By Panagiotis K. Christou Professor of the Theological School of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki Thessaloniki in the 9th century.Since the beginning of the 9th century over one thousand and one hundred years had already passed since the foundation of the city of Thessaloniki (315 BC). During this period the city saw days of brilliant glory as well as terrible calamities but always remained famous and proud.As the capital city of Illyria, during the Byzantine period it had to struggle greatly in order to protect the Greek and Christian culture from the barbarian nations who kept coming without interruption from the north, the Goths, the Unnus, the Abarians, and the Slavs.Protector in these struggles was the most glorious martyr Demetrios, who was appearing on the walls of the city with a white mantle and strengthened the defenders every time the raiders worsened the siege. That is why the Thessalonikians leave no opportunity to demonstrate their gratitude to the Holy Saviour.At the end of the 7th century the raids ceased and Thessaloniki entered a period of new prosperity. Until then Saint Demetrios guarded the city from the raids of the invading hordes but since then he strengthened her on her work of enlightening the uncivilized neighbouring countries, in word and in spirit. This work was not unknown this work in the Christian tradition of the city which during apostolic times was a centre for the spread of the Bible to the land of the Greeks. For this the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonikians these praising words: “that you become types that everyone in Macedonia and Ahaia believe for out of you pours the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Ahaia but your faith in God was set free to all places that there is no need for us to preach any more”. These words were destined to come true again during the time of the great hierapostles (missionaries) Kyrillos and Methodios.The learned priest John Kameniatis at the start of the 3rd century describes the city with its suburbs with glowing colours. Rich meadows, he says, open on both sides of Mount Hortiati. A high percentage of the area to the north is taken up by two lakes that are rich in fish and the rest of the area is cultivated or used for grazing by farm animals. The valley that extends to the south of the mountain and east of the city is characterized by an indescribable beauty, with fields, vineyards, gardens, dense forests and plenty of water. Numerous monasteries at the base of the mountain and of the valley is pleasing to the eyes of the passers by and the visitors. However, another valley similarly fertile extends to the west of the city.Thessaloniki then was big and densely populated. It was circled by strong walls and bastions. Crowds of people flooded to the market and the great avenue that divides the city into two parts. Its economic flourishing made her a centre of attraction to the merchants and to the plundering intentions of the pirates from the ends of the world.
Glorious Churches and imposing public buildings adorned its squares and could satisfactorily accommodate the crowds for her religious and social needs. Her Archbishopric throne then was honoured by two famous men from outside eparchies (provinces), Joseph the Hymnographer and Leo the Mathematician, the later Dean of the University of Constantinople.
However her luminous crown of glory was knitted by two of her children, Kyrillos and Methodios.
Methodios and Constantine.
The parents of the two brothers were of good stock. Their father Leon served in Thessaloniki as Drungarius (Officer in the Byzantine army or navy) namely as Chiliarch (about Division level) and later he was promoted to a general. He concentrated in his hands the political and military authority of Macedonia. They had seven children from which the last one, Constantine, was born in 827. Methodios perhaps was born in 820.
The atmosphere of piety that prevailed in the house of Leon, gave to the two brothers the first push towards the spiritual involvements. Their steps were guided often to the magnificent churches of the city, to the “Without Hands” and “Saint Sophia” and more often to the Church of the patron Saint Demetrios whose litany they followed every year on the great avenue. Other times they went outside the walls of the city to visit the numerous monasteries that were scattered in the country side. Their involvement in the worshipful life of the Church cultivated and ennobled their characters.
When their father died, Methodios had finished his studies. He had followed a course of subjects that was intended for those trained to assume higher government employment. He was appointed by Empress Theodora, governor of “sklavenia”, namely an eparchy (province) of the Greek empire that was inhabited by mostly slavs who had peacefully entered and occupied sparsely populated areas. There, he more systematically gave of himself to the study of the Slavic language of which he already knew some elements from the family servants who were of Slavic origin.
After a few years he resigned from this position and withdrew to Olympus of Bithynia. This mountain was then what was later Mount Athos (The Holy Mountain): Mountain of Monks. He settled therefore at one of the monasteries and gave himself with zeal to ascesis, prayer and the study of Theology.
Constantine who was renamed Kyrillos during the last days of his life, showed from early age an impressive learning capacity. At the age of 14, the age when his father died, he knew by heart the writings of Gregory the Theologian. Later he went to Constantinople to continue his studies at the university there, which just then was reconstructed and operated under the administration of the distinguished mathematician Leon, previous archbishop of Thessaloniki. He was hosted in the capital and had as guardian the accountant of the way, namely the prime minister, Theoktistos who was his relative. Under Leon and Photios he studied geometry, astronomy, rhetoric, philology, dialectics and philosophy. He had greater proficiency in the learning of languages. He became a multi-linguistic phenomenon not only for that period during which the methods of foreign language teaching were unknown, but also of all time, for apart from Greek he knew Slavic, Syrian, Hebrew, Samarian, Arabic, Hazaric (Turkish), Latin and probably other languages.
Contrary to his brother, Constantine did not depart from the capital, even though at a certain time he thought of imitating him by going to an ascetic monastery at the Bosporus. He was anointed and was appointed librarian of the patriarchate of Constantinople. From then on he was called Constantine Philosopher. However he too lived ascetically.
The two brothers were preparing themselves for important missions to which they were going to be selected. They possessed a notable capability for action and they had acquired an enviable scientific capability. They also wanted something else, spiritual perfection. In their monastic cells they succeeded in the ascent towards God with prayer and the ascent for them was a continuous experience. They were people in body but angels in soul.
Redrafting of Byzantium.
The Greek Byzantium now two hundred years was in a situation of congestion (reduction of its area) which was due to three reasons. Firstly due to the incessant raids by barbarians especially from the North and the South that were causing continuous blood shedding wounds, secondly due to giving up conquering foreign areas which was due to its desire to maintain the ancestral inheritance and transmit it outwards; and thirdly due to the hundred year civil quarrel on the icons. This situation on one hand was being exploited by the Arabs by their unexpected awakening and on the other hand by the Slavs with a long term and methodical infiltration, managed to deny the Byzantium many of its richer regions, such as Egypt, Palestine, Syria and large sections of Thrace and Illyria.
During this period Christianity was also under unrelenting pressure. Since the period of the cessation of persecutions and until the appearance of the above people at the frontiers of the Empire, Christianity managed to spread to the depths of Africa and the farthest areas of Asia, and then she retreats rapidly and loses one after the other, almost all her possessions in these continents even to the northern regions of the Emou Peninsula.
In the mid 9th century a radical change of conditions is observed that coincided with the cessation of iconoclasm. Under the rule of three men, of the emperor Michael 3rd, of the prime minister Varda and the patriarch Photios, the byzantine Hellenism developed in the interior, became militarily reorganized and spiritually reborn. This spiritual renaissance is the main power that moved the whole march forward of the nation.
The Mission to Russia.
The previous mission of Constantine happened by chance and was an isolated event. It has now been two centuries that Christianity and the Greek empire were decreasing due to the raids by the Arabs. Now it was time to wake up and begin an abrupt development after centuries long congestion. Unfortunately the expansion attempt to the east was not effective. However, if Christianity lost ground in the South and East due to the bloody violence of the Muslims, there was ground for action to the North.
Patriarch Photios perceived early enough that the Slavs and the Turks to the North also known as the Hazars, having come in contact with the Greeks early on, they were by now ripe to be won over and enter the team of the Christian people and at the same time in the circle of the civilized humanity.
To ensure a firm foundation of each effort in this direction, it was necessary to precede a careful study of the institutions specifically of the Slavic people, the writing formation of the Slavic language and the translation of the necessary books. For the preparation of this work a special centre for the Slavic studies was founded in Constantinople where missionaries and civil culturists were trained. The Director of the centre, appointed by Emperor Michael and Photios, was Constantine who from then on assumed the organization of every mission of enlightenment.
On June 860 large Russian armies attempted an invasion with uncommon savagery against Constantinople with dug out canoes. Photios relates this in his speech thus: “the absurdity of the attack, the unexpected speed, the inhumanity of the barbaric tribe, the hardness of their attitude and their aggressive intent, displays the calamity as a lightning sent from heaven”. Fortunately the invasion was repulsed as unexpectedly as it was carried out.
The Russians were a Slavic people then subjugated by a small Scandinavian tribe, the Varagus, who descended from lake Ladoga. Even though the Russians were enslaved, their language survived and finally the Varagus were assimilated by them. At that time they owned the region between the rivers Dneiper and Don. During their attack against the Capital of the Greek Empire, the legendary Tsargrad, they all saw its brilliance and during their repulsion they learned from experience her strength.
They therefore perceived that it was more favourable to have the friendship rather than the hatred of the Greeks. In this, Byzantium made it easier. It would have been more useful to send a delegation capable of setting the basis for the Christianization of the Slavs of the North but also of the Hazars that were to their east. This would also be favourable also from the political point of view. For Christianity always brought the rise of morals and to a point a reduction of the aggressive intentions of the uncivilized people she accepted.
The Emperor and Photios could not find anyone more suitable than Constantine. Even though he had just returned from his mission to the Arabs a short time earlier, he accepted without hesitation the order and took with him Methodios, who it seems had followed him from Olympus to the Capital. Methodios was older than Constantine but he submitted to him (Constantine) because he was better suited for the mission. He would work more through prayer and Constantine by the word. However later he became a very capable organizer.
The two brothers went by boat to the Peninsula of Crimea. The situation at Crimea was very fluid; to the east they were under the Hazars, to the north to the Russians, to the west under the Hungarians, while a group of these tribes lived inside the peninsula. There were also a number of Greeks and a few monks.
One day while the missionaries were at the Greek monastery and were performing the liturgy, a crowd of Hungarians attacked them, ready to tear them to pieces. The brothers were not disturbed at all. They only said the “Lord have mercy” and continued the liturgy. When the raiders saw that they were not frightened they became surprised and did not bother them.
At Crimea, Constantine gave samples of his contribution to the linguistic and translation works. He met educated Rabbis and being close to them he had the opportunity to improve his Jewish language. There, he also translated the Hebrew grammar, which now made its appearance for the first time. He also met an elder Samaritan who showed him the Bible of His community, namely the Samaritan Pentateuch, which he managed to read.
Among the Russians he found some extracts from the Bible as well as from the Psalms translated in the Slavic language with Syrian characters. Then for one more time, they understood that a new alphabet was necessary, capable of producing all the sounds of the Slavic language.
Before continuing east, they recovered from the sea the relics of Saint Klimi, bishop of Rome. According to an old account, Klimi was exiled to the Peninsula in 100AD and his prison guards dumped him in the sea having first tied a rock to his neck. The brothers took the relics to the Church of the Peninsula and took with them some pieces, which they later brought to Rome. Constantine in honour of Klimi composed the “Festive words and Hymns”.
The results of the mission were excellent. They did not proceed to the interior of the Russian land but they had come in contact with its representatives at Crimea and in areas north of the city. The Russians from then on allowed the hierapostles (missionaries) to enter freely into their land and accepted a bishop. Thus firm foundations were set for the complete Christianization during the following century, of their huge land.
Mission to Hazaria.
Following their many months stay at Crimea, the missionaries travelled to Hazaria. At that time the leader of the Hazars with a delegation requested their dispatch to their land, to prove the superiority of Christianity over the Jewish and Muslim religions, so that it becomes accepted by the people.
The two brothers received an order to also visit their country. The Hazars, a tribe of the Turkic family, then owned the region from the Crimea to the lower Volga and from the Black Sea to the Caspian. They were civilized to a greater degree from the other Turkic tribes and their land had a “magnetic attraction” to the Greeks, Arabs and Jewish merchants.
They maintained friendly relations with the Byzantines from the seventh century. Justinian 2nd went there and married one of the daughters of their leader, Hagan. After a few decades the daughter of another Hagan, Irene, became the wife of Constantine 5th. Now the leaders felt the need to tighten their ties between them. One way was to accept the Christian religion. They believed to one God, obviously as an indirect influence from Judaism and Mohammedanism. Whatever idolatry they lost was to their gain. The need to act was therefore urgent.
Constantine and Methodios left the Peninsula by boat and disembarked at the eastern shores of the Black Sea. The Capital of Hazaria was Itil but Hagan would sometimes live in Sarkel, a city near the Black Sea which was built by Byzantine architects.
At the table of Hagan successive discussions were made with representatives first of Judaism, then of Mohammedanism, whom they trounced. It caused a great impression. Two hundred officials were baptized immediately by the hierapostles and others declared they will do so later. The same declared Hagan with a letter to the Emperor.
The hierapostles returned to Constantinople through the Peninsula.
The World of the Slavs.
The Slavs appeared for the first time in history during the end of the 1st century AD. They then lived east of the Germans, in the area of Vistula. The 6th century there were three tribes: the Slavs, the Vends and the Antons. They existed in small groups but the foreigners called them by the common name, Sklavins or Sklavs.
After continuous movements that started in the 3rd century and lasted till the 9th century they spread to the greatest part of Europe from the Don to the Alps and from the Baltic to Emo. Their movements at least during the earlier times were normally peaceful. Their greatest increase and spread is explained precisely because they did not fight and therefore they did not have losses due to wars. When they settled permanently in the areas they occupied they organized themselves militarily.
The ninth century they had solidified in approximately today’s areas later with few changes. The Russians then occupied as we have seen the area bounded by the Dneiper and the Don, while around them lived other Slavic tribes which were later assimilated by them. The Poles lived around the river Vistula. At Elba lived the Velets, Abordites and Sorabs who were later assimilated by their neighbouring tribes. The Morabs, Czechs and Slovakians also occupied their present region and part of Pannonia. In the rest of Pannonia settled the Slovenians. North Illyria was divided by the Croats and the Serbs while northern Thrace was occupied by the Bulgars. Different tribes that inhabited in the Greek areas were later expelled or assimilated.
The Slavs lived nomadic lives in huts they built temporarily. Slowly they created agricultural and pastoral estates. For their security they built forts, “grads”, which eventually became cities. However this progression was observed just during the 9th century. Justice was appropriated by the chieftains and by customs. They did not have writing or education.
It was not possible until then to have churches; instead of priests they had shamans from whom they would ask for help during difficult times in their lives. Their worship ceremonies were performed by the leaders of families on ancestral customs, who also guarded the sacred symbols. The prime god of the Slavs seems to be the goddess of fertility. From this is explained their immoral erotic life. Then was the sun or fire god who had different names in every different tribe. Close to him would be many nymphs and spirits whose abodes were believed to be fire, water, trees and houses. They worshipped their ancestors but they did not have any depiction regarding Hades. They believed that the soul was material and traveled around the world after death. Their widows often committed suicide so that they be buried with their dead husbands, while the children or the old people were killed during periods of famine. In comparison with other people they were slow in becoming Christians. This was due to the fact that for many centuries they were nomadic and wherever they settled they forced the locals either to leave the area or become assimilated. Wherever they met Christianity, as in Thrace. Illyria and Pannonia they destroyed it.
The first elements of Christianity were received by the Slavs from the inhabitants of the above areas that had remained there. Even though they lost the religious organization they managed to maintain certain basic elements of their religious faith which they passed on also to the invaders without their understanding. That is why the southern Slavs were the first to approach the idea of a single God. The Christian faith was also spread by the prisoners of wars, the merchants and the missionaries. Greek missionaries worked in all the Slavic nations, while the Italians and the Germans limited themselves only to the western Slavs.
Christianity helped the Slavic nations to fortify their national authority, to socially organize themselves and to enter the team of the civilized nations.
The expectation of the great mission.
On the return of the two missionaries to Constantinople from Hazaria, the emperor Michael 3rd and the patriarch Photios showed great satisfaction. On this opportunity they tried to convince Methodios not to go to Olympus, as they considered him essential in the service of the Church. They proposed to accept the position of Bishop, intending him rather for Russia but he refused so they were forced to send someone else. However he agreed not to go to Olympus but become instead the Abbot of the Monastery of Polyhronios that is located at Propondis, east of Kyzic. This way he was closer to the Capital.
Constantine was appointed professor at the Patriarchal School of Theology that was sheltered in certain edifices of the Holy Apostles. He would teach, study and prepare himself for something great which he was waiting for.
In 862 the ruler of Moravia, Rostislav, sent a delegation to Constantinople and requested for a person to teach Christianity to his subjects. Byzantium and the ecumenical patriarchate had it so arranged that the rulers themselves of the uncivilized world would request the missions. The letter brought by those sent said: “We are Slavs, simple people. Our people have refused idolatry and value the Christian Law but we do not have a capable teacher to teach us the true faith in our language. Other people will obviously follow our example. Send us therefore, Lord, such bishop and teacher. From you, in fact, the good law is spread to all the countries”.
A council was immediately convened with Emperor Michael 3rd presiding in which took part the prime minister Varda, the patriarch Photios and other personalities. They all wanted Constantine who was invited by the emperor and told him: “I know philosopher that you must feel tired but you must go there, for no one else can complete this mission”. The philosopher then answered that he was neither tired nor sick, he would go there gladly suffice they have a proper alphabet for their language. Of course he himself had translated articles in Slavic with Greek characters and he noticed that it could not produce all the phonetics. The emperor then said: “My grand father, my father and many others have sought an alphabet in vain. How could I achieve this?” Constantine felt weak but the emperor continued “If you wish God could help you to find, for He gives to those who ask and opens to those who knock”.
The philosopher departed from the meeting and by habit he began to pray with some colleagues. The help of God was not late coming. Constantine being illumined by God, he created the first Slavic alphabet and later he was occupied with the translation of the gospel of John: “in the beginning was the Word”.
The writing that Kyrillos devised is called “glagolitic”. While it is based originally on the lower case letters of the Greek alphabet, it curves, twists and changes the characters. For the sounds that are absent in the Greek language, he uses modified Hebrew characters or others he devised by himself. Kyrillos wished with this difficult writing to stress the national and linguistic oddity of the Slavs. Later the writing changed, namely, it had as basis the higher case of the Greek alphabet and was simplified. This way was created the so called “Cyrillic alphabet”
The language in which the brothers translated the biblical and liturgical articles was the one spoken by the southern Slavic tribes which had entered in areas belonging to the Greek empire. Many Dragobites and Sagudates were coming for commercial reasons to Thessaloniki and even many worked as servants of aristocratic families. The members of these families, as the merchants, would learn many words of that unrefined dialect by necessity because the not so culturally developed migrants were not in a position to learn the highly developed and complex Greek language, or otherwise it would have bee