It’s February 14th, you know what that means…
Wait one sec… <checks calendar> …well we were all expecting St. Valentine’s Day, but no, it’s Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Isn’t Valentine a Saint? Yes, and he’s actually older – earlier – than Cyril and Methodius. This probably only heightens the question, therefore: why do our calendars highlight those guys instead of Valentine? I mean, Valentine was a martyr, and that usually puts one at the “top” of a list of Saints. Insofar as one can rate “saintliness,” martyrdom is usually top-rate.
But there is one “category” of sainthood that tops a martyr: Apostles. Obviously, Cyril and Methodius are not among the original twelve, or even among the first generation of Christians. Rather, they were apostles of a later sort – what we might call missionary bishops. They were sent to a new unreached people-group, the Slavs of Southeastern Europe, to preach the Gospel and establish the church among them. They became bishops in time, and were thus the “Apostles to the Slavs.”
And their efforts, not without controversy at first, went beyond what we normally read about with historic apostolic missionary bishops. Far from the imperialist mindset that frequently follows well-meaning missionaries, Cyril and Methodius actually learned the local language, began to invent an alphabet for them to write their language down, and began to celebrate the divine liturgy in their local language too. This was in the 800’s, a point in which everything Christian was generally either in Greek or in Latin (the Coptic, Assyrian, and Armenian churches had departed by this point), so the adding of a third major liturgical language was viewed with some suspicion at first. Nevertheless, the Cyrillic alphabet survives to this day, used by churches and nations that represent a massive portion of the world today. Old Church Slavonic is also now considered an “ancient” standard in Eastern liturgy.
Now, obviously, all Saint are important. Even further, all Christians, members of the Body of Christ, equally belong in Christ. In that sense, there’s no comparing or ranking that can be done. But liturgically speaking, you can only really have one commemoration per day. Because Cyril and Methodius were brothers who worked together in the same mission, they get teamed up to share a holy day (14 February is understood to be Cyril’s death date). And because their contribution to the global church makes a bigger splash than St. Valentine, who was executed on the same day of the year, they usually get liturgical priority over him.
So if you want to combine these commemorations today, perhaps you take someone out for a Valentine’s Day date, but write him or her a note in Russian or something 😉