Cyril and Methodius, Apostles of the Slaves
The creator of the Slavic alphabet and the
first translator of liturgical books from Greek into Old-Bulgarian was
Constantine, the Philosopher, better known by his name in religion,
Cyril, adopted on his death bed. Constantine-Cyril was born in Salonika
(now Thessaloniki in Greece). In 863 he and his brother Methodius were sent by
the Byzantine emperor Michael III to convert the Western Slavs to Christianity
and arrange that the divine service in Greater Moravia is performed in their
This was done at the request of Rostislav, the prince of
Greater Moravia, whose possessions comprised the lands of now the Czech
Republic, Slovakia, part of Slovenia and part of Hungary, at that time
inhabited by Slav population.
Cyril and Methodius painted by Jan Matejko.
Undoubtedly, the two Slav apostles knew the Old-Bulgarian
language to perfection - this was demonstrated both in the alphabet and in
their translations from Greek. “You are Salonikians - addressed them Emperor
Michael, - and all Salonikians speak pure Slavonic.”
It is known that their father Leo, a man of noble origin,
was a dignitary in service of the Salonika Greek strategus. It is known also
that in the Constantinople imperial court Constantine-Cyril (about
827-869) excelled in his learning and was often sent on important missions to
the Saracens and the Hasars. His brother Methodius (815-885) was Father
Superior of the monastery of Polychron in Vitinia, Asia Minor, where, when the
Slavonic script was conceived by Cyril, the two brothers made the first
translations of the major liturgical books from Greek into Slavonic.
Both the motives and the exact year in which
Constantine-Cyril composed the alphabet (855 or 862-863) lie in obscurity. Some
sources evidence that before their departure to Greater Moravia the two
brothers taught the Bulgarians, inhabiting the area by the river of Bregalnitza
in Macedonia, the Slavonic script, but this fact is not quite certain either.
In any case, it is difficult to deny that their letters fully coincided with the
sound system of the Old Bulgarian language, which - irrespective of all
resemblances - already differed, in one way or another, from the rest of the
So, Constantine-Cyril and Methodius, accompanied by their
disciples, started their mission to Moravia towards 863. Welcomed with open
arms by the local prince and his subjects, they were actively engaged in
propagating divine worship in the Slavonic language. Naturally, this
rivalry was not admired by the Western clergymen, predominantly of German
origin. This first mission failed and the two brothers arrived back to
Constantinople. From here they set out on a new journey, through Venezia, to
Rome, carrying with them the holy relics of St. Clement I, Pope of Rome. There,
Constantine-Cyril succeeded in persuading Pope Adrian II, that, as a church
language, Slavonic is as adequate as Greek, Latin, or Jewish - a step more than
revolutionary in the context of the then Europe, and an argument already
discussed in Venezia.
Unfortunately, during their stay in the Holy City
Constantine-Cyril fell ill and died (869). His tomb in the “San Clemente”
basilica has been conserved till the present day and is a place of veneration
for many Bulgarians, as well as for other people of Slav origin. Methodius,
consecrated archbishop by the Pope, returned with some of his disciples to his
flock in Greater Moravia. Outliving his brother by 16 years, he continued his
work in increasingly difficult circumstances, produced by the unabating
intrigues of the German clergy.
Immediately after his death in Moravia in 885, his followers
were put to persecution, arrests, and tortures, and were finally driven away
from the country. In Greater Moravia the Slavonic script and liturgy were
gradually ousted by the Latin.
In 886 the two brothers’ disciples, who had
survived, set forth to Bulgaria, the country that had been converted to
Christianity two decades before. Here they were received with honours by
Bulgaria’s prince and baptizer Boris I.
Having received his blessing and support in the capital city of Preslav, as
well as in Bulgaria’s south-western parts, in Macedonia and Ohrid, the
adherents of the two brothers from Salonika founded two great literary and
spiritual schools. Thus, for example, St. Clement (about 838-916) who was sent
to Macedonia, and who is known to have been Bulgarian in origin, for only 7
years educated ... 3500 pupils!
In this way, after the failed mission of Methodius and his
disciples in Greater Moravia, the Slavonic script, as well as the Old
Bulgarian language and liturgy developed freely and in full force in Bulgaria.
It was from here that in the following centuries they spread to Serbia,
Croatia, Kievan Russia, Lithuania, Wallachia, Moldavia, etc.
The creation of a new alphabet, designed for a particular
language, would generally engage the efforts of many generations. If the other
European alphabets were the result of a long evolution, Constantine-Cyril
devised his script by one single act.
The apostle of Slavs was not only creator of their script.
Together with his brother Methodius and his disciples he was the man who made
the first translations into the new written language, elevating it to the
sacral level of Jewish, Latin and Greek.
In this sense, the work of Constantine-Cyril, the
Philosopher, left a lasting imprint on the Christian fate of Eastern Europe. It
became part of the conflicts between the Eastern and the Western churches for
their diocese, and delineated the zones of religious confessions, which have
marked the cultural boundaries of the continent for centuries, until the
The Mystery of the Bulgarian Letters -
LETTERS - http://www.omda.bg/public/engl/history/initials.html
Prague, capital of the Czech
Republic, the day of July
05th is celebrated as the Sts. Cyril and Metodius Day – the
Slavic Christianity Prophets