Sermon of Bishop Akakije
on the Patronal Feastday of the Monastery
of Ss. Cyril and Methodius
on the Patronal Feastday of the Monastery
of Ss. Cyril and Methodius
Vrdnik, Frushka Gora
Last year we celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of our humble Monastery of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the place in which Serbian True Orthodoxy was born, unnoticed by most of the world. It is no accident that this small but precious spiritual oasis, on territory already, decades ago, abandoned on this once glorious and fruitful Serbian land, is dedicated to the Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles, the brothers Cyril and Methodius.
Our most merciful and man-loving God inclined the heavens and descended upon the earth, and with His Divine teaching and sacrifice on Golgotha enlightened the human race with the knowledge of the truth. He afterwards sent His disciples through the world, saying: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” As the Apostles themselves, however, did not enlighten our Slavic ancestors with the light of Christ’s teachings, by the Providence of God, later these holy brothers Cyril and Methodius and their disciples whole-heartedly took up the apostolic labor on the Slavic field. Their main work was the education of the Slavic peoples, that is, granting them literacy, so that they could receive the Word of God.
The Slavonic language, then, unlike the other languages of the world, is unique in that it was created for the express purpose of preaching the Word of God. The first words written in this God-inspired language were, “ISKONI BJE SLOVO, I SLOVO BJE K BOGU, I BOG BJE SLOVO,” that is, the first words of the Holy Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” From that moment, there began the unstoppable torrent of the Slavonic language, which brought to the Slavs the beginning of spiritual illumination, literacy, and education. This was how our ancestors were enlightened.
That was only the beginning, however, the foundation on which then had to be built the edifice of Slavic Orthodoxy: Thus, these holy brothers can rightly be called the fathers and begetters of Slavism, which later became the main pillar of world Orthodoxy. Our Dearest God, Who has endless mercy and does not wish that even one of us perish, by that same commandment and in that same way, according to the teachings and confessions of the Holy Apostles, later raised up our great Father Sava to the apostolic labor in the Serbian land, and he even more fervently continued that which these great brothers had begun, and that in the Lord’s vineyard of the Serbian land. Afterwards, St. Sava’s successors cultivated the Serbian field, even to our own times, in which the two luminaries Patriarch Barnabas and Bishop Nicholas (Velimirovich) shone forth in this apostolic struggle. These two were both hieromartyrs of Christ, slain because of their labor and courageous battle for the defense of the salvific stand of Slavic Orthodoxy and Serbian “Svetosavlje,” the foundations of which had been laid by the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, and St. Sava.
The members of this holy community now, today, also are standing bravely and unwaveringly in the defense of this position, and along with them are all those who help the community and take part in its active church life, as well as all of our holy Serbian True Orthodox Church. Let us rejoice today and thank the Lord Who is wondrous in His saints, by the prayers of all the untiring helpers who are attached to this holy community.
This years-long effort has brought forth its first, great, and all-important fruit – after more than half a century, Serbia has its own Serbian bishop who is not in submission to the godless authorities or straying from the strictly defined path of Holy Orthodoxy into the erroneous ways of the pan-heresy of ecumenism, calendar “reform,” and liturgical “reform.”
We must not pass over in silence the help from our Old Calendar Greek Orthodox brothers, for which we thank them and wish them all the best from God. Only now, however, with the help of our Slavic brothers the Russians, our national Church of St. Sava is finally breathing freely, with all its hierarchical services and all other episcopal work at last taking place in our Slavic language. Everyone, including the simplest believer, can without hindrance speak and correspond with their bishop in Serbian, and can see him at any time. Communication is of the utmost importance, and it is no accident that the holy brothers Ss. Cyril and Methodius first hastened to create the means of communication, both oral and written.
Ss. Cyril and Methodius created the Cyrillic alphabet, and that which holy people create is holy, as St. Nicholas Velimirovich says. The Orthodox Slavs – Russians, Serbs, and Bulgarians – use the Cyrillic. At one time, the other Slavic nations also used only the Cyrillic alphabet. The Roman Church, however, by means of an evil and insidious strategy, imposed the Latin alphabet on the Catholicized and Latinized Slavs, in order to separate them even more firmly from Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, today we see that the Serbian people in Serbia, Montenegro, and the other territories of their centuries-old habitation, have begun to use the Latin alphabet to the detriment of the holy and blessed Cyrillic. It has gone so far that already many Serbs cannot even read the Cyrillic. It is very likely that the rejection of the Cyrillic alphabet is linked to the rejection of Orthodoxy. If we examine today the decreasing use of the Cyrillic, juxtaposed with the declining state of Orthodoxy among the Serbs, this hypothesis is demonstrable.
Along with this open apostasy from the Cyrillic alphabet is the hidden apostasy of the abandonment of the Church Slavonic language as the traditional liturgical language of all Slavs. This reform of the liturgical language goes hand-in-hand with all the other church renovationism and modernism which are undermining the very foundations of Orthodox Slavism. Serbia is in the lead of this linguistic reform. In Serbia, Church Slavonic as the liturgical language is nearly extinct, and all of this has been done with the excuse that contemporary believers do not understand it. Here lurks a great danger, not so much threatening the Church Slavonic language, but rather threatening all of us, the Orthodox Slavs, who through this blessed language draw near to the Lord.
The traditional energy of this unprofaned, strictly ecclesiastical language makes it an anchor for every Orthodox (Slavic) man. In the Church Slavonic texts of the Holy Scriptures, in the Gospels, Psalter, and in many spiritual works which were created over the course of a millennium in the Byzantine and Slavic lands, God is revealed. The Church Slavonic language is the way to knowledge of God for Orthodox Slavs. It was always thus, a thousand years ago as well as today, that a (Slavic) man who accepts Orthodoxy must not only climb the spiritual ladder but also this linguistic one.
Today’s Slavic man, then, just as he of a thousand years ago, on accepting the Orthodox faith, has before himself not only a spiritual but also a linguistic ladder. Should one worry that all Church Slavonic is not immediately understandable to us? Does an infant in the cradle, listening to his mother’s song, understand all of it? No! In the beginning, it only hears its mother’s sweet voice, the simple melody of the refrain, and afterwards distinguishes individual words, clumsily repeating them. The infant must grow up and give birth to its own children, and only then, above their cradle, understand what this traditional cradle carried in itself, in which generations were raised.
In the Church, we, in the beginning, are just such children, who at first hear the clear voice of the priest, a melody, which is sung by the choir and sweetly chanted by the reader. Then we recognize, repeat, and learn words. On this path one should always remember, that Church Slavonic is our mother tongue, and that in it entire generations of Orthodox people were taught and matured spiritually throughout the Slavic nations, and that this is the language of divine knowledge, and to exchange it for another, modern and profane one is the same as if one replaced one’s mother’s song with contemporary pop music. Secondly, the introduction of profane and mutilated modern languages into the church services by the local Slavic churches creates a confusion among the Slavs similar to that created by the introduction of the new calendar. For the understanding and knowledge of Church Slavonic is the unifying and common possession of all the Slavic nations, while their respective vernacular tongues are, for the most part, not mutually comprehensible. Thus a linguistic reform tears down the very important liturgical unity among the Slavs. In sum, then, we must preserve the Church Slavonic language as the language of the services – the language in which we pray.
Also, in everyday life, we must not, at any cost, leave to the past and to oblivion the Cyrillic alphabet for the sake of some kind of drawing near to the Western “civilized” world. For all of us Orthodox Serbs the norm should be the same – the Serbian language should be written in Cyrillic without exception, and foreign languages in their letters. Orthodox parents must especially take care that their children above all should write Cyrillic perfectly, and for that to be their main and only alphabet in which they write their maternal Serbian language, while, of course, the Latin alphabet can be learned as a necessary tool for writing foreign languages, though strictly in a secondary place after their native tongue.
Thus, let us magnify our Teachers, the Equals-to-the-Apostles:
Glory to you, holy brothers, Enlighteners of the Slavs!
I wish to express my gratitude to all who labored for the celebration of the monastery’s feast: the Superior of this holy community Monk Niphon, and all the patrons, benefactors, and helpers who made an effort to prepare this spacious porch in front of the monastery church, along with all the guests present today and all the faithful. May the Lord mercifully bless you through the prayers of the Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles, the brothers Cyril and Methodius! May God help all of us!