite with the Lord. And the one who prays performs a great and significant deed. The prayerful person is, indeed, the greatest benefactor of humanity.

Saints Cyril and Methodius, those faithful children of Christ, enlightened through prayer and instructed in Christ, probably never imagined that they would be sent on such a great mission to Moravia, by the Roman Emperor Michael and the Holy Ecumenical Patriarch Photius the Great. The Holy Brothers went there to enlighten the Slavic people with the newly created script, at the request of Prince Rostislav, who asked the Byzantine emperor for teachers like them. Of course, these godly men never thought or desired to be called equal to the Apostles. They were humble monks and prayerful men, and God chose their hearts to enlighten the great unenlightened people who made up nearly half of Europe.

From the life of Saints Cyril and Methodius, we must learn, my dear ones, that the greatest and holiest work is to constantly devote ourselves to prayer, to unite with God in prayer. All their sacred work, which many European nations benefit from today, based on the Holy Gospel, aimed to proclaim the saving doctrine. Their mission was to bring Christ God closer to people, to show the way to the nations who were in darkness. In a word, the goal of all their labor and effort was – Christ.

Therefore, we must place Christ above everything in our lives if we want to be true humans, to fulfill our purpose – to become gods by grace. For God created this world out of love and especially loved man. And for man’s sake, God Himself became man. Which father does not want to be in communion with his children? Which good parent does not want to commune with his children? We all know how much parents sacrifice for their children; how much spiritual parents sacrifice for their spiritual children. How much God has done for all of us and how much He continues to do for all humanity to this day. Loving man so much, God has no choice but to constantly show us the way, even in a human way. That is why He came as a man. For in man, He has embedded free will so that he can choose: will he follow Christ or not. Unfortunately, in his freedom, man can even say to the Lord: “I do not love You, I do not know You, I do not even believe You exist.”

Beloved, God reveals Himself to us in many ways. He reveals and speaks to us through the nature we see. I will confess something personal to you. Here, in this beautiful place, where Saints Cyril and Methodius wished and prayed to the Lord to have this temple built, as you yourselves can see, nature is wondrous. And often, when I feel tired from many confessions and conversations, usually in the afternoons, I leave Bigorski and come here. I look at the high Krchin, the beautiful mountain, the greenery, and I find peace and glorify the Lord. For in everything I see His signature, the autograph of the great Artist. A man is blind who cannot recognize through nature the great Artist and Creator of the universe. And as for man, we should not even speak. What an art and mystery is man, his organism that we see and that sciences constantly study. Scientists and doctors marvel at how man is created and constantly discover new mysteries about the human organism. And if such is the art of the body, then what beauty is the soul that God has given us?!

Thus, today, in spirit and soul, our great Equal-to-the-Apostles, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are with us and among us, in this sacred mystery, to guide us, to enlighten us, and to illuminate our path to Christ. They labored and suffered greatly, only to imprint in the unbaptized people Christ God. For the same they pray to the Lord today. For although most of us may be baptized and bear Christian names thanks to them, the question is how effective Christians we are, how truly friends of Christ we are, and whether we are worthy to be called children of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles. They created our script and gave it to us to bring us to Christ, and today we use that script to kill each other. The pen has become like a sword, dipped in blood instead of ink. Our First Teachers did not create the script for that. They gave us that holy gift so that we could write beautiful things to each other, to spread the good that God desires in the world; to become a signpost to the Kingdom of Heaven, to become the light of the world, to adorn ourselves with many good deeds. Each of us is called to become an apostle and preacher of Christ and the Gospel. To become light, to become meekness, to become love. As our Lord, the Lord of Saints Cyril and Methodius, is love and light and peace. He is the one who, sending His disciples to preach to the world, said to them: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

Therefore, let us daily examine ourselves to see if we are living according to the measure of Christ, according to the measure of the Saints, according to the measure of the Saints we celebrate today, the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius. Let us check ourselves to see how much love we have. To the extent that we have distanced ourselves from love, we are that far from Christ.

Let us pray to the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodius and to all the Saints in Heaven to send us enlightenment, so that the desire for the struggle in prayer and love may be kindled within us. Amen.