Today, May 24, is a great day for the Bulgarian nation. 🙂
This is the day in which we celebrate the creation, in the late 9th century, of the Bulgarian alphabet, which enabled us to have church books and a literary tradition in our colloquial language.
Here you can listen to the much-loved hymn, performed only at this day throughout Bulgaria. Its lyrics eulogise the power letters have in shaping cultural identity and consciousness, which see a people through hard times and guide it to a better and a more enlightened future.
Today, this medieval Bulgarian alphabet and language are still used and are known as Church Slavonic – a name reflecting the geopolitical interests of Moscow as the Third Rome and the pan-Slavic doctrine of the Russian Empire.
The creation of a single Bulgarian alphabet institutionalising and homogenising the language spoken by the many tribes, Slavic and non-, that by the 9th century had become part of the Bulgarian state, was ordered by Bulgarian Tsar Boris I (ruled 852-889). This was huge work, preparatory to Bulgaria’s official adoption of Christianity, which Tsar Boris considered necessary for the country from a geopolitical and law enforcement perspective.
Some of the Bulgarian rulers before Boris I had been Christian and Christians, practicing their faith in Greek under the auspices of Byzantium, lived in the Bulgarian state in the 9th century. So without a Bulgarian alphabet and divine service books translated into the local language and recognised as canonical, any official adoption of Christianity would have meant total yield of political and cultural sovereignty to either Constantinople or Rome.
Many years of diplomatic games enabled the perspicacious Tsar Boris I to achieve canonical recognition of the Bulgarian language, in this way giving Bulgarians a cultural identity – a lifeline for the darker centuries to come. The Three-Sacred-Languages dogma had been violated in the early centuries after the Anno Domini, but by the 9th century it had become impossible to do so without consequences, so the medieval Bulgarian being recognised as canonical was a feat unmatched before the appearance of Protestantism in the 15th century.
Tsar Boris I has been canonised as a saint equal to the Apostles (Св. Равноапостол), alongside the brothers Cyril and Methodius – the creators of the alphabet he had ordered.
By the way, the Orthodox Church considers the name Boryana to be the female version of Boris, so Boryanas celebrate their name day on May 2 – the day when the church commemorates the life and deed of Tsar Boris I. I am lucky to have a saint, endowed with such wisdom and strategic thinking, for a heavenly guardian. 🙂
The brothers Cyril and Methodius, are celebrated by the Church on May 11, but because of complicated Julian/Gregorian calendar issues, the civilian holiday of the Bulgarian alphabet, education and culture, is marked on May 24.
Cyril and Methodius were senior-ranking Byzantine Empire officers, born to a Bulgarian mother and raised in today’s town of Thessaloniki. The brothers were canonised as saints by both the Orthodox and the Catholic churches during the Middle Ages. In 1979, Pope John-Paul II declared them heavenly guardians of Europe, alongside St. Benedict, who had been similarly honoured earlier.
The alphabet invented by Cyril and Methodius, known as glagolitsa (глаголица) in Bulgarian, was actually never adopted in our country. It was used for the dissemination of Christianity in Great Moravia and Pannonia in the 9th century.
The earliest Bulgarian alphabet, which is more or less unchanged today, was in fact invented by Kliment of Ohrid (Св. Климент Охридски) – a disciple of the two brothers. Sofia’s oldest university is called St. Kliment of Ohrid, in honour of his great contribution to the Bulgarian people.
Today, Cyril, Methodius and their five disciples, three of whom worked in Bulgaria, are jointly revered as St. Sedmochislenitsi (the seven saints). This is also the name of a beautiful church in the centre of Sofia, originally built as a mosque in the early 16th century by Mimar Sinan (Sinan the Architect), a prominent Ottoman architect. During the WWII bombings over Sofia, bodies or body parts of the victims used to be exhibited at the St. Sedmochislenitsi church for identification. Pardon the gory detail, but this is what makes a community.
Throughout the course of history, the Bulgarian Sword had been broken on several occasions, but the Bulgarian Word – never, as historian Bozhidar Dimitrov says.
So this is what this great May day is all about.