The visit of Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias to Bulgaria has generated a surprisingly high level of public interest. However, the first visit of the First Hierarch of the MP to Bulgaria in recent times is especially remarkable for another reason… His Holiness Patriarch Kirill made an explicit recognition of what’s one of the most important achievements of the Bulgarian nation in global history, namely, Bulgaria’s role in spreading and promoting Greco-Roman Christian civilisation 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 Slavonic 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 the cultural, religious, and academic tradition of New Rome) that brought large parts of Eurasia into European civilisation 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, Patriarch Kirill emphasised the fact that Bulgaria and Russia share a common religious and cultural heritage as Eastern Orthodox Slavic nations using the Cyrillic script, developed in the 9th century during the First Bulgarian Empire (681-1018 AD), saying, “The work of the holy brothers Ss Cyril and Methodius laid the foundations for the cultural identity of the Bulgarian, Russian, and other Slavic nations, and the first missionaries to bring new Christian values to Russia were Bulgarian priests”, referring to the key role that Bulgarian clergymen played in the 10th and 11th century during the Christianisation of Kievan Rus, the first medieval Russian state. In late 9th century Bulgaria, St Naum of Preslav and St Kliment of Ohrid, disciples of Ss Cyril and Methodius… the authors of the original Slavic Glagolitic alphabet… created a new Slavic alphabet, named “Cyrillic” in honour 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 Bishop Cyprian the Bulgarian of Moscow (ruled 1379-1406), and Bishop Gregory Tsamblak of Kiev (ruled 1413-20). Apparently, up until the late Middle Ages, the Slavic languages in Europe were so mutually-understandable that the nations could freely borrow one another’s educated men.
In Sofia, Patriarch Kirill further declared that these cultural and spiritual ties survived throughout the ages, and motivated the heroism of the Russian soldiers in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, when the Russian Empire liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. The recognition of Bulgaria’s role in the creation of the Eastern Orthodox-Slavic culture might not seem to be a big deal in the age of post-9/11, post-2008 globalisation, as it was in the late 19th century Pan-Slav movement, or the 20th-century Eastern Bloc dominated by (Soviet) Russia. It mightn’t seem particularly impressive for a Western public that 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.
Nevertheless, Patriarch Kirill’s recognition of Bulgaria’s civilisational role in international history is still very important. For one thing, it’s the story of great brave men who ventured the creation of an entirely new culture (though a part of the Western civilisation) 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 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.
1 May 2012