and Methodius, The Apostles of the Slavs
SLAVIC ALPHABET (Cyrillic script) | THE SEVEN SAINTS | SAINT PRINCE BORIS | INITIAL LETTERS
A Hymn to the Saints Cyril and Methodius
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 native tongue.
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.
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 Slavonic dialects.
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 present day.
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