When we go into a drugstore, a greeting cards store, a department store, a candy store, or a florist’s shop at this time of year, we are bombarded with the idea that February 14th is “Saint Valentine’s Day.” Or sometimes, just “Valentine’s Day.” This does not indicate a great deal of devotion in our nation to the saint by that name, or even any belief in the existence of such a person at all. It’s all about money, since there are still millions of people who send greeting cards, exchange gifts, especially of candy and flowers, on or near February 14th. And those who can make a profit by selling these things are only too happy to keep the “Saint Valentine’s” tradition going as long as possible.
However, some years ago, during a revision of the religious calendar, the Church simply dropped an obligatory celebration of Saint Valentine from February 14th, and replaced it with two missionaries who brought our holy faith to the peoples of the Slavic regions. And who are the Slavic peoples? Most dictionaries define them simply as those who speak Slavic languages. Thus, the term would comprise Russians, Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Croats, and Slovenes. Those two missionaries to the Slavic peoples were Saints Cyril and Methodius, who are numbered among the patron saints of the continent of Europe along with Saints Benedict, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, Edith Stein, and Jadwiga of Poland.
Perhaps you are aware that the Russians and some other Slavic people write in an alphabet different from ours. It is called the Cyrillic alphabet because it was largely formulated and spread by this Saint Cyril whom we celebrate today. Some of our more liturgically-aware Catholics have pointed out that we might send “Cyril and Methodius” cards or gifts instead of Valentines, but admit that it would lose something in the transition. It would take a long time for us to come up with a tradition by which the boy would ask the girl, or vice-versa, to be his or her “Cyril and/or Methodius.” And then we might facetiously wonder if we’d have to give TWO gifts in honor of the two saints rather than just one. That would REALLY make the merchants happy, but it is very unlikely to happen. These customs take centuries to become truly traditional.
Years ago, one of our trips to Europe took my travel group and me to the city of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. I remember going into its cathedral, where there are two large stone slabs mounted on the back wall of the church, representing Saints Cyril and Methodius. However, Saint Cyril is buried in the basilica of San Clemente in Rome (a church staffed by Irish Dominicans, by the way), and Saint Methodius in the cathedral of the city of Velehrad in what is now the Czech Republic. Thus it happens that travel, especially in Europe, takes on the character of a pilgrimage which teaches us much about history and hagiography—the lives of the saints. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.