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A Hymn for Ss Cyril and Methodius

Gregory DiPippo

Despite their importance in the history of the Church, Ss Cyril and Methodius, the first evangelizers of the Slavs, only came to be honored with a general feast throughout the Roman Rite fairly recently. Their feast was long kept in most of eastern Europe, and they had a very prominent role in the Byzantine liturgy, but it was not until 1880 that Pope Leo XIII, who took a keen interest in the Eastern churches, added their feast to the Roman general calendar. It was originally assigned to July 5th, so that it could be celebrated within the octave of Ss Peter and Paul, as a sign of the Pope’s concern for the union of the Eastern churches with the See of Peter. In 1900, it was moved to July 7th, to make way for another Saint, and this is the day it retains in the traditional rite. In the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, they were moved to February 14th, the day of St Cyril’s death. In 1980, with the Apostolic letter Egregiae Virtutis, Pope St John Paul II declared them co-patron Saints of all of Europe, together with St Benedict, who had received this title in 1964.

When their feast was added to the general calendar, the Divine Office was given two proper hymns in their honor, one to be sung at Vespers and Matins, and the other at Lauds. These hymns are often attributed to the pen of Pope Leo XIII, who was indeed a very talented Latinist and poet. However, this specific attribution is mistaken; according to Dom Matthew Britt OSB, they were actually composed by two priests named Leanetti and Salvati, and revised by two others named Caprara and Tripepi. (The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal, p. 273) Neither of them was retained for use in the post-Conciliar liturgy of the Hours.

How recently it was that a standard Latin education including not just learning how to read the language, but how to write, and indeed, to write poetry in it, in a variety of styles and meters! This particular hymn is composed in the Sapphic stanza, which was also used in the default hymn for Confessors Iste Confessor, originally composed for the feast of St Martin of Tours. The translation given below was done by the Benedictines of Stanbrook Abbey in England; notice how it cleverly reproduces the meter of the Latin original.

Sedibus caeli nitidis receptos
Dicite athletas geminos, fideles;
Slavicae duplex columen decusque
   Dicite gentis.

Hos amor fratres sociavit unus,
Unaque abduxit pietas eremo,
Ferre quo multis celerent beatae
   Pignora vitae.

Luce, quae templis superis renidet,
Bulgaros complent, Moravos, Bohemos;
Mox feras turmas numerosa Petro
   Agmina ducunt.

Debitam cincti meritis coronam,
Pergite o flecti lacrimis precantum;
Prisca vos Slavis opus est datores
   Dona tueri.

Quaeque vos clamat generosa tellus
Servet aeternae fidei nitorem:
Quae dedit princeps, dabit ipsa semper
   Roma salutem.

Gentis humanae Sator et Redemptor,
Qui bonus nobis bona cuncta praebes,
Sint tibi grates, tibi sit per omne
   Gloria saeclum. Amen.

(Ss Cyril and Methodius, by the Polish painter Jan Matejko, 1885. Cyril was the youngest of the seven brothers in his family, and is here represented as considerably younger than his brother Methodius, as he indicates a book written in the alphabet attributed to him. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

 

Sing, O ye faithful, sing two athlete brothers,
Welcomed above to thrones of light supernal;
Sing, of Slavonia’s race, the glory twofold
   And strength eternal.

One love these brethren bound in sweetest union,
By pity same their solitude is broken;
Forth they would hasten, unto many bearing
   Life’s blessed token.

Soon o’er Bulgaria, Moravia, Bohemia,
Light from the heavenly temple shineth glorious.
Once savage hordes, now countless flocks, to Peter
   Lead they victorious.

Now with the well-earned crown your brow encircled,
Hear, blessèd ones, to suppliant tears bending;
Unto the Slavs, erst by your gifts enriched,
   Protection lending.

Oh, may each gen’rous land, your aid imploring,
Keep bright the faith through every generation;
Rome to that land first gave, and ever guardeth,
   Life and salvation.

Lord, of our race Creator and Redeemer,
By nature good, all goods on us bestowing,
Glory to thee through ages all, from grateful
   Hearts overflowing. Amen.

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