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Ioannes Paulus PP. II
1985 06 02
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1. THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out. Indeed it can be said that their memory is particularly vivid and relevant to our day.
Considering the grateful veneration enjoyed for centuries by the holy Brothers from Salonika (the ancient Thessalonica), especially among the Slav nations, and mindful of their incalculable contribution to the work of proclaiming the Gospel among those peoples; mindful too of the cause of reconciliation, friendly coexistence, human development and respect for the intrinsic dignity of every nation, by my Apostolic Letter Egregiae Virtutis1 of 31 December 1980 I proclaimed Saints Cyril and Methodius Co-Patrons of Europe. In this way I followed the path already traced out by my Predecessors, and notably by Leo XIII, who over a hundred years ago, on 30 September 1880, extended the cult of the two Saints to the whole Church, with the Encyclical Epistle Grande Munus,2 and by Paul VI, who, with the Apostolic Letter Pacis Nuntius3 of 24 October 1964, proclaimed Saint Benedict Patron of Europe.
2. The purpose of the document of five years ago was to remind people of these solenm acts of the Church and to call the attention of Christians and of all people of good will who have at heart the welfare, harmony and unity of Europe to the ever-living relevance of the eminent figures of Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, as concrete models and spiritual aids for the Christians of today, and especially for the nations of the continent of Europe, which, especially through the prayers and work of these saints, have long been consciously and originally rooted in the Church and in Christian tradition.
The publication of my Apostolic Letter in 1980, which was dictated by the firm hope of a gradual overcoming in Europe and the world of everything that divides the Churches, nations and peoples, was linked to three circumstances that were the subject of my prayer and reflection. The first was the eleventh centenary of the Pontifical Letter Industriae Tuae,4 whereby Pope John VIII in the year 880 approved the use of the Old Slavonic language in the liturgy translated by the two holy Brothers. The second circumstance was the first centenary of the above-mentioned Encyclical Epistle Grande Munus. The third was the beginning, precisely in 1980, of the happy and promising theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches on the Island of Patmos.
3. In the present document I wish to make particular reference to the Epistle Grande Munus, by which Pope Leo III intended to remind the Church and the world of the apostolic merits of both the Brothers-not only of Methodius, who, according to tradition, ended his days at Velehrad in Greater Moravia in the year 885, but also of Cyril, whom death separated from his brother in 869, when he was in Rome, the city which received and which still preserves his relics with profound veneration in the Basilica of Saint Clement.
Recalling the holy lives and apostolic merits of the two Brothers from Salonika, Pope Leo XIII fixed their annual liturgical feast on 7 July. After the Second Vatican Council, as a result of the liturgical reform, the feast was transferred to 14 February, which from the historical point of view is the date of the heavenly birthday of Saint Cyril.5 At a distance of over a hundred years from Pope Leo's Epistle, the new circumstances in which it so happens that there falls the eleventh centenary of the death of Saint Methodius encourage us to give renewed expression to the Church's memory of this important anniversary. And a particular obligation to do so is felt by the first Pope called to the See of Peter from Poland, and thus from the midst of the Slav nations.
The events of the last hundred years and especially of the last decades have helped to revive in the Church not only the religious memory of the two holy Brothers but also a historical and cultural interest in them. Their special charisms have become still better understood in the light of the situations and experiences of our own times. A contribution to this has been made by many events which belong, as true signs of the times, to the history of the twentieth century; the first of these is that great event which took place in the life of the Church: the Second Vatican Council. In the light of the magisterium and pastoral orientation of that Councils we can look in a new way-a more mature and profound way-at these two holy figures, now separated from us by eleven centuries. And we can read in their lives and apostolic activity the elements that the wisdom of divine Providence placed in them, so that they might be revealed with fresh fullness in our own age and might bear new fruits.