St. Cyril and St. Methodius, the two missionary brothers who gave birth to the written Slovak language, are celebrated by the Eastern Catholic Church in May. (The exploits of the Brothers are detailed here.) But in the early 20th century the Roman Catholic feast day for the saints, held on July 5, took on a new importance.
After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Slovaks around the world struggled to defend their national identity. When the Czechs declared July 6 a public holiday, in honor of 15th century Protestant forerunner Jan Hus, Slovaks pushed for the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, July 5, as a national celebration as well as religious one. Today it’s celebrated in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
In a word,
Never let go on these three things:
Faith, hope and love.
And know that the greatest of these
Will always be love
I Corinthians 13:13
June 29 is the Feast Day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Each gets his own saint day, but in the Venn diagram of the Catholic Church, June 29 marks the intersection of the two.
The two Apostles couldn’t have been more different. St. Peter was Christ’s most devoted follower and leader of the Apostles. A simple fisherman, he was born as Simon. His name Peter comes from Petros for ‘rock’. Jesus referred to Simon as his rock, saying “Upon this Rock I will build my church.”
Paul was born Saul, a wrathful and often vicious persecutor of the early Christians, who never encountered Jesus outside his visions. It wasn’t until his vision on the road to Damascus that he was “blinded by the light”. Following his conversion, Paul became the most prolific converter of non-Christians to the faith the world has ever known.
The scriptures don’t detail the death of either saint. It’s believed St. Peter was crucified upside-down. As a Roman citizen, Paul was very likely beheaded. The saints are remembered jointly today because their remains were temporarily moved on June 29, around the year 258 AD to prevent their desecration during the Valerian persecution.
Just when Madrid sobers up from back-to-back celebrations of Labor Day and Dos de Mayo, it pulls out all the stops for the week-long celebration of San Isidro.
San Isidro (1070-1130) is Madrid’s patron saint, whose feast day falls on May 15.
A simple farm worker, Isidro never had much money, never led a diocese or congregation, never fought in a war, and was not martyred or notably persecuted for his faith. Nor was his wife Santa Maria de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head). And yet Maria and Isidro are among the few husband-and-wife teams to be canonized in 2000 years of Christendom. (Though it did take 500 years for the Pope to do so.)
[Iberian Gothic? 12th century saints Ysidro & Maria reincarnated]
The couple lived in poverty for most of their lives, but they were known for their generosity, giving more to the poor than they kept for themselves. Stories of Isidro’s miracles, like the materialization of food and water for the hungry, are reminiscent of Jesus feeding the masses with a single loaf of bread. According to legend, one day Isidro’s scythe struck the earth, and a spring burst forth with enough water to sustain the whole city.
In the 900 years since Isidro and Maria walked the earth, farmers have called on them for relief in times of drought.
The holiday also marks the beginning of bullfighting season. Spanish bullfighting traces its roots back to Mithras, imported from the Middle East either through Rome or North Africa.
“The killing of the sacred bull (tauromachy) is the essential central iconic act of Mithras, which was commemorated in the mithraeum wherever Roman soldiers were stationed. Many of the oldest bullrings in Spain are located on the sites of, or adjacent to the locations of temples to Mithras.”
If you’re with PETA, and bullfighting doesn’t do it for you, concerts and dancing fill the streets the whole week. Parks are converted into open-air verbenas, where celebrants wear traditional attire: chulos and majos for the guys, chulapas and majas for the ladies.
Chulo is a derogatory term sometimes applied by other Spaniards to the inhabitants of Madrid. It means arrogant. But the Madrilenos take it in stride. Dressed in chulo and chulapa costumes, performers live up to their name in a stylized dance of exaggerated arrogance.
Strange that a holiday in honor of a man so down-to-earth would be celebrated by imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and performing dances that exude arrogance. But as the Spanish say…
Sightings of the Virgin Mary date all the way back to 40 AD when the Virgin Mary first appeared to the Apostle James in Spain. They’ve occurred all over the world, in communities big and small, and the sightings continue to this day. In fact…
“Just last week, the Virgin Mary appeared in the form of a stain on a griddle at Las Palmas restaurant in Calexico, California. More than 100 people have come to gaze upon it, manager Brenda Martinez told the Imperial Valley Press…” — The Standard – May 13, 2009
But the most famous sighting in modern times may be the one that took place on this day (May 13) in 1917 in Fátima, Portugal. As the World War raged throughout Europe, three Portuguese children—Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 9 and 7, and their cousin Lucia Dos Santos, age 10—were building a wall in the fields when their play was interrupted by a flash of lightning.
“They thought that a storm was brewing and herded the sheep together to take them home. They once again saw a flash of lightening and shortly afterwards they saw above a small holm oak tree a Lady dressed entirely in white and shining more brilliantly than the sun.” http://www.marypages.eu/fatimaEng.htm
The apparition answered the children’s questions on heaven, and entreated them to return on the 13th of each month thereafter. At subsequent encounters she told them about heaven, hell, and God’s message. Over the next 5 months, word spread of the children’s encounters. By October 13, 70,000 people gathered in the field hoping to catch a glimpse of “Our Lady of Fátima” (now also known as “Our Lady of the Rosary”).
“After the long extensive rains, the sky became blue, people could easily look into the sun, which started to spin round like a wheel of fire which radiated wonderful shafts of light in all sorts of colours. The people, the hills, the trees and everything in Fatima seemed to radiate these marvellous colours.
Then the sun stood still for a moment then the wonderful thing that had happened reoccurred. It was repeated for a third time. But now the sun broke loose from the heavens and came down to earth with a zigzagging movement. It became bigger and bigger and looked as though it would fall on the people and flatten them. All were frightened and fell to the ground while they prayed for mercy and forgiveness.” — http://www.marypages.eu/fatimaEng.htm
Sadly, Francisco died only 2 years later and Jacinta the year after that. Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta on May 13, 2000. Lucia lived to the ripe old age of 97. She died in 2005.
May 13 is celebrated in Portugal and by many Portuguese Catholics in other parts of the world. On May 13, 2009, “The 13th Day”, about the miracle of Fátima, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
Born in Thessaloniki in the 820’s, Cyril and Methodius are considered ‘Equals with the Apostles’ in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but were overlooked by the Roman Catholic Church for nearly a thousand years.
Cyril & Methodius were two missionary brothers with a gift for language. In the 860’s the Prince of Great Morovia (in Eastern Europe) entrusted them with the task of translating Biblical texts into the Slavic tongue of Great Morovia. They had one major obstacle: No such language existed. At least not in any standardized, written form. The Slavic languages were a collection of spoken dialects that stretched from Russia to the Adriatic coast.
The brothers first had to devise a whole new alphabet, named Glagolitsa (a variation of the Greek alphabet) to capture the Slavic language in writing.
The language the brothers developed, known today as Old Bulgarian, fortified the spread of Christianity across Eastern Europe. The brothers died in 869 and 882. But as a posthumous reward for their noble efforts, the East Frankish clergy outlawed the brothers’ language and imprisoned 200 of their students and disciples.
Old Bulgarian posed a political threat to the West. The codification of civil laws in a non-Latin, non-Germanic text limited Frankish-German control over the Slavic rulers. But ironically, the exile and diaspora of the users of Old Bulgarian to other parts of Eastern Europe only served to spread the knowledge and use of the language.
The Glagolitic alphabet was soon replaced with a descendant called Cyrillic (sorry Methodius), developed by a student of theirs, and is still in use over a thousand years later.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that the Saintly brothers got their own feast day in the Roman Catholic Church (July 5), and in 1980 Pope John Paul II deemed Cyril and Methodius two patron saints of Europe.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saints Cyril and Methodius Day is observed on May 11 (Julian calendar) which is May 24 in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Day of Letters.
In the Roman Catholic Church, their feast day is February 14.
Despite the overwhelming secular popularity of Christmas in the Western world, the big daddy of all Christian holidays is actually Easter. It’s the oldest Christian holiday and the most important.
No one knows for sure how the term Easter came to be. It probably derived from Oestre, the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, Fertility and New Life. Which helps to explain why we still celebrate the resurrection with bunny rabbits and painted eggs.
But in French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and Danish, the words for Easter (Paques, Paschen, Pasqua, Pascua, Pask, and Paasske) all come from the Latin Paschalia, itself was a variant of the Greek Pascha, a term used by early Christians to refer to the even older Hebrew word Pesach, aka Passover. Pesach was the holiday Jesus and his Disciples were celebrating on the occasion of the Last Supper.
In the United States, by far the most common method for determining the date of Easter is by scanning the Sundays in March or April for the one that says “Easter” on your calendar. This proven technique has not failed me in all my years of prognostication.
But if you chronophiles want to get a little more complicated, Easter falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
But if you really want to get freaky with the details…
…and believe me, you don’t…
Since the date of Easter determines the dates of so many other Christian holidays from the Triodion to Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, it was of paramount importance in the early days of the church, that Western and Eastern Churches agree on the same day to celebrate. Which, of course, they almost never do
In the first centuries after Christ, Eastern Churches related the date of Easter to the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Passover falls on the 14th day, or full moon, of the month of Nisan. However, since the Jews at that time used a lunar calendar the date of Passover would change in relation to the solar calendar.
The Roman Church decreed that Easter should fall each year on a Sunday, and should show relevance to the solar, rather than the lunar calendar.
The Eastern Church used a 19-year “paschal” cycle to determine the annual date of Easter. (In the fifth century BC the Greek astronomer Meton had discovered that the 19 year solar calendar coincided with the 235 month lunar calendar, with a differentiation of approximately 2 hours.)
The Roman Church on the other hand, developed an 84-year paschal cycle, which is roughly the formula we use today. The Sunday following the first full moon after the equinox. In the Roman Catholic Church’s definition, the Spring Equinox is fixed on March 21. Thus the earliest Easter could fall is March 22.
The Eastern Church no longer relates Easter to Passover, but maintains that Easter should not fall before or during the Jewish holiday. Also the Eastern Church uses the actual spring equinox as measured from Jerusalem, site of the crucifixion, and follows the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian, adding to the complication of the dates. Still, Western and Eastern Easters do sometimes fall on the same date as they did on April 8, 2007.
2008 marks one of the earliest possible Easters, on March 23, only two days after the equinox. The ancient pagan traditions and rituals of spring have not only refused to die, they have become forever intertwined with the celebration of Easter.
Good Friday is the day of remembrance of the execution of Jesus Christ.
Also called “Great” and “Holy” Friday, the term “good” is recognized as a reference to the importance and solemnity of the day’s events, though no one knows for sure though where the name Good Friday originated. Perhaps the German “gute” in Gute Frietag. But Germans today call it the more apropos Karfreitag or “Sorrowful Friday.”
Here is a (very) brief timeline of events of the original Holy Week:
Palm Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem.
Maundy (Holy) Thursday, evening: after sunset, Jesus and the Disciples conduct a ceremonial Passover meal. After dinner, Jesus is arrested.
Good Friday: After being brought before Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again, Jesus is sentenced to be executed by crucifixion. Jesus is crucified at noon and dies at approximately 3pm, allowing his body to be removed before the sun sets on Sabbath.
Easter Sunday: Jesus reappears, resurrected from the dead.
What is immediately apparent from the timeline above is that what the legal system in Christ’s day lacked in it’s ability to dole out justice (It could without remorse execute not merely an innocent, but a savior at that) it more than made up for in expeditiousness.
Today such a trial would take months merely to get to court. Indictments, motions, appeals would take years. And the span between sentencing and execution could take decades. But within 18 hours after the Last Supper, Jesus endured three state criminal proceedings, was tortured, sentenced to death, and nailed to the cross, all by approximately noon the following day.
+ + +
Today, jewelers sell almost as many crosses as diamonds.
“…what an irony that is. That we wear an item of capital punishment around our necks or in our ears or printed on our lapel. It’s become a thing of beauty, a thing of luxury in some cases, a fashion accessory. When really it’s an old rugged piece of wood that they would kill people with. — Pastor Carey Green, Why the Resurrection of Jesus Matters
Crucifixion is believed to have begun with the ancient Persians and was adopted by Alexander the Great. The Romans began using crucifixion around the 6th century B.C. It was usually intended for criminals of low or no social standing of whom they desired to make an example. Roman citizens (not slaves) were generally exempt from crucifixion, the exception being treason.
Immediately following the crush of the Spartacus-led slave uprisings in the first-century A.D., the Romans crucified over 6,000 of Spartacus’s followers along the 200 kilometer Appian Way from Brindisi to Rome.
Jesus’s crucifixion is by far the most famous of all crucifixions, and indeed the one by which the very concept has been defined in the public mind, even in the earliest days of Christianity. After Jesus, the Romans used crucifixion as a means to execute many of his early followers, a number of whom actually preferred this painful method of execution as a way to emulate their Savior.
All that changed in 312 A.D. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Emperor Constantine envisioned the sign of the cross before his historic victory over his more powerful rival Maxentius. As undisputed Emperor, Constantine abolished crucifixion in 337 out of reverence for Christ.
“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” — the final words of Jesus Christ, Luke 23:46
+ + +
The last four days of the Holy Week are also known as Holy Triduum, the holy Three Days. No, they didn’t mess up their counting. The roughly 72-hour period begins the evening of Holy (Maundy) Thursday and ends with evening prayers on Easter Sunday.
Holy Week — Now that’s a name. It makes sense. It’s holy. It’s a week.
But some of the names of the individual days of the week…
Good Friday remembers the day Christ was crucified and killed. So whoever was in charge of naming either had a morbid sense of irony or put an extra ‘o’ in God, and the name stuck.
Easter, the cornerstone the Christian calendar, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, is named, of all things, for a pagan Goddess.
Holy Saturday? Okay, well that one makes sense.
But what on earth is Maundy Thursday?
The word Maundy occurs but once in the English language. It refers to today, the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday is observed as the anniversary of the Last Supper, the meal widely believed to be the Jewish holiday Passover. At the Last Supper, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, Jesus introduced the ceremony of the Eucharist:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” — Matthew 26:26-27
He also washed the feet of his disciples. Matthew doesn’t describe the feet-washing. but John, who recalls the meal not as Passover, but as an event preceding it, records the ceremony as so:
…so [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…
…When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” — John 13:4-15
That tradition lives on in Great Britain today, performed by none other than the Queen. No, she doesn’t wash her subjects’ feet anymore. James II, the last Catholic King of Britain, was the last monarch to do so, back in the late 17th century. These days the Queen carries on a Maundy Thursday tradition dating back to Edward I.
On Maundy Thursday, the British monarch distributes specially minted coins (Maundy coins) to as many subjects of each gender as the monarch is old. In other words, this year (2010) Queen Elizabeth, who is 84, distributes coins to 84 men and 84 women.
Roman Catholic Churches on the other hand still carry on the 2000 year-old feet cleansing tradition introduced at the Last Supper. During the the Pedilavium on Maundy or Holy Thursday, the priest washes the feet of 12 selected people.
The meaning of the ceremony goes back to the name Maundy. Maundy is from the same Latin root as the English word mandate, meaning “command”. The name maundy stems from the 11th commandment.
11th commandment? I thought there were only ten?
The 11th commandment is the one Jesus bestowed on his disciples at the Last Supper, just before his arrest:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” — John 13:34
It was to be a long night. As Jesus predicted, he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, and brought to trial. Also as Jesus predicted, Peter—who during the meal had offered to lay down his life for Jesus—denied even knowing him.
All before the rooster crowed.
The events of what happened the following day are recounted during Good Friday.