By Philippa Hitchen
Pope Francis met on Friday with Metropolitan Rastislav, head of the Orthodox Church in the Czech and Slovak Republics.
It was the first encounter between the pontiff and the primate, who was elected in January 2014.
In his words to the Holy Father, Metropolitan Rastislav compared the two Church leaders to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who only recognised Jesus when he broke bread with them. While we are still unable to break the Bread of Life together, he said, we “remain fellow disciples who walk together” as pilgrims on the way.
In his response to the Orthodox leader, Pope Francis recalled the legacy of the 9th century Apostles of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius, whom Saint John Paul II proclaimed co-patrons of Europe in honour of their evangelising mission.
Legacy of Saints Cyril and Methodius
The two brothers, who translated the Bible from Greek into the Slavic language, remind us of our “immense shared patrimony of holiness”, the Pope said. As well as the innumerable witnesses and martyrs of the early centuries, he said, there are also many who were persecuted under the atheist, communist regimes and those who continue to suffer for their faith today.
Secondly, Pope Francis noted that the Apostles Cyril and Methodius had the audacity to translate the Gospels into a language that was accessible to people in the region, known then as Great Moravia.
Models of modern evangelisation
The brothers remain for us today a model of evangelization, he said, since it is not enough to stick to our set way of doing things, but rather we should listen to the Spirit who inspires us with new ways of translating the Gospel message for contemporary women and men. That includes people living in traditionally Christian countries which are often marked by secularisation and indifference.
Unity means reconciling diversity
Finally, the Pope said Saints Cyril and Methodius were able to overcome divisions between Christian communities of different cultures and traditions, becoming therefore “authentic precursors of ecumenism”. They remind us, he stressed, that unity does not mean uniformity, but rather the reconciling of diversity in the Holy Spirit.
May the witness of the Apostles of the Slavs accompany us on the road to full unity, he said, including through the work of the international mixed commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches