image with the sign of Myriobiblos

Main Page | Library | Homage | Seminars | Book Reviews





Internet Dept.



Previous Page
Panayiotis Christou

Who Sent Cyril And Methodius Into Central Europe, The Emperor Or The Patriarch?

The answer to this question is of great importance for a correct assessment of: a) the two brothers' relations with Photius; b) their relations with Rome; and c) the aims of the mission.

According to the primary sources -that is, the Old Slavonic Lives of Cyril and Methodius- the mission originated as follows. The Prince of Moravia, Rastislav, sent a special delegation to Emperor Michael ΙΙΙ to ask him: 'Send us, Lord, ... a bishop and teacher; for in truth the good law is always disseminated by you to all countries.'(1)

The Emperor then called a meeting of the Senate, invited the two brothers to attend, and commissioned them to carry out the task. It was the Emperor, therefore, who took the initiative for the mission. But it would be quite incorrect to cοnclude from this that its purpose, in Byzantine terms, was purely political. In the first place, it was fοr the Emperor to act because it was to him that Rastislav had addressed his request. But in any case, such a matter lay within his province, because it was his duty, as 'the apostle among kings',(2) to send missionaries abroad to spread the Christian faith. Furthermore, a mission of this nature would require both bilateral agreements at a State level and considerable financial outlay.

Αll the same, it is certainly strange that no mention is made of the Church's participation in the undertaking; and this is even more extraordinary if one considers the fact that the mission was dispatched during Photius's term as Patriarch. If the Church was not involved, then Photius the Great had no hand in this unique initiative aimed at bringing the Slavs into the community of civilized Christian peoples.

Various attempts have been made to explain the absence of any reference to the Church's involvement. The first explanation, offered by Western historians, is that the Eastern Church in general, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople in particular, was not greatly interested in missionary work - at least after A.D.400. This is quite clearly not so, since between the years 400 and 640 the Eastern Church's missionary activity brought the Christian faith to a great many countries and peoples, from Nubia in Africa to Southern Arabia and as far afield as India, China, and Georgia. Ιn Europe tοo the majority of the Germanic tribes received Christianity from Constantinople. At οne point, in Venice, Cyril's opponents refused to countenance the use in the Liturgy of any but the three holy languages of the Cross. He refuted their arguments by declaring that in the East all peoples had the Gospel and praised God in their own language: Armenians, Persians, Avasgians, Georgians, Sogdians, Goths, Avars, Turks, Khazars, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, and other besides.(3) Most of them had become Christian after Α.D.400. Ιn comparison with this activity, the Western Church had nothing to show but the conversion of Germany and Britain.

The second explanation of Photius's apparent noninvolvement in the mission is that Cyril and Methodius were supposedly οppοnents of Photius and supporters of Ignatius and, by extension, Ρope Nicholas. Some scholars believe that this opposition is indicated by the probability that Polychroniou Monastery, of which Methodius was abbot, supported Ignatius rather than Photius after the schism of 858. Another argument which is used to support the notion of this opposition is that the brothers were welcomed in Rome when they returned from Moravia. The abbot of a Constantinople monastery which was friendly towards Ignatius could not possibly, it is said, have been a supporter of Photius; and two men who were warmly received in Rome must have been against him.

Ιn answer to this explanation, it must be pointed out that the change of patriarch under Michael ΙII and his Prime Minister, Bardas, had deep roots. They replaced the zealous but rigid Ignatius with Photius, a very able man of learning who was to assist, and in part draw up, the State reconstruction programme. How could they have sent into Central Europe two men who were hostile to the ecclesiastical policy of Photius, and therefore of the Church itself? It is clear that Photius, the man whom Michael had chosen as his adviser οn all spiritual and ecclesiastical qιιestions, whom he had charged with important assignments, and whom he had persuaded to accept the position of Patriarch, was not merely the first to be invited to attend the Senate meeting, did not merely approve the men whο were to be sent to Εuroρe, but actιιally selected them himself, as he had done for earlier missions. It is obvious tlιat, far from being his enemies, they must have been his friends. Furthermore, Cyril is known to have been a pupil of Photius,(4) and later his colleague at the University of Constantinople, having been appointed Professor of Philosophy in the reign of Empress Theodora. He was, moreover, a close friend of Photius's, an 'amicus fortissimus' according to the Roman Anastasius the Librarian.(5)

After the death of his patron, Prime Minister Theoctistus, Constantine-Cyril fell into disfavor with the political authorities and lost his professorial chair. He was later reconciled with the Emperor and Bardas, nο doubt through the good offices of Photius. He travelled to the Caliphate with Photius in 856, and was subsequently sent, οn the latter's recommendation, to the Crimea and Khazaria. Οn his return from this mission in 861, 'he had his seat in the Church of the Holy Apostles';(6) that is, he took up a professorial chair in the Patriarchal School, which operated οn that church's premises. It would have been odd for Photius to appoint a personal enemy to this most important institution.

Finally, one should not overlook Constantine-Cyril's title. Αll his life he was known as 'the Philosopher', and his posthumous biography was titled The Life of Constantine the Philosopher. A 'philosopher' could not but belong to the progressive party of Photius, rather than to the zealot faction of Ignatius.

We have no clear evidence about the relations between Methodius and Photius, but we do have certain indications. The fact that he was appointed Abbot of Polychroniou Monastery does not mean that he was friendly towards the deposed Patriarch Ignatius. Indeed, given the fact that his appointment was made during Photius's term as Patriarch, and was obviously sanctioned by him, it seems likely that it was made precisely to mollify the monks who supported Ignatius and to change their sentiments. The appointment followed directly upon the two brothers' return from Khazaria and the Crimea, after Photius had offered Methodius an episcopal see, which he declined. It is clear from what has been said above that Photius cannot have been absent from the deliberations concerning the mission to Central Europe. The question, then, should be phrased differently: why do the sources not specifically mention his participation?

Their silence οn this point is undoubtedly connected with the circumstances under which the brothers' biographies were written.

The Life of Constantine the Philosopher was written in Rome shortly after Cyril's death in 869 by a companion of his and Methodius's, and its purpose was to present clear evidence that the Pope, Hadrian ΙΙ, approved the use of the Slavonic langιιage in the Liturgy and thus forestall the charges being brought against Methodius οn this account. The Life of Methodius was written in Moravia in 885 with the aim of persuading the ruler, Prince Sviatopolk, who was both a Latinophile and a Germanophile, that the mission was the work of the Emperor of Byzantium, and that those who reacted against it were therefore opposing the plans of the Emperor. It would have been impossible, in the Life of Constantine, to make much of Photius's role. Reference to his part in events would have undermined the whole purpose of the work, for Photius was hated in Rome and in the West generally, and had now been deposed in the East. Nor was such a reference possible in the Life of Methodius, because it would have diminished the Emperor's role, which was at the core of the work. It would also have been dangerous because, although Photius was back οn the patriarchal throne by now and had mended his differences with Rome, he still had not done so with the Germans, who were continuing to promote the filioque. It would therefore have been most unwise to present Photius as the person behind the brothers' mission. It is for the same reason that no mention is made of Photius's role in Constantine-Cyril's mission to the Caliphate,(8) although they probably went together, the one being responsible for religious and the other for civil affairs. Ιn this context too, such a reference would have been seen in the West as provocative.

There is therefore no reason to deny that Photius, as the supreme ecclesiastical authority in Byzantium, played a part in Cyril and Methodius's mission. Indeed, we have no choice but to accept that he did.

The question arises, however: why, in 867, did the brothers not travel to Constantinople to give an account of their work, but went to Rome instead? The answer is strange, but unequivocal: they did not go to Rome of their οwn accord; they were forced tο do so. The Life of Constantine (15) tells us: 'And so he remained in Moravia for forty months, and left in order to tonsure his disciples'; while in the Life of Methodius we read: 'Αnd when three years had passed, they returned from Moravia.'

'They returned'. One returns to tlιe point from which one has set out -in this case Constantinople- and the brothers were travelling there in order to tonsιιre their disciples in their place of origin -Constantinople. However, after passing through Pannonia, and staying fοr a while with its ruler, Κocel, in order to instruct disciples there too, they eventually came to Venice. It seems likely that the deteriorating relations between Byzantium and Bulgaria made it preferable to travel to Cοnstantinople by sea. When they arrived in Venice, however, as the Life of Constantine reports,(9) Latin bishops, clerics, and monks gave them a rough reception ('like crows against a hawk') because of their use of the Slavonic language, and brought up the heresy of Trilinguism.

What is significant is that the Life of Constantine goes οn to say that 'when the Pope was informed about him [Cyril], he sent and asked for him';(10) which means that Cyril did not originally intend to go to Rome, but did so at the Pope's invitation. When he reached Rome, however, he was received not by Nicholas, but by his successor, Hadrian II, who was well disposed towards him. Had it not been for the invitation, he would have gone to Constantinople. Indeed, what the two brothers failed to do then, Methodius did alone fifteen years later, when Photius was again Patriarch.

The truth is that Photius's role is not completely ignored, but is referred to obliquely. The Life of Constantine states, for instance, that Photius was Cyril's teacher, a reference which was considered harmless: 'Constantine learned dialectics and all the branches of philosophy under Leo and Photius.(11) The Life of Methodius mentions towards the end that 'the Patriarch also acted in a similar way':(12) that is, he received Methodius in Constantinople, approved his teaching, gave him sumptuous gifts, and sent him οn his way back to his archbishopric. The Patriarch was Photius. During this meeting, not only did Photius and the Archbishop of Moravia see eye to eye οn all matters, but, learning of the teaching of the filioque, the former was also persuaded to enter the lists against it.

It is in this indirect, allusive fashion that the two biographers in fact give Photius all his due, from the start to the finish of the mission. And all this leaves no doubt that Photius did indeed not merely participate in organizing the mission to Moravia and the other Slavonic countries, but played, in effect, the most important part.

Byzantium was faced with a request from Rastislav, who had probably been encouraged to make it by people from Constantinople who had been working in Moravia for some time. The Prince asked for a bishop and teacher, whο would be able to teach them the true Christian faith in their οwn language and bring them the 'good law'. The Emperor granted the request at once by sending two teachers, one of whom was to become Archbishop of Moravia. Now, how could he have done this if the preconditions had not existed?

What was actually needed, apart from a teacher with a knowledge of the language, was an alphabet adapted to the specific phonetic features of Slavonic, the creation of theological and ecclesiastica1 terminology in Slavonic, and translations of the basic books of worship and instruction. This was a difficult task in respect of an unwritten and unformed language, which lacked words and expressions to convey notions that simply did not exist for a culturally underdeveloped people.

The missionaries took all this to Moravia; and it was, beyond doubt, the product of many years of preparation. This preparation could have been carried out only under the aegis of the Church and at some special center for Slavonic studies, which was probably located in the School of the Holy Apostles. And the motivating force behind it all was the Patriarch, Photius.

Ιn conclusion, therefore, we may say that: a) the two brothers were sent into Europe by the Patriarch and the Emperor together, Photius providing what was required from the theological and religious point of view, and Michael ΙΙΙ granting political and material protection; and b) that their mission had both religious and cultural aims.


1. Life of Constantine 14.

2. Apolytikion of the Feast of St Constantine (21 May).

3. Life of Constantine 16.

4. Life of Constantine 4.

5. Letter to Pope Hadrian, Μοnumentα Germaniae Historica, Epist. VII, p. 407.

6. Life of Constantine 4.

7. Life of Methodius 5.

8. Life of Constantine 6.

9. Life of Constantine 16.

10. Life of Constantine 17.

11. Life of Constantine 4.

12. Life of Methodius 13.

Previous Page