I know, today is Ash Wednesday. It is also Valentines Day. But rather than trying to figure out a way to pick between these two very different celebrations or even combine them into a single reflection, I thought I would just go in a wildly different direction.
February 14th is, in the Episcopal Church at least, the feast day of Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavs. And, again, I know . . . though it it not always coincident with Ash Wednesday – more on the dates and timing of Spring holy days in the church later this week – it is always the same day as Valentine’s Day. This should show us something about the relationship between Valentine’s Day as we understand it and the actual practices of the Church.
Anyhoo . . .
Cyril and Methodius were a monk and bishop, respectively, who brought Christianity from the eastern part of the Roman Empire (the part known as the Byzantine Empire) north across the Black Sea and into eastern Europe and Western Asia. There story is a pretty common one even if it is not completely familiar to contemporary Christians.
One of the things that I’d like to highlight, however, is the role that language – written language in particular – plays in the story. It is widely known and appreciated, I think, that one of the principle challenges of spreading the Gospel is the broad swath of languages spoken on this planet. Whether you hold to the mythology of the Tower of Babel in Genesis or have a more cultural/evolutionary understanding of the thing, it’s simply unavoidable. The Gospel was proclaimed and written down in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Until one either translates the text or teaches the source language, the Gospel (as story, narrative or teaching) remains obscured.
So it happens that many who we now hallow as evangelists were, at the same time – and perhaps more importantly in their immediate contexts – important linguists and translators. This is certainly the case with Cyril and Methodius. Witness the fact that the alphabet used to express most Slavic languages is called “Cyrillic” to honor the man thought to have invented, Cyril the monk and evangelist.
See, isn’t that better than candy conversation hearts or ashes on the forehead?