The Gift of the Magi

Dear Reader, 

It is May 24 today, the day when Bulgaria ostensibly celebrates the invention of the Cyrillic alphabet as a stepping stone to having a vernacular culture. I say ostensibly, because what we’re actually celebrating, but may not realise or may feel politically incorrect in saying, is the invention of an alphabet as a medium for understanding the Word of God – a guiding light along the narrow path to immortality.

You may think I sound like that Holy Grail-guarding knight from the eponymous Indiana Jones movie, but read on.

Related image
St. Kliment Ohridski who in the late 9th, or the beginning of the 10th century, invented the Cyrillic alphabet Bulgarians use to date. Source: An icon of the 13th-14th century from Wikimedia Commons.

You see, back in the 9th century Bulgarians did not have secular culture. They did not need an alphabet to write lyrical poetry, opera buffas, tender love letters, duel invitations, political pamphlets, or abstruse philosophical musings.

Rather, they needed an alphabet to better administrate their growing and strengthening country, and engage in more fruitful cooperation with their mighty and splendid neighbour, the Byzantine Empire.

They needed an alphabet to stop venerating the stars and the sun, and stop basing their lives on whether the wind blew from that or the other direction. They needed the good news that life did not depend on the movements of the starry spheres, and did not necessitate bloody sacrifices to make it go on untroubled.

The park in Bankya, formerly a mountain thermal water resort, currently a distant Sofia neighbourhood and home to the Bankya bottling water company.

Thus, Kliment Ohrisdski and the other disciples of the Saints Cyril and Methodius put the new alphabet they’d come up with to use by translating and copying by hand the Holy Bible and all the books needed for the sacraments and all services throughout the church year. For hundreds of years, church people had typically been the only ones who could read or write, and before the invention of secular primers in the 19th century, the Holy Scripture and church books had been the only books available for reading. So letters and the Word of God go hand in hand. 

A river flowing through Bankya’s centre. Garbage can be seen too but that’s what humans do.

However, what is it that makes the Word of God so special and incomparable to any self-improvement, positive thinking or whatever teaching? After all, hardly any urges the faithful to kill people, or lie, or fornicate. They all mean well, and all help one become a good person, no?

…No. This is common libertarian reasoning, and I used to think something along these lines too, but I was wrong.

Just think, to mend our fallen nature because of our arrogance and pride, God has humbled himself and has become a human to speak to us and show us how to live, and we have written that down with letters.

Bankya park.

That’s why the letters are holy, and not, as our Bay Ganyo observes, so that we can write, read, or edit dirty political papers, full of lies, manipulations, or calumnies.

Bay Ganyo Feels Ever So Obliged, a 1947 cartoon by Ilia Beshkov. Further down the caption says “Hallowed be their faith (of saints Cyril and Methodius who invented the proto-Bulgarian Glagolic alphabet). Now I can read a newspaper and edit it too. Meh!” More Beshkov cartoons here and here. Source: Ilia Beshkov’s The Black Notebook by Iztok-Zapad publishing house.

Paying attention to making out God’s will for us, and not necessarily our own (because we’re worth it or something), will make our soul live forever in the Kingdom of Heaven, which brings me to the crux of why the Word of God (=Jesus=the Holy Spirit=Father=Divine Wisdom=Life) is SO unbelievably special.

Unlike psychology, academic or drugstore, the Word of God is unconcerned with self-actualisation, positive thinking, pleasure, or earthly well-being. It does acknowledge they’re valid needs one has to address, but they’re not central to the human existence and are subordinated to God’s moral mandates.

However, they do become central to the human existence and get subordinated to our own moral mandates, if we think everything ends with the bodily death and we have to rapaciously take out of life what we can, right now. But life doesn’t end with death, you know, that’s a fact, and that’s what we’re celebrating at Easter, and at the 40th day after Easter, when Christ has finally ascended into heaven. Christ’s Ascension is on May 25 this year.

Christ has risen, so the Word of God has literally vanquished death, and that’s the real gift of letters. 

A street in downtown Bankya.

For goodbye, a chant called Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes. Singer is Serbian Divna Ljubojevic. Some say she sings too sensually for chant music, but I think she sings beautifully. The same chant in English. The skulls appearing in the video are because this chant is sung at funeral services, but it is a part of service on more festive occasions too.

Life is just a bowl of cherries a memento mori,