Friday, May 24, 2013

Alphabet Day: How Bulgaria Learned the АБВ's

A statue of Cyril and Methodius in front of the National Library in Bulgaria that  bears their name.

Today is a national holiday in Bulgaria.  We celebrate the brothers Cyril and Methodius.  These brothers were born in the 9th century in Thessaloniki Greece.  If this city sounds familiar to you it may be because there are two books of the Bible named after it.  The apostle Paul started a church in Thessaloniki in the first century.  He spent about a year with them and then he left, yet the Thessalonians remained on his heart as you can read in the two letters he wrote to them.

Apparently the church in Thessaloniki thrived to the point where 800 years later two brothers felt its influence.  When I visited Thessaloniki back in 2010 I imagined these two brothers looking out at the mountains to the north and thinking about the people who lived there.  One day they would leave their home and travel north to share the Bible with the Balkan tribes.  They brought the more than just spiritual knowledge to what is now modern day Bulgaria.  They brought an alphabet.  That alphabet has changed a bit in the past 1,100 years, but it has retained the name of Cyril and today is called the Cyrillic alphabet.  It is used in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, and many other countries.

During the communist era there was a bit of historical revisionism on the part of the public school system.  Bulgarians were taught of the two brothers who invented the alphabet, but they were taught that these brothers were Bulgarian, not Greek missionaries to Bulgaria.  (The communist government did not like religion of any sort, and to attribute anything good to Christian missionaries was frowned upon.)  This may be partly true as it is believed that the brothers may have been partly of Balkan decent.  Yet they were likely no more Bulgarian than I am Swedish.  (I am a tiny bit of Swedish decent, which explains why I go to Ikea once a week.)  Despite the fall of communism over two decades ago, the belief that these two were Bulgarian remains popular today.

These brothers were great men who shaped the world in ways beyond what we can fathom.  Not one person in Bulgaria is untouched by their legacy.  They deserve a day to celebrate what they did not only for the people of Bulgaria, but much of eastern Europe and Asia as well.

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