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The Slav mission. Earlier that century, in the central European principality of Greater Moravia, Latin missionaries worked among the realm’s Moravian Slavs, introducing the Latin rites of the Roman church. These missionaries, most of whom were Germanic, also advocated closer ties with Moravia’s enemies: the Germanic princes and bishops of the Holy Roman Empire. To counter these efforts, Moravia’s prince, Rastislav, petitioned the Byzantine emperor and patriarch to provide Slav–speaking missionaries to work among his people.

In 862, the Byzantine emperor sent two Greek brothers, Cyril and Methodius. They devised a script for the Slavonic vernacular, translated Scripture and the liturgies of the Roman church into Slavonic and transcribed the first Slavic code of civil law. Despite support from the papacy, the brothers’ work generated hostility among the Latin Germanic bishops, who drove Cyril and Methodius from Moravia, deposed Rastislav and, in 886, banished their followers.

Two of their disciples, Clement and Naum, found refuge in Boris’s Bulgaria. There, they furthered the cultural, linguistic and spiritual works of Cyril and Methodius. They realized, too, Boris’s goal of an independent church that would adhere to the Byzantine liturgical rites of Constantinople. In the cities of Ohrid and Preslav, Clement and Naum presided over literary schools where they translated texts into Slavonic. These centers functioned as the cultural, political and theological hubs of the evolving Bulgarian nation.

Later ordained to the episcopacy, Clement trained thousands of Slavonic–speaking priests who replaced the Greek–speaking clergy from Constantinople. Clement also reformed Cyril’s alphabet and renamed it in honor of his teacher. This Cyrillic alphabet is the precursor of the present–day alphabet Bulgarians share with Belarussians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Russians, Rusyns, Serbs and Ukrainians.

Gains and losses. The deeds of Sts. Clement and Naum played a crucial role in aligning the Balkan peoples with Byzantium. But alliances did not lead to assimilation. In 919, after Boris’s son and heir, Tsar Simeon I, trounced the Byzantines in battle, a Bulgarian national council declared the Bulgarian church independent and patriarchal. Eight years later, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople recognized its patriarchal dignity.

The city of Ohrid played an influential role in these developments, which continued even as a later Byzantine emperor, Basil II, defeated the Bulgarian tsar in 1018. In addition to obliterating the state, Basil the “Bulgar–slayer” abolished the Bulgarian patriarchate and established the Archeparchy of Ohrid as an autonomous body subordinate to the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. The emperor also defined the church’s eparchies, properties and privileges.

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Tags: Church history Bulgarian Orthodox Church Bulgaria Balkans