Thanking Russian Patriarch Kirill for Recognizing Bulgaria
The visit of Russian Patriarch Kirill to Bulgaria has enjoyed surprisingly high public interest.
However, the first visit in recent times of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to Bulgaria is especially remarkable for another reason: His Holiness Patriarch Kirill made an explicit recognition of what is one of the most important achievements of the Bulgarian nation in global history, namely:
Bulgaria's role in spreading and promoting the Greco-Roman Christian civilization across a huge swath of the Eurasian continent by developing a distinct Bulgarian-Slavic (Western authors style it Greco-Slavic) culture based on Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Slavic language, and the Cyrillic alphabet.
All the academic and practical disputes about the "Easternness" of the Slavic nations in Eastern Europe (Russia included) aside, the fact of the matter is that it was the work of the Bulgarian scholars and monks (themselves having just learned from Byzantium's cultural, religious, and academic tradition) that brought large parts of Eurasia into the European civilization some 11 centuries ago, with Bulgaria serving as the cultural Piedmont of the Eastern and Southern Slavic nations.
During his meeting with the Bulgarian President, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church stressed the fact that Bulgaria and Russia share a common religious and cultural heritage as Eastern Orthodox, Slavic nations using the Cyrillic script, which was developed in the 9th century in the First Bulgarian Empire (681-1018 AD).
"The work of the holy brothers, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, laid the foundations for the cultural identity of the Bulgarian, Russian, and other Slavic nations, and the first missionaries in Russia, who brought the new Christian values, were the Bulgarian priests," the Russian Patriarch stated, referring to the key role that Bulgarian clergymen played in the Christianization of Kievan Rus, the first Russian state in the Middle Ages, in the 10th and 11th century.
It was in Bulgaria in the late 9th century that St. Naum of Preslav and St. Kliment of Ohrid, the Bulgarian disciples of St. Cyril and St. Methodius – the authors of the original Slavic alphabet called "Glagolitic" – created a new Slavic alphabet that was called "Cyrillic" in honor of their teacher St. Cyril.
The common history of the Bulgarian and Russian churches goes further as, between the 10th and 18th centuries a total of eight Bulgarian clergymen held top positions in the Russian Orthodox Church, such as Cyprian the Bulgarian, Bishop of Moscow in 1379-1406 AD, and Gregory Tsamblak, Bishop of Kiev in 1413-1420 AD. Apparently, up until the late Middle Ages, the Slavic languages in Europe were so interchangeable that the respective nations could freely borrow one another's educated men.
Patriarch Kirill further declared in Sofia that these cultural and spiritual ties have survived throughout the ages, and motivated the heroism of the Russian soldiers in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78, in which the Russian Empire liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
The recognition of Bulgaria's role in the creation of the Eastern Orthodox-Slavic culture might not seem to be as big a deal in the age of post-9/11, post-2008 globalization as it was in the late 19th century Pan-Slavic movement, or the 20th-century Eastern Bloc dominated by (Soviet) Russia. It might not seem particularly impressive for the Western public which often views Russia as an ill-fated autocracy, or for the rising non-Western powers for which the Slavic culture stuff was some regional European matter way too long ago.
But Russian Patriarch Kirill's recognition of Bulgaria's civilizational role in international history is still very important. For one thing, it is about the story of great, brave men who ventured the creation of an entirely new culture (though a part of the Western civilization) from scratch, eventually reaching much of the Eurasian continent led by the word of the Christian God recorded in the Cyrillic-Slavic script.
For another, Bulgaria hardly ever gets some positive international recognition by anybody. Even the Bulgarians' cousins, the Russians, being the citizens of a great power, are generally reluctant to acknowledge the significance of the once powerful Bulgarian empire, today a minor Balkan state, for their history, culture, and identity. So thank you, Your Holiness Patriarch Kirill, for bringing that up.