People of Letters, People of Substance

Dear Reader, 

Today, May 24, is a great day for the Bulgarian nation. ūüôā

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.

Flowers at the St. Cyril and Methodius monument in front of the Bulgarian National Library. Librarians celebrate their professional holiday on May 11, the St. Cyril and Methodius church holiday. My grandfather worked in this library, so it is a holiday for him too. Bulgarian teachers have a professional holiday on May 24. At least four of my grandparents plus my dad have to do with teaching, from elementary school to university, so the St. Cyril and Methodius festivities are a big holiday in my family.
Flowers at the St. Cyril and Methodius monument in front of the Bulgarian National Library. Librarians celebrate their professional holiday on May 11, which is the St. Cyril and Methodius church holiday. My grandfather worked in this library, so it is a holiday for him too. Bulgarian teachers have their professional holiday on May 24. At least four of my grandparents plus my dad have to do with teaching, from elementary school to university, so the St. Cyril and Methodius festivities are a big holiday in my family.

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 Рa name reflecting the geopolitical interests of Moscow as the Third Rome and the pan-Slavic doctrine of the Russian Empire. 

A magnificent tree to the right of the monument. The building behind it is the Sofia University.
A magnificent tree to the right of the monument. The building behind it is the Sofia University.

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.

A poster advertising a National Library exhibition in honour of Cyril and Methodius disciple St. Kliment Ohridski. The exhibits featured books dating as far back as the 13th century.
A poster advertising a National Library exhibition in honour of Cyril and Methodius’ disciple St. Kliment Ohridski. The exhibits featured books dating as far back as the 13th century.

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.

St. Kliment Ohridski
St. Kliment Ohridski, a Bulgarian icon from the 14th century.

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 Рa 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. 

A reading toom at the National Library.
A reading room at the National Library.

Tsar Boris I has been canonised as a saint equal to the Apostles (–°–≤. –†–į–≤–Ĺ–ĺ–į–Ņ–ĺ—Ā—ā–ĺ–Ľ), 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. ūüôā¬†

Tsar Boris I. Source: Pravoslavieto.com
Tsar Boris I. Source: Pravoslavieto.com

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.

The lawn around the National Library.
The lawn around the National Library.

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.¬†

Fountains in front of the National Palace of Culture, where a book fair opened today, on the occasion of May 24.
Fountains in front of the National Palace of Culture, where a book fair opened today, on the occasion of the holiday.

The alphabet invented by Cyril and Methodius, known as glagolitsa (–≥–Ľ–į–≥–ĺ–Ľ–ł—Ü–į) 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 glagolitsa and the equivalent modern Bulgarian letters. I remember when I was in the 9th grade, I suggested to two of my girlffriends to use the glagolitsa as a code to write crypted notes during the classes. Our literature teacher was truly amused when he caught us. :)))
The glagolitsa and the equivalent modern Bulgarian letters. I remember when I was in the 9th grade, I suggested to two of my girlfriends to use the glagolitsa as a code to write encrypted notes during classes. Our literature teacher was truly amused when he caught us. :))) Source: Wikipedia.

The earliest Bulgarian alphabet, which is more or less unchanged today, was in fact invented by Kliment of Ohrid (–°–≤. –ö–Ľ–ł–ľ–Ķ–Ĺ—ā –ě—Ö—Ä–ł–ī—Ā–ļ–ł) – 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.¬†

This is the statue of one of the Georgievi brothers who donated money for the construction of the Sofia University in the late 19th century. It is located in front of the university's main entrance. See how his right hand is folded as if he is holding something? Students often put an empty beer bottle in there. :)
This is the statue of one of the Georgievi brothers who donated money for the construction of the Sofia University in the late 19th century. It is located in front of the main university entrance. See how his right hand is folded as if he is holding something? Students often put an empty beer bottle in there. ūüôā
The glagolitsa to the left and the alphabet that was actually put to use in Bulgaria to the right. This is the cover the a book on St Cyril and Methodius that I bought for my son today.
The glagolitsa to the left and the alphabet that was actually put to use in Bulgaria to the right. This is the cover of a book, called My First Book on St Cyril and Methodius, which I bought for my son today.

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.

The sever saints - men of letters.
The sever saints – men of letters.
The St. Sedmochislenitsi Church in Sofia. Source: Wikipedia.
The St. Sedmochislenitsi Church in Sofia. Source: Wikipedia.

Throughout the course of history, the Bulgarian Sword had been broken on several occasions, but the Bulgarian Word Рnever, as historian Bozhidar Dimitrov says.

So this is what this great May day is all about. 

Would you imagine that I would pass by a book fair and leave empty-handed?
Would you imagine that I would pass by a book fair and leave empty-handed?
Book back cover. I have read The Portrait of a Lady and The Europeans by Henry James, so I expect delightful hours in the company of this.
Book back cover. I have read The Portrait of a Lady and The Europeans, so I expect delightful hours in the company of this.
Loot item No. 2. I am a great fan of Wharton's work. I was a bit irritated by The Age of Innocence but found the House of Mirth sublime!
Loot item No. 2. I am a great fan of Wharton’s work. I was a bit irritated by The Age of Innocence ending, but found the House of Mirth sublime.
Ethan Frome back cover. I am gathering material for my Forbidden/Impossible Love PhD, remember? :) The best part is that this tiny book has a vocabulary of rare and literary words at the end. Most interesting.
Ethan Frome back cover. I am gathering material for my Forbidden/Impossible Love PhD, remember? ūüôā The best part is that this tiny book has a vocabulary of rare and literary words at the end. Most interesting.