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14.2.08

Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Sts. Cyril and Methodius, mural painting by Zahari Zograf, Troyan Monastery, 1848Everyone knows that Valentine's Day is an invention, recently of Hallmark but long before that by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Parliament of Fowles. Not only are the associations of the day with lovers manufactured, the martyr who lends his name to the celebration has been shown by hagiographers to be impossibly obscure and possibly non-existent. As a result, Valentine, whoever he was or was not, has been expunged from the sanctoral calendar, in favor of other two important (and real) saints celebrated on February 14, Cyril and Methodius.

They were Greek brothers, who lived and worked for many years in the Slavic countries. As part of their missionary work, Cyril developed an alphabet for Old Slavonic, so that the language could be written down. The characters are still known as the Cyrillic alphabet, and the brothers made Slavonic translations of the books of the Bible and of the Catholic liturgy. St. Cyril also recovered the relics of St. Clement and brought them to Rome, where they were interred in the magnificent basilica now known as San Clemente. While in Rome, Cyril died, on February 14, 869, and is buried in San Clemente (which I visited again just last summer). Methodius outlived his brother by several years, serving as a bishop in Velehrad, Moravia, and is buried in his cathedral there.

Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
And driven awey the longe nightes blake!

Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte; --
Thus singen smale foules for thy sake --
Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake.

Wel han they cause for to gladen ofte,
Sith ech of hem recovered hath his make;
Ful blisful may they singen whan they wake;
Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
And driven away the longe nightes blake.
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter's tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!

Saint Valentine, throned aloft,
Thus little birds sing for your sake:
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter's tempest you will shake!

Good cause have they to glad them oft,
His own true-love each bird will take;
Blithe may they sing when they awake,
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter's tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!

-- Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowles (concluding poem sung by the birds, Middle English and modern translation)
Image: Sts. Cyril and Methodius, mural painting by Zahari Zograf (Bulgarian icon painter, 1810–1853), Troyan Monastery, 1848

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