Birth of old Bulgarian letters and Christian culture


In 852 AD Khan Boris ascended to the Bulgarian throne.inherited an enormous state this Bulgarian ruler took part in the high European politics over a period of ten years. As early as 853 AD, in alliance with the king of France Charles the Bald, he got entangled in the war against a coalition formed by the West Germanic kingdom and Croatia. In 862, this time in alliance only with the West Germanic kingdom, Bulgaria waged war on Great Moravia and Byzantium. In those crippling wars which did not change the territorial status quo of Bulgaria, it became quite clear that the loyalty of a population practicing different religions would be hard to maintain by drawing force from brandishing swords. The contacts with the European Christian countries convinced the Bulgarian politicians that despite its military might Bulgaria held an inequitable position on the international stage. This was obviously a result of the officially declared pagan nature of the Bulgarian state.

Khan Boris and the supreme leaders of the Bulgarian aristocracy in the capital decided to adopt the Christian faith as the one and only official religion of the Bulgarians and the state. Contacts were established with the German king Ludowig 1, who undertook the obligation to send over his preachers while the Bulgarians had to submit to the Roman Catholic church in religious and administrative respect. The news caused the immediate response of Byzantium which declared war on Bulgaria. The appearance of a powerful Catholic power right at the threshold of the Greek-Orthodox Constantinople (it, apparently, had already entered into a conflict with Rome) foretold frightful future for the Eastern Roman emperors. Khan Boris did not venture on hostilities with a population exhausted by one of the heaviest droughts in memory and by an earthquake that had lasted 40 days. At the border, the Byzantine troops were met by Bulgarian envoys who announced the decision of the Bulgarians to assume the Christian faith from Constantinople, which signified an observance of the Eastern Greek Orthodox rite. In practice, this meant that the Bulgarian diocese would be subordinated to the patriarchal in Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor Michael 111(842-867) who had set out on a campaign against his strong neighbor obviously with a sinking heart, suddenly felt happy that he could come out of the battle with flying coolers and did not only agree with the Bulgarian proposition but also ceded to Bulgaria the region of Zagora in southern Thrace.

In 863 Christianity was proclaimed as the official state religion and the conversion of all none-Christians was started. The enforcement of Christianity did not go without perturbations directed not so much against the religion itself, as against the Christian legislation code brought from Byzantium and introduced in Bulgaria. Part of the aristocracy in the external areas rose in a rebellion against Boris but it was suppressed by the central power quickly and without much of a bloodshed. As soon as the end of that same year, the Bulgarian ruler subordinated the Bulgarian church to the Roman Pope. Concerned about the future of the state, Boris saw the danger of the Bulgarian clergy,been administratively subdued to Constantinople, to become a conductor of foreign interests. The papacy which was not backed up by any genuine military power at that time seemed to Boris inclined to allow greater independence to the Bulgarian clergy and thus, more opportunities for control on the part of the political power. The political alliance with the West Germanic kingdom was renewed, too. The Roman Catholic clergymen who came to Bulgaria escorting the future Pope Formose, gradually drove off the Greek priests and took over the spiritual life of the newly baptized Bulgarians in their hands. However, the see in Rome did not agree to give the Bulgarian dioces autonomy greater than the autonomy allowed under the traditional organization of the Catholic church. For that reason, about 870 AD Boris again oriented the subordination of the Bulgarian Christians toward Byzantium which had already become susceptible to certain compromise on that so important a matter. The church in Constantinople gave its consent to the acknowledgement of the autocephaly of one single Bulgarian archbishopric, comprising all Bulgarian lands and connected dejure with the oecumenical partiarchate. De facto that meant independence for the Bulgarian church and a possibility for the Bulgarian political leaders to have control over their prelates' activities, i.e. the dependence on Constantinople was purely formal. Byzantium was made to accept the facts such as they were. It sought consolation in the expectation that the Greek language used in public worship, in the cultural and official state doings throughout Bulgaria after its forced conversion to Christianity, would act as a powerful weapon for the gradual cutting the ground under the feet of the Bulgarian nation and its structures of state power.

Thus Bulgaria, once and for all, committed its church to the patriarchal see of Constantinople, and its political and cultural destiny to that of the Orthodox Christianity of the East. The date of this act was actually the date of birth of the Slavo-Byzantine cultural community, which was to gradually shape up and evolve in after - years and centuries as root, substance and content of the East European civilization during the Middle Ages.

Obviously the danger of national decomposition from an ethnic, linguistic and cultural point of view was not to be ignored. All churches, from the huge basilicas in the capital down to the modest parish churches in the villages, conducted their service in Greek. The training of Bulgarian clergymen was performed in Greek, similar to that of the future administration servants for the state machinery at all levels.

The invention and the dissemination of literacy and books in the then spoken Bulgarian language is one of the most significant facts in the political and cultural history of Bulgaria and Eastern Europe. This event is associated with the names of Constantine Cyril the Philosopher and his brother Methodius who invented the earliest Bulgarian alphabet and translated the principal books of the Christian doctrine into the Christian ideological and theoretical heritage.

The scarce historical sources, all of which of West European and Old Bulgarian origin, report that the two brothers were born in Thessalonica, sons of a noble Byzantine family of Slav-Bulgarian lineage.received good education, they both made a fast career in the 9th century Byzantine administration. In the early 50s of the 9th century, however, a strange volte-face, by all researchers' accounts, occurred in their life. They retired voluntarily from active social life to seclusion in a monastery where, in the course of several years, they succeeded in devising the Old Bulgarian alphabet and translating part of the liturgical books into Old Bulgarian.

It is not fortuitous that the historians describe this step as being 'strange'. In those days no one needed the Old Bulgarian alphabet and books. For a few more years Bulgaria was to remain a pagan country, whereas the small number of Slavs back in Byzantium had long before been converted to Christianity. The motivation of the two brothers' Christian missionary zeal, as Christian historians saw it, was meant to facilitate the spread and the faster adoption of the Christian faith by the Slav peoples. This could only partly be true for the simple reason that the Byzantine political minds were perfectly aware that the Greek language in public worship was a powerful means for their influence on the Slavs both within the empire and beyond its borders. They would have never allowed and, indeed, they did not, that the Old Bulgarian language be transferred to Bulgaria nor that it be used in the empire. It is then difficult to believe that those two men, occupying high positions andexcellent career opportunities, would possibly abandon everything for the sake of some dubious contentment to indulge themselves in something that stands no chance to be put into practice ever.

Therefore, the assumption of some West European researchers for some preliminary agreement between khan Boris and the two brothers resting on their shared sense of duty to the Bulgarian people, does not seem most unlikely. Reconstruction of the events along these lines suggests that Boris conceived the idea of adopting Christianity at the very beginning of his reign (it truly, coincided with Cyril and Methodius's retiring to a monastery) but he was afraid to take immediate steps in that direction, mainly because he anticipated a threat of this act producing a negative effect on the yet not so strong Bulgarian ethnos. Both brothers committed themselves to inventing the weapon which would eliminate that threat and to bringing it in conformity with the laws of the time. For, the invention of the Old Bulgarian alphabet and its introduction in church and state usage could not, in itself, meet the cause of curbing the danger of nationality erosion. In medieval Europe at that time, both in the East and in the West, the so-called trilingual dogma predominated in full swing. According to it the Christian faith could be practiced only in the three languages blessed by God: Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Without the supreme priesthood of Europe, the papacy and the patriarchal in Constantinople sanctioning the Old Bulgarian letters and books, they would have automatically been declared a heresy and the Bulgarians, who had adopted them, heretics. From an international angle this would have certainly detracted a lot from the advantages of Christianization and would have placed Bulgaria and the Bulgarians in an even less favorable position.

The scanty information about those times dose not actually allow to determine with certainty the motivation and the feelings of the dramatis personae concerned. It is, however, a fact that the events have developed according to the above scenario. In 862 AD Rostislav, the Grand prince of Moravia, who had also anticipated danger for his people from the Christian faith being taught by German priests in Latin, asked the Byzantine emperor to send over Slavonic language preachers. Just at that time the Old Bulgarian language was rather close to all dialects in the family of Slavonic languages. The flexible political leadership of Byzantium sensed an unforeseen opportunity to come into good position in a Central European country, a position it had never had to that date. This prompted Byzantium not to hesitate at the sanctity of the trilingual dogma. With the permission and blessing of the emperor and the patriarch, Cyril and Methodius were sent to Great Moravia where they embarked on organizing not only Slavonic liturgy and the translation of new books, but also on founding schools teaching the new alphabet. The mission of the two brothers faced the fierce resistance of the German clergymen. The latter's attempts to keep the positions of liturgy in Great Moravia being conducted in the native language were encouraged only by the benevolence of the Great Moravian prince. To their own surprise, Pope Hadrian II (867- 872), backed up the idea of Slavonic liturgy for circumstantial political reasons. Cyril died in Rome in 869 AD and Methodius was consecrated as a bishop of Pannonia. Intrigues made by German clergymen sent him into exile to Elvangen. Upon his release by Pope John VIII, Methodius got promoted to the archbishop's order. The Slavonic liturgy received another sanction by the pope.

Boris who kept a close eye on the titanic struggle of the two brothers did not miss to send a few Bulgarians, the sons of noble families, to the school of Methodius. That was a well-timed step for, despite the canonical recognition attained, shortly after Methodius's death in 885 AD, the whole work on the Slavonic liturgy and the Slavonic script was on the brink of complete failure. The pope declared the election of the new Slavonic archbishop Gorazd illegal and void. Slavonic liturgy was banned from the churches. Methodius's disciples, about 200 of them, were arrested, imprisoned and later sold into bondage. Those of the disciples who were Bulgarian nationals - Clement, Nahum, Angelarius, Laurentius and Gorazd were deported to Bulgaria. Later, some of the survivors who had been sold as slaves, led by Constantine the Priest, also returned to Bulgaria, redeemed by Orthodox merchants.

The Bulgarian ruler teamed up with the flock of Cyril and Methodius's disciples to draw up a plan for the gradual replacement of Greek in church service and in state matters with Old Bulgarian. Due to the absence of enlighteners and books this plan was to be implemented for years on end.

Boris's generous financial and political support helped Cyril and Methodius's disciples set up several training centers for Bulgarian clergymen and men of letters. They were taught there in their native tongue. Constantine proved particularly active in the capital city of Pliska, while Clement concentrated on Ohrida. Not only did he educate 3 500 followers for a short time, but also simplified the alphabetical script and called it Cyrillic, in honor of his teacher. This is, as a matter of fact, the alphabet used to this day by the peoples dwelling in the territories from the Pacific Ocean to Central Europe: Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Serbians, as well as the nationals of the Republic of Macedonia.

After eight years of strenuous preparation of the Bulgarian clergy and their mastering the Old Bulgarian literary language, in 893 AD the general assembly of the nation, specially convened for the occasion, formally decreed the introduction of Old Bulgarian as the official language of the Bulgarian state and church. The administration of the church passed into the hands of Bulgarians. Thus, the last hold-back to the establishment of a united Bulgarian nation and to its consolidation was overcome.

 






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