The Saints of Ohrid
The Saints of Ohrid are among the people who are responsible for the creation of the Ohrid literary school, for providing literacy to the entire Slavic world and for the beginning of a Golden age of culture on the Balkans.
At their time the South Slavic dialect, also called Old Church Slavonic today, became the fourth Holy language (along with Hebrew, Latin and Greek). It takes brilliant dedicated scholars, years of hard work and research, to translate the christian bible into a new language.
We cannot tell about the deeds of St. Clement of Ohrid and St. Naum of Preslav without speaking about their teachers, St. Cyril and St. Methodius and the political situation on the Balkans in the 9th century, so the best thing to do here is tell the whole story.
In the late 5th century, large territories of the Eastern Roman empire, also called the Byzantine empire, were taken over by Slavic tribes and the Bulgars. Their union soon lead the formation of new country on the Balkans, the first Bulgarian kingdom, which in the 9th century was at its greatest extent and had control over most of the Balkans.
At that time both the Slavs and the Bulgars had a pagan culture
But the Roman Empire had converted to Christianity, in the 4th century, so there was religious contentiousness, and in those days, that mean power struggles and fighting, that simmered for hundreds of years until the 9th century.
King Boris I of Bulgaria was looking for a way of unifying the people and establishing peace in both his territories and with the Byzantine empire. A decision was made, Christianity to become the new single religion in the state and the Slavonic as an official language.
This was not easy to implement – the elite of the country, the Boliars, rebelled against the changes. The events related to the Baptism of the Bulgarians influenced the history of entire Europe – Khan Boris is known today as St. Boris I Michael.
The most important figures in the Conversion to Christianity of the Slavs and the Bulgars were St. Cyril and Methodius.
The two brothers were from Thessaloniki – there are disputes about their nationality today – whether they were Macedonian, Greek or Bulgarian. At that time we cannot speak about nations and if we look at the medieval sources, in a conversation with the two brothers, the emperor of Byzantium tells them: You two are from Thessaloniki, and it is well known that everyone in Thessaloniki speaks pure Slavic. My personal opinion is that they were just of South Slavic origin and this is enough the be said.
The scary adventures of brothers Cyril and Methodius
The deeds of the two brothers aren’t related only to the Balkans – their first mission was in Asia Minor, where they preached Christianity to the Arabs and probably worked on the Glagolitic Alphabet there. Cyril and Methodius were masters of theology and spoke the languages of Arabic and Hebrew.
When they came back from Asia Minor, they were given a new task by the Byzantine authorities – Christianization of the Slavs.
They were sent by the emperor Michael III to Baptize Great Moravia in Christianity first – this was a country located in the modern Czech Republic and Slovakia.
For their mission to Moravia, Cyril and Methodius trained five disciples to help them – Naum, Clement, Gorazd, Angelarius and Sava.
It is not certain what part of the Books they had managed to translate when going to Moravia, but they probably had Gospels, the Epistle and the Psalms, but most importantly, they were using Slavic for the first time as a literary language.
They started creating hundreds of schools and were educating priests to preach in Slavic, but unfortunately, only 40 months after the beginning of their mission in Moravia, they were forced by the Latin to flee Moravia – they were accused of heresy for teaching Christianity in Slavic.
Cyril and Methodius, however, did find support in Rome, where they were invited by pope Adrian II and defended the right of Slavic liturgy. This all ended well and the pope blessed the Slavic books, thus allowing formally the use of this language.
From this moment on Slavic was considered a Sacred Language and from this moment on, until the 16th century the books of Slavic nations were written in versions of the language of Cyril and Methodius – what is called today Old Church Slavic.
After the deaths of Cyril (869 in Rome ) and Methodius in 885, their disciples had a lot of trouble. St. Gorazd was chosen to inherit Methodius, but the successor of pope Adrian II abolished his decisions on allowing Slavic liturgy.
The disciples were facing the danger of imprisonment and jail. Angelarius, Clement and Naum fled to Bulgaria, while the fate of Sava and Gorazd is unknown.
The disciples of Cyril and Methodius were welcomed with open arms in Preslav, the capital of the newly converted to Christianity Bulgarian state.
There they worked together with Constantine of Preslav, who may have been a student of Methodius, on the translation of the rest of the Holy books and the establishment of schools.
What they did was not just translate the Holy Books – their deeds were the beginning of a Golden age of culture and education.
The Old Church Slavonic was further developed in Bulgaria and the books written in it were later distributed throughout the Slavic world. One would expect that their deeds are related only to Religious education, but we today have preserved 9th century writings on philosophy, biology and even poetry.
Naum and Clement formed two important Literary schools – they spent some time in Preslav, where they formed the Preslav Literary School and then the went to Macedonia which at that time was part of the Bulgarian kingdom. Khan Boris I sent St. Clement to Ohrid, while St. Naum stayed 3 for another years in Preslav.
What St. Clement did in Ohrid was amazing – he established what could be called the first Slavic university of Europe.
In only 7 years he educated over 3500 students to write and read in Glagolitic. He founded churches and monasteries. When St. Naum got to Ohrid, he assisted him in the work and founded a monastery which is preserved until today – in the south of Lake Ohrid, at Macedonia’s border with Albania is his monastery, St. Archangel Michael, known now as St. Naum Monastery.
It is interesting to note that they used the original Glagolitic script, which was created by their teachers, but it was not well accepted by the royal administration and eventually was replaced by the Cyrillic.
One of the reasons for this may be the fact that in Preslav the Greek alphabet already was in use and the local scholars created the Cyrillic, which is derived from the Greek alphabet with a few additional letters added, thus being simpler and easier to use. The scriptures from Ohrid are all written in Glagolitic.
Ohrid continued to be a center of culture after their death – Some of the most important preserved manuscripts in Old Church Slavonic today are written in the Ohrid literary school.
Because of its importance, Ohrid became a capital of the Western Bulgarian kingdom during the reign of Tsar Samuel.
We have to say again that, the deeds of Cyril and Methodius and their disciples are far more significant than the mere translation of the Holy Books and the Conversion to Christianity of the Slavs – they mark the beginning of events which will change the history of Europe.
Today Sts. Cyril and Methodius and their disciples are praised in the Orthodox church as some of the most important saints: they are called “Equal to the apostles” for their contribution in spreading Christianity.