St. Cyril & St. Methodius & Jan Hus

Orthodox Cathedral in Prague dedicated to St. Cyril & St. Methodius Β© Ricky Yates

Three holy men from many centuries past, St. Cyril, St. Methodius and Jan Hus, are responsible for currently giving most Czech people a four-day long weekend. For yesterday, Thursday 5th July, is celebrated as Cyril and Methodius Day whilst today, Friday 6th July, marks the 597th anniversary of the burning at the stake in Konstanz, of the Father of the Czech Reformation, Jan Hus. And both days are kept as public holidays here in the Czech Republic.

I find it quite ironic that in this rather irreligious country, there are these two public holidays that celebrate the lives of three great Christians. However, the vast majority of Czech people just take advantage of having four days off work and head out to the Chata or Chalupa – the little (usually wooden) holiday cottages in the countryside that so many either own or have access to. In fact many people also take an additional three days leave with a number of offices and small shops around where we live being closed for the whole week.

So why does the Czech Republic honour these three great Christian men? Because of their contribution to the development of Czech culture far more than their contribution to the proclamation and later reformation of the Christian faith in this land.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who were brothers from Thessaloniki, are celebrated by the Christian Church, as 9th century missionaries to the Slavs. But as part of their missionary endeavour, they created an alphabet which allowed the language of the Slavic people to written down for the first time. This enabled the scriptures to be translated and the creation of a liturgy in the language of the people.

The Glagolitic alphabet that Cyril and Methodius devised, was the precursor to the Cyrillic alphabet in which many Slavic languages are presently written – though fortunately not Czech πŸ™‚ This written form of the language is now known as Old Church Slavonic. Whilst it is a language that is no longer regularly spoken, it is still used in liturgy by some Orthodox Churches.

The Czech National Revival of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which led to the establishment of a newly independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, was very much based around the recovery and use of the Czech language, in opposition to the Germanisation of government, education and culture in Bohemia and Moravia under the auspices of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Therefore St. Cyril and St. Methodius are honoured because they were responsible for the written origins of the Czech language, even though thankfully, it now uses the Latin rather than the Cyrillic alphabet!

It’s down here, as is the Dancing Building! Β© Ricky Yates

Jan Hus, about whom I wrote a long illustrated post back in April 2011 entitled Jan Hus – Leader of the Bohemian Reformation and Czech Hero, led what is known as the Bohemian Reformation. As I wrote in that earlier post, ‘he was very much influenced by the teaching and writings of the early English Church Reformer John Wycliffe, and in his preaching, called for reform within the Roman Catholic Church. He was particularly outraged by the selling of papal indulgences to collect funds for military purposes’.

However, there are two significant things which Hus did or advocated which are reflected in the way he is now remembered by most Czech people. Firstly, he preached and wrote in Czech rather than Latin as he wanted his hearers and readers to fully understand what he was saying. Secondly, he wanted worshippers to be able to receive communion in both kinds – both bread and wine – and for lay people not to be forbidden to receive the chalice’

It is his insistence on the use of the Czech language that causes Jan Hus to be celebrated today as a cultural hero. He was also responsible for the introduction of diacritics into Czech spelling in order to represent each sound by a single symbol. His opposition to Church control by the Vatican is also seen in terms of defending the Czech people from outside powers.

As I wrote at the outset of this post, today marks the 597th anniversary of Jan Hus being burnt at the stake having been found guilty of heresy by the Council of Konstanz. Nearly 600 years on, this continues to cause problems for the Czech Roman Catholic Church. For nearly all Czech people regard Jan Hus as a national hero yet it was the Roman Catholic Church who most unjustly condemned him and had him put to death.

To his credit, during a visit to Prague in 1999, Pope John Paul II did issue an apology for ‘the cruel death inflicted upon Jan Hus’ and for the ‘consequent wound of conflict and division which was thus imposed on the minds and hearts of the Bohemian people’. But there was still no admission that the Council of Konstanz actually got it wrong. It is going to be very interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church responds to plans beginning to be made to mark the 600 anniversary of the death of Jan Hus in exactly three years time.

In the meantime, I will be remembering the life, teaching and example of each of these three great men of faith as part of our worship this coming Sunday, in Prague in the morning and in Brno in the evening, including using these two collects.

Lord of all, who gave to your servants Cyril and Methodius the gift of tongues to proclaim the gospel to the Slavs: make your whole Church one as you are one that all Christians may honour one another, and east and west acknowledge one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and you, the God and Father of all; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Jan Hus boldness to confess the Name of our Saviour Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Statue of Jan Hus in StaromestskΓ© nΓ‘mestΓ­/Old Town Square, Prague. Β© Ricky Yates

12 comments to St. Cyril & St. Methodius & Jan Hus

  • Terrific post. I love hearing of the Byzantine connection to the Czech Republic as it joins two lands I love. Turks tell me that the Bulgarians broke away from the Greek Orthodox Church because they wanted church in their own language. It’s interesting to me that Turks study and learn the Koran in Arabic and many times have no idea what it means. There hasn’t been a similar movement to worship in their own language. I don’t know why.

    • Ricky

      Thank you Karen – A Bulgarian lady who currently lives in Brno & attended our service there last Sunday evening, proudly told me that St. Cyril & St. Methodius first evangelised Bulgaria before moving on to other Slavic lands!

      The reason why Turks study & learn the Koran in Arabic is that the official Islamic position is that you can only read the Koran in the language in which it was written – Arabic. Whilst translations of the Koran into other languages have been made, none are deemed official or valid. Whilst there is, to a certain extent, some sense in that point of view – certain nuances in a text almost always get ‘lost in translation’ – it does lead to what you describe with people learning an Arabic text by rote without having a clue what it means.

      St. Cyril & St. Methodius, realising the Slavic people didn’t read or speak Greek, the language of the New Testament, chose to create a written form of the language they did speak & then translated the New Testament & parts of the Old Testament, into that language so that they could understand what the Christian scriptures mean. Likewise Jan Hus, realised that most people couldn’t read or understand Latin, the language of the mediaeval Church. So he preached & wrote in Czech so that the people could understand.

  • Hi Ricky,
    Great post–I was “keeping” these holidays in mind (even while in the US) and sharing the stories of these great men of faith with my own family.

    This is also the time of year many Czechs take 2 to 3 days of work and head out of town and the country. Each year Prague feels like a ghost town during this week in July!

    I love the new look of your blog, too! Sybille did a great job, as usual!

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

    • Ricky

      Hi Sher – Nice to have you commenting here again πŸ™‚ I know what you mean about Prague feeling like a ghost town during the week when these two public holidays occur. You don’t notice it in the city centre because of all the tourists but it does go very quiet out in the residential suburbs.

      Glad you like the new look – actually the not-so-new look now as it changed six weeks ago πŸ™‚ However, I’ll pass your compliment on to my technical guru!

  • A really fascinating and informative post, Ricky, and I love the photos too. When I visited the Bethlehem Chapel last year, I saw a most interesting exhibition on the life and death of Jan Hus, but I must admit my knowledge of Saints Cyril and Methodius is sketchy to say the least, though I did know they were responsible for the creation of Old Church Slavonic.

    • Ricky

      Thank you Perpetua – That you knew that St. Cyril & St. Methodius were responsible for the creation of Old Church Slavonic is a lot more than most English-speakers know about them πŸ™‚ The more I read about St. Cyril & St. Methodius, the more I am amazed as to what they achieved & the incredible distances they covered which included travelling to Rome, presumably on foot.

  • Hi, Rev. Yates!

    It is interesting how secular countries continue to cling to certain religious festivities. For us, it’s Christmas, Easter, St. Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, however, our society has a habit of trying to “purge” the religiosity out of the occasions. It really is quite a shame πŸ™

    Have you ever heard of Joanna Bogle (a.k.a. “Auntie Joanna”)? She’s a Catholic journalist in London, who has written several books dealing with the preservation of religious customs and festivals. Her blog is very good, too:

    Also, have you ever heard of Fr. Emil Kaupan? He was an American Catholic military chaplain during the Korean war who died in a prison camp. The reason I bring him up is because I believe he was of Czech ancestry. Anyway, he’s up for sainthood because of his exemplary conduct and self-sacrificial love of his men.

    God Bless,

    • Ricky

      I concur entirely with the sentiments you express in your first paragraph. However, it should be said that we know very little about St. Valentine but his day has certainly been totally taken over by commercial interests. And it strikes me that in the USA, St. Patrick’s Day has just become an excuse by 25% of Americans to claim that they have Irish blood rather than the celebration of the life of a saintly man.

      No is the answer to the question in your second paragraph – but thanks for the info. Yes is the answer to the question in your third paragraph. I’d previously read this very good article on the BBC News website . Fr Kaupen was born to Czech parents in a place called Pilsen, Kansas, which was obviously named after Pilsen (German spelling) Plzen (Czech spelling), the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic.

  • Speaking of people eager to claim they have Irish blood, I just returned from an Irish Festival in Gettysburg! I don’t really mind that that the Irish-Americans want to celebrate their heritage on St. Patrick’s Day after all they went through, from the Famine to “No Irish Need Apply.” But I do understand what you mean about some of them taking it too far, drinking green beer and corousing all day and night! Also, I’m afraid people with strong Irish ties can get a wee bit “clannish” – as in, if you’re Irish come into the parlour, but if your predominantly Italian get to the basement! πŸ˜‰

    Your welcome for the link, and thank you for the one you provided. So Fr. Kapaun’s parents were Czech, born in a place in Kansas named after a large Czech city? Presumably there was a lot of Eastern European immigration in that area of the country. Thanks for the additional information!

    • Ricky

      Pearl – I was being a little tongue-in-cheek with my comment about the 25% of Americans who claim Irish heritage as in many cases, the connection is either extremely tenuous or non-existent πŸ˜‰

      Regarding Fr Kapaun’s parents & the name of the place where they settled in the US, there are many examples all over the States (and in Canada & Australia), of places being named after towns & cities in the country from which a group of immigrants originally came. Pilsen in Kansas is an obvious case of this happening.

  • Re: Fr. Emil Kaupan (never heard of him, thanks for the heads-up): I hear there are lots of Czechs living in Texas, in particular. I’ve heard it from several people, so I suppose it’s correct. πŸ™‚

    “His opposition to Church control by the Vatican is also seen in terms of defending the Czech people from outside powers.”
    When still teaching at the university, Jan Hus was also part of a group that tried (I believe successfully) to give more power to Czechs and less to Germans in the university’s management. Which adds to that national hero image.

    A very good post, this!

    • Ricky

      Hana – Thank you – something I didn’t know about Jan Hus but I’m sure it does further contribute to his national hero status.