Friday, July 5, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we perhaps remember the greatest brother tandem in church history (?)

It is the 5th of July 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Let’s talk about great brothers in the history of the church. It’s hard to beat the Wesley as church founders, hymn writers, etc.…

Two of the 3 Cappadocian Fathers were brothers: Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nysa (you might remember their sister and father were both saints).

Beyond brothers, we have St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica (she is the patron saint of book fairs).

But there are two vying for the spot, and there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them. YET, these fit in our recent run of BIG names in church history as they, along with St. Benedict, are patron saints of Europe and are responsible for one of the most important alphabets of all time (and all that entails). Interestingly, they weren’t made Europe’s patron saints until 1980, and their names, Cyril and Methodius, not only reflect a reversal of convention with the younger brother being named first, but they were also not called Cyril or Methodius until late in life.

Let’s untangle this.

Cyril and Methodius were born in Thessalonica, Greece, in the 800s- Cyril around 825 and Methodius around 815- they were called Constantine and Michael, respectively. Their mother was a Slav- this was during the era of great Slavic migration as Persians and Arabs swept westward. Their father was an upstanding Christian and a military man (a callback to yesterday when, 500 years earlier, a “Christian soldier” could be seen as a contradiction in terms of some).

The two would eventually become monks, but not before older brother Michael/Methodius went into the military and politics while the younger Constantine/Cyril studied at the University of Constantinople and went on to be a librarian and professor of philosophy at the Hagia Sophia.

They came to the attention of the broader church when they were sent to the Khazars in the 860s who were looking at both Judaism and Islam as possible allies. Their knowledge of both politics and slavonic made them a choice duo.

In the same decade the prince of Greater Moravia requested missionaries from the West- once again their knowledge of slavonic languages made them a good choice- but they would go above and beyond.

The territory we call “Eastern Europe,” the “Balkans,” etc.… was caught between Eastern and Western Christianity and between Christianity, broadly, and Islam.

It was Cyril (and you’ll see why him in a minute) who made the important inroad by creating an alphabet to match the Slavonic tongue rather than trying to fit the language into foreign alphabets.

And thus, the “Slavonic” language was born with the “Cyrillic” alphabet. If you’ve ever seen something written in “Russian” or “Ukrainian” and you think: that’s neither an Asian nor Arabic alphabet, and why is there a backward “R”?” That’s Cyrillic- named for the younger brother- Constantine- who took the name now associated with his alphabet that was used to translate scripture and most importantly: liturgy. The Old Church Slavonic ties together Macedonian, Bulgarian, Russian, and Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

The question arose, especially in the West, about the legitimacy of a new language being used to preach the faith. It was held, by some, that only those languages on the cross of Christ- Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek were suitable for teaching and preaching the faith. The brothers would head to the West in 867 at the behest of Pope and he would vindicate the use of Slavonic to teach the faith and hold services.

Constantine would take the name Cyril just before his early death in 869 while in Rome- he was likely in his 40s.

His older brother Michael made Bishop Methodius continue to serve the church, serve as a missionary in the Balkans, and tussle with the Western Christians (this was pre-Schism before there was an Eastern or Western church).

They were saints by public acclaim almost immediately upon dying, but it wasn’t until this, July 5th, 1980, that they were made Patron Saints of Europe. And who did that? Pope John Paul II—the first and only Slavonic Pope—was fighting the Cold War against his Slavic compatriots in the East and wanted Cyril and Methodius to represent a bridge between old Eastern and Western churches.

The apostle to the Slavs- the Patron Saints of Europe and on the Mt Rushmore (?) of Theologian siblings- Sts. Cyril and Methodius



The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Psalm 123 from my favorite Metrical Psalter: 

 1  O thou that dwellest in the heav'ns,

       I lift mine eyes to thee.

 2  Behold, as servants' eyes do look

       their masters' hand to see,


    As handmaid's eyes her mistress' hand;

       so do our eyes attend

    Upon the Lord our God, until

       to us he mercy send.


 3  O Lord, be gracious unto us,

       unto us gracious be;

    Because replenished with contempt

       exceedingly are we.


 4  Our soul is filled with scorn of those

       that at their ease abide,

    And with the insolent contempt

       of those that swell in pride.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of July 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite brothers are the brothers Mario, Brooks, Dutch, Stater's (on the West Coast), and the Super Smash Bros- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man back amongst the brothers Adam and Charles, Aron and Cal up in Salinas- I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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