This year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th - St Valentine's Day ... but also
the day in the Church's calendar when we remember Ss Cyril & Methodius.
‘Who?' I hear you say. Well, you aren't alone if you've never heard of these Ninth century brothers,
originally from Thessolonika in Greece. I was recently at a meeting and mentioned to a few other clergy that I'd come
across a church in Bratislava dedicated to said brothers - the first church I'd seen to bear their names. My comment was
met with blank looks. When I said that their feast day in the calendar was 14th February, various dairies and phones and ipads
were reached for - and everyone drew a blank (...I realised that this year's calendar wouldn't show them as Ash Wednesday
takes precedence). I stuck to my guns and produced last year's diary from my bag which showed the date clearly as SS Cyril
The church was by the penultimate bus stop on a
journey I made on a trip to the outskirts of Bratislava back in late November. My destination was Devin castle, a ruined building
on the banks of the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers. Despite being a bleak day, it was a rather spectacular site,
especially the watchtower, which, I gather, is one of the most photographed things in Slovakia. Devin Village is rather charming,
and has a delightfully eclectic row of homes built against the remains of the castle walls.
Back in 2013 Bratislava hosted a big celebration to mark 1150 years since the arrival of the two
missionary brothers to their land, and Devin was one of the places which featured in the celebrations, having been an ancient
settlement from Neolithic times, and a place where Cyril and Methodius visited in 863 during their missionary work to the
Slavonic people. The Slavonic language only existed in spoken form, which the brothers conversed in, and Cyril developed an
alphabet, now know as Cyrillic script. He began translating the Bible into Slavonic, a task his brother Methodius continued
after Cyril died in 869. They also celebrated Catholic liturgies in Slavonic as they sought to evangelise the people of eastern
Europe. They are celebrated as saints in both the Orthodox and the western Churches, and in 1980 Pope John-Paul II declared
them co-patrons of Europe, alongside Benedict of Nursia.
am I writing about these brothers in preference to Ash Wednesday/ the beginning of Lent? Well, for two reasons. Firstly, in
our Lent Course this year at St Martin's we'll be thinking about the Creeds of the Church. St Methodius was very much
caught up in one of the greatest controversies about the Nicene Creed, when the Roman Church added a clause, in Latin, to
the text that had been agreed at the Council of Nicea in 381AD. Commonly known as the Filioque clause, it became a cause of
tension between Eastern and Western Churches, opening up difficult questions about theology and authority within the world-wide
Church, that resulted in Schism in 1054. (If you want to know more, come along to the Lent Course sessions - details are elsewhere
in this magazine - or for some in-depth theological information look up the Filioque on the website catholicbridge.com)
Cyril and Methodius were gifted linguists and they knew the joys and problems of translating
from one language to another. The Season of Lent is partly about how we translate our faith into our lives: how do we experience
God and show him in our living in ways which communicate effectively both our love for him, his love for us, and his love
through us for his world and his people? Mis-translation and misunderstanding are problems to be grappled with in terms of
living out and inhabiting our faith and Lent is a time when we can set our minds to reflecting on these things.
Secondly, as missionaries to the Slavs, the brothers took to heart the call to make
Christ known to those who had not had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They travelled extensively in countries and cultures
which were very diverse, yet they became well known and well regarded, by those who ‘sent' them and those to whom
they were sent. Lent gives us an opportunity to consider our calling as those who are to communicate that same Gospel to a
world today with its diversity and complexity. It might not require us to be gifted linguists, but it does require us to be
committed to Jesus Christ and to think about how we can introduce family/friends/colleagues/strangers to God. How do we tell
the Christian story so that it resonates with them - and how do we embody that story of God's love in our lives?
Lent is often seen as a time for us to concentrate upon our own faith; upon our personal
growth as Christians. Maybe this year, as Ash Wednesday falls on SS Cyril & Methodius' Day, we should also consider
our call to be witnesses and evangelists of the Gospel of God's love in Ashton Village, in Sale and beyond.
With my prayers for a blessed and joyful Lent,