Tough competition for Cyril and Methodius

It seems so unfair. Routinely, pastoral ministers, journalists, and preachers will scour the earth to find some crumbs of information concerning St. Valentine, hoping to hint at a faith-connection for the Hallmark Holiday of “Valentine’s Day” — a day dear to those who want to celebrate romantic love.

Meanwhile, the feast of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, which occurs on February 14, sinks into a place of almost complete obscurity. Buried under an avalanche of red bows, cupids, and chocolate boxes, how can the Apostles to the Slavs possibly claim anyone’s attention?

Hmm. I wonder how these dates were decided. Was it perhaps out of a deep antipathy for the permission granted by Pope Adrian II, who authorized the liturgical use of Slavonic (rather than Latin) that poor Cyril and Methodious were set up for failure in the holiday competition? After all, a blow against liturgical inculturation, however late in the day, will seem to some to be a blow for justice.

Or was there a subtle anti-Slav sentiment behind it?

I’m only joking. Actually, I don’t believe there’s a conspiracy against Cyril and Methodius. Cyril and MethodiusAlthough the Archbishop of Salzburg and Bishop of Passau who claimed authority over the area of the Slavs took it hard when Pope Adrian overruled them in the matter of Latin, by now we’ve buried the hatchet. Use of the Slavonic language in liturgy has the status of a venerable antiquity nowadays, even though it was a novelty when Cyril and Methodius (their dates are: 826-869 and 815-885, respectively) proposed it.

And, lest we forget, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote a glowing tribute to Ss. Cyril and Methodius in his encyclical Slavorum apostoli. He certainly held them in high esteem.

In that encyclical John Paul built on the work of previous popes, but also he added a particularly affirming reference to the role of the Second Vatican Council in reviving our awareness of the catholicity of the faith. This faith requires a broad vision of liturgical inculturation, according to John Paul, one that fosters the active participation of a multiplicity of languages in the praise of God across the earth:

We can say without fear of contradiction that such a traditional and at the same time extremely up-to-date vision of the catholicity of the Church – like a symphony of the various liturgies in all the world’s languages united in one single liturgy, or a melodious chorus sustained by the voices of unnumbered multitudes, rising in countless modulations, tones and harmonies for the praise of God from every part of the globe, at every moment of history – this vision corresponds in a particular way to the theological and pastoral vision which inspired the apostolic and missionary work of Constantine the Philosopher and of Methodius, and which sustained their mission among the Slav nations.

He then goes on to quote Cyril’s own words in defense of the translation of the liturgy into the Slavic languages of his time:

Reminding them that God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on all people without exception, he said: “Do not all breathe the air in the same way? And you are not ashamed to decree only three languages (Hebrew, Greek and Latin), deciding that all other peoples and races should remain blind and deaf! Tell me: do you hold this because you consider God is so weak that he cannot grant it, or so envious that he does not wish it?” To the historical and logical arguments which they brought against him Cyril replied by referring to the inspired basis of Sacred Scripture: “Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”; “All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name”; “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!”

Strong stuff. Inspiring words from long ago that still seem fresh today.

So, my question is this: What happened in your church on February 14? Did you make a fitting remembrance of the apostles to the Slavs? Or were they an “also-ran” — remembered in the oration and no more? I guess I am curious to see if St. Valentine got the palm.

We hardly know Valentine. But I’m sure if he were alive today he’d happily have given way to Cyril and Methodius.

Cyril and Methodius were the creators of the Glagolitic alphabet depicted here in a circular pattern
Cyril and Methodius were the creators of the Glagolitic alphabet depicted here in a circular pattern

6 comments

  1. These poor saints have gotten knocked around the Roman calendar so much, I’m sure that they’re confused as to what their feast is! They were always “summer saints” (July 5, then July 7) and I believe that their feast is still kept that way in some central and eastern RC European countries. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches keep their feast on May 11. They were victims of political agendas and machinations in their lifetime, and it seems so today too, long after their deaths. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! S. Cyrillus et Methodius, orate pro nobis!

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