In a meeting with the leader of the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church Friday, Pope Francis recalled two of the saints the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches have in common — Sts. Cyril and Methodius — remarking on the holiness both Churches have inherited.
The Bishop of Rome noted that according to tradition, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the great evangelists of eastern Europe in the ninth century, brought relics of St. Clement, one of the first successors of St. Peter, to Adrian II.
This gesture “reminds us Christians that we have inherited — and we continually need to share — an immense common heritage of holiness,” Francis said in a May 11 meeting with Metropolitan Rastislav, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Prešov.
The Orthodox bishop celebrated Divine Liturgy at the tomb of St. Cyril in the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterno before his visit with Francis.
There have been many witnesses and countless martyrs who have “professed fidelity to Jesus,” over the centuries, including St. Clement, the Bishop of Rome said. But even in recent times, there have been martyrs, such as when atheistic persecution affected Czechoslovakia.
“Even today the sufferings of many brothers and sisters, persecuted because of the Gospel, are an urgent appeal, which challenges us to seek greater unity,” he continued, asking that the example of Sts. Cyril and Methodius would help Christians “to enhance this heritage of holiness that already unites us!”
Francis noted how the two saints, sometimes called the “Apostles of the Slavs,” also succeeded in overcoming divisions between Christian communities of different cultures and traditions, acting as, in the words of St. John Paul II, “authentic precursors of ecumenism.”
“May the witness of Saints Cyril and Methodius accompany us on the journey towards full unity, encouraging us to live this diversity in communion and to never be discouraged in our journey, which we are called to do by the Lord's will and with joy,” the Bishop of Rome said.
In translating the Gospel message into the Slavic language of the Moravian people, Francis noted, the brothers were incarnating the Gospel in a particular culture, “thereby giving development to that culture itself.”
The Spirit will similarly inspire “new and courageous ways to evangelize our contemporaries,” he added, “even in traditionally Christian countries marked now by secularization and indifference.”
During the meeting, Metropolitan Rastislav said that he appreciates the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which Francis invited his Church to take part in actively.
Rastislav also spoke about the “heroic missionary work of the Saint brothers Cyril and Methodius” and reflected on the story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel.
“As Orthodox and Roman Catholics, due to historical reasons, we are not able to break the Bread of Life together at the present moment,” he said. “However, we still remain fellow disciples who walk together as fellow pilgrims on the way.”
And though we may not realize it clearly, we have “our Lord and Master walking with us, comforting us, expounding the Scriptures to us and giving us new hope, courage, and renewing our trust,” he continued.
“We may still have a long walk before us, Your Holiness, to reach Emmaus and break the Bread of Life together. Yet we walk together and, moreover, we are not alone. He, our Lord Jesus, walks with us, and we should not be afraid.”
During the visit, Metropolitan Ratislav gave Francis an icon of Sts. Cyril and Methodius along with St. Rastislav, the prince of Great Moravia who invited the missionaries to evangelize his territory. The metropolitan said that he hoped the gift could be a token of friendship and good will and “a sign of hope for the future.”