May 24 – Day of Slavonic Letters and Literature
As you may probably know, Bulgaria is the only country in the European Union that uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Our entry into the EU in 2007 made Cyrillic the third official alphabet in the EU after the Latin and Greek ones. On May 24th we celebrate the Slavonic Literature and Culture. We also honor the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet – the brothers St. Cyril and St. Methodius and their students.
What is the story of the Cyrillic alphabet?
In the 9th century there was something like a competition between the Pope in Rome and the Emperor of Constantinople. A competition for influence over the still not Christianized (and mainly Slavonic) peoples in Europe. The Byzantine Emperor and his Patriarch thought it would be a good idea to provide an alphabet to the Slavs. The idea was to eradicate the Western influence. Cyril and Methodius were chosen to go to Great Moravia; parts of today’s Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Their mission was to create a Slavonic alphabet. The first Slavonic alphabet was the so called Glagolitsa (from “glagol” = word) or Glagolitic alphabet, which was also the first alphabet to be used for Slavonic manuscripts.
At the same time, the Bulgarian Knyaz Boris decided that he could actually make use of that alphabet. He had just adopted Christianity from the Patriarch in the Byzantine Empire. The problem in Bulgarian churches was that liturgy services were all conducted in Greek. Because of this the common people couldn’t understand anything. Therefore, Boris asked two of the students of Cyril and Methodius – Kliment and Naum – to introduce the new alphabet to some Bulgarian priests and to teach them to preach in Slavic language. However, Kliment soon realized that letters in the Glagolitsa did not correspond to the needs of the Bulgarian language. Thus, he introduced a major reform where a mixture of the Greek script and the Glagolitsa led to the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet. It was developed in the Preslav Literary School in the First Bulgarian State, back in the 9th century.
Today there are a number of other countries using the Cyrillic alphabet. Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan and Ukraine. Interestingly, Mongolia is the only country among those that has a language outside the Slavonic language group.
Bulgaria prides itself to be the birthplace of the cyrillic script. That is why, 24th of May is one of Bulgaria’s biggest holidays. It is a non-school day and there are numerous ceremonies and celebrations all around the country. If you happen to be in Sofia on 24th of May, the biggest celebrations are usually held in front of the monument of St Cyril and St Methodius. It is right in front of the National Library. That is also where all the officials (incl. the prime minister, president and mayor of Sofia) gather to show their respect.
This year, Presidents of Bulgaria and North Macedonia Rumen Radev and Stevo Pendarovski are to travel to Rome next week to pay tribute to the work of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, credited for the creation of the Slavic Glagolitic alphabet.
Radev and Pendarovski meet in Skopje and travel to Rome together, where they will lay flowers at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where in the 9th century Pope Adrian II blessed the alphabet and the books written by Cyril and Methodius. The trip is seen as a symbolic gesture f goodwill amid tensions between Sofia and Skopjeafter Bulgaria vetoed the start of North Macedonia’s EU membership talks in late 2020.
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