ST. CYRIL, OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC, AND THE CREATION OF THE GLAGOLITIC ALPHABET

The Life of  Constantine (Vita Constantini) is the earliest text known to have been written in Old Church Slavonic. The biography was composed some time between Constantine's death in 862 and December 885 (when we know that the text was in use in Rome), perhaps in 879 or 880 by someone in the entourage of Methodius. The text survives in more than fifty copies, but none of them is earlier than the fifteenth century (the earliest extant copy is from 1469). It has long been noted that although written in Old Church Slavonic, a "new" language in the ninth century, the Life of Constantine was written as a conventional Byzantine saint's life: there is no concern with an accurate, or even comprehensive description of the events narrated, and the unknown author's political agenda was not necessarily coincident with the original goals of the Moravian mission, despite the fact that the work was most likely composed during or not long after the Moravian mission. The purpose of this text was to justify the canonization of its hero, the would-be Saint Cyril. This explains why the author spends a lot more time on miracles than on facts. Translation by Marvin Kantor, Medieval Slavic Lives of Saints and Princes (Ann Arbor, 1983), pp. 25-33 and 65-81.


1. Merciful and compassionate is God, who awaits the repentance of Man and will have all to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth, for He wishes the sinner not death but repentance and life even if he be given to malice. Neither does He allow mankind to fall away through weakness or be led into temptation by the Adversary and perish. Rather, in each age and epoch He has not ceased to grant us His abundant grace, even now just as it was in the beginning: at first through the Prophets, Patriarchs and Fathers, and after them through the Prophets, then through the Apostles and Martyrs, and righteous men and teachers whom He chooses from amidst the tumult of this life. For the Lord knows his own, who are His, as He has said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and I call them by name and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life” [John 10:27-28]. He did so also in our generation, having raised up for us this teacher who enlightened our nation, which did not wish to walk in the light of God's commandment, and whose understanding was obscured by weakness and even more by the Devil's wiles.

Started briefly, his Vita reveals what sort of man he was, so that hearing it, he who wishes – taking courage and rejecting idleness—can follow him. For as the Apostle has said: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” [I Cor. 11:1].

2. There was a certain noble and rich man named Leo in the city of Thessalonica, who held the rand of drungarios [high-ranking military officer] under the strategos [general and governor of the theme, or province, of Thessalonica]. He was, as Job once was, a pious man, and kept faithfully all God's commandments. He begot seven children of which the youngest, the seventh, was Constantine the Philosopher, our preceptor and teacher. And when his mother bore him, he was given over to a wet-nurse for nursing. However, until the child was weaned he would not take any other breast but his mother's. This was by God's design so that there be a good offshoot from a good root. And after this the good parents agreed not to lie with each other. They never once transgressed their vow, but lived that way in the Lord for 14 years, parting in death. And when that devout man was wanted on Judgment Day, the mother of this child cried, saying: “I am worried about nought save this one child and how he will be nurtured.” Then he said: “Believe me, wife, I place my hope in God. He will give him for a father and steward one such as guides all Christians.” And so it came to pass.

3. When he was seven the boy had a dream which he recounted to his father and mother, saying: “After the strategos had assembled all girls of our city, he said to me: 'Choose her whom you wish as your wife and helpmate from among them.' Gazing upon them and taking note of each one, I discerned the most beautiful of all, with a radiant face, richly adorned in gold necklaces and pearls, and manner of finery. Her name was Sophia, that is, Wisdom. I chose her.”

When the parents heard these words, they said to him: “Son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother [Proverbs 6:20,23]. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light [Proverbs 7:4]. Say unto Wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call Understanding thy kinswoman. For Wisdom shines even more than the sun.And if you then take her to yourself as your wife, you will be delivered from much evil through her.” When they sent him for instruction, he surpassed all his fellow students in learning, as his memory was very keen. He was then a marvel.

As it was customary among the sons of the wealthy to take sport in the hunt, he one day took his falcon and went out to the fields with his companions. And he released it, the wind rose by God's design, caught the falcon and carried it off. The boy became very despondent and dejected by this, and would not eat for two days. But in His love for Man, merciful God did not wish the youth to become accustomed to things of this world and He lured him easily. Just as He lured Placidas [St. Eustathius] with a deer during a hunt long ago, so now He did Constantine with a falcon. Constantine thought to himself fo the vanity of this life and repented, saying: "Is this life such that sorrow takes the place of joy? From this day forth I shall take a different path, a better one than this. But I shall not waste my days in the tumult of this life."

Taking up his studies, he remained at home and committed to memory the writings of St. Gregory the Theologian. And making the sign of the cross upon the wall, he wrote the following eulogy to St. Gregory: "O Gregory, thou art a man in body but an angel in spirit. Thou, a man in body, appeared as an angel. For thy lips praise God like one of the Seraphim, and enlighten the universe with the teaching of the true faith. Therefore, accept me who comes to thee with love and faith and be my teacher and enligthener." To such things did he pledge himself.

He immersed himself in numerous discourses and in lofty thought but was unable to comprehend their profundity and fell prey to a great sadness. There lived a certain foreigner who knew grammar. Going to him and falling at his feet in humility, Constantine begged him to teach him thoroughly the art of grammar. But burying his talent, the man said to him: "Young man, do not trouble yourself. I have renounced teaching this to anyone for the rest of my life." Again, the youth begged him, saying in tears: "Take all the share due me from my father's house, but teach me." Since the man did not wish to listen further to him, Constantine returned home and prayed that he would gain his hearfelt desire. God soon fulfills the desire of them that fear Him. Upon hearing of the keeness, wisdom and zeal for learning with which he was imbued, the Emperor's administrator, called the Logothete [Theoctistus, Logothete of the Swift Course under Empress Theodora, 842-856]. sent for Constantine to study together with the Emperor [Michael III, at the time only 3 years old]. Learning of this, the boy joyfully set out. And on the way he knelt in prayer to the Lord, saying: "O God of our fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things with Thy Word, and ordained man through Thy Wisdom, that he should have dominion over the creatures, which Thou hast made, give me Wisdom, that sitteth by Thy throne, so that I might understand what is Thy will and be saved. For I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid." And in addition, he recited the remainder of Solomon's prayer [Wis. of Solomon 9:5] and, rising, said: "Amen."

4. When he arrived in the Imperial City [Constantinople] he was entrusted to teachers to be taught. In three months he mastered grammar and began other studies. He studied Homer and geometry with Leo [the Mathematician, Archbishop of Thessalonica], and dialectics and all philosophical studies with Photius [future Patriarch of Constantinople, 858-867 and 876-886]; and in addition to that, rhetoric and arithmetic, astronomy and music, and all the other Hellenic arts. He mastered them all just as though he were mastering only one of them. For keenness joined with zeal, the one vying with the other, by which ability studies are perfected. But more than studiousness, a newly serene countenance became him. He conferred with those who were more beneficial and turned from those who turned to malice, for he thought and acted only to acquire heavenly things in place of earthly ones and to quit his body and live with God.

When the Logothete saw that he was so disposed, he gave him control over his entire house and free entry to the royal palace. Sometime after this, he once questioned him, saying: "Philosopher, I wish to learn what philosophy is." With his quick mind, he replied immediately: "The knowledge of matters divine and human, to what extent man can approach God and how, through virtue, man is taught to be in the image and likeness of the One who created him." And the Logothete grew to love him even more, as he, this great and venerable man, questioned him about these things. Constantine made known to him the study of philosophy and in a few words showed great keenness of mind. Living in chastity and pleasing God greatly, Constantine became even more loved by all. And many desired and wished to be joined with him through love and, in accordance with their strength, to imitate as fully as possible his virtuous and godly way of life. For all simply loved his kenneess of mind greatly. And the Logothete rendered him the highest honors and offered him much gold but he did not accept. Once, some time after this, he said to him: "More than anything else your keenness of mind and wisdom compel me to love you. I have a goddaughter whom I took out of the font [i.e., for whose baptism I served as sponsor]. She is beautiful, wealthy and from a good and noble family. If you wish, I shall give her to you as your wife. And from the Emperor accept eminence, and a governorship. And expect even more, for soon you will be a strategos." Then the philosopher answered him, saying: "This is indeed a great gift for those who have need of it. But for me nothing is greater than learning. Having acquired knowledge, through it I wish to seek the honor and wealth of my ancestors." Upon hearing his reply, the Logothete went to the Emperor  and said: "This young Philosopher does not love this life. Let us not exclude him from the community but tonsure him and give him over to the priesthood and service. Let him be librarian to the patriarch in St. Sophia. At least in this way shall we keep him." And that was what they did with him. After staying with them as such for a short time, Constantine left for the Narrow Sea and hid himself there in a monastery [possibly the Kleidion Monastery on the shore of the Bosporus]. They sought him for six months before they were able to find him. Unable to prevail upon him to accept that position, they convinced him to accept an academic chair and teach philosophy to his countrymen and foreigners with full assistance and aid. And he accepted this.

[...]

14. While the Philosopher was rejoicing in God, yet another matter arose, and a task no less than the former. For Rastislav, the Prince of Moravia [846-870], through God's admonition, took counsel with his Moravian princes and appealed to Emperor Michael, saying: "Though our people have rejected paganism and observe Christian law we do not have a teacher who can explain to us in our language the true Christian faith, so that other countries which look to us might emulate us. Therefore, O lord, send us such a bishop and teacher; for from you good law issues to all countries." And having gathered his council, the Emperor [Michael III, 839-867] summoned Constantine the Philosopher and had him listen to this matter. And he said: "Philosopher, I know that you are weary, but it is necessary that you go there. For no one can attend to this matter like you." And the Philosopher answered: "Though I am weary and sick in body, I shall go there gladly if they have a script for their language." Then the Emperor said to him: "My grandfather [Emperor Michael II] and my father [Emperor Theophilus], and many others have sought this but did not find it. How then can I find it?" And the Philosopher answered: "Who can write a language on water and acquire for himself a heretic's name?" And together with his uncle, Bardas, the Emperor answered him again: "If you wish, God may give you this as He gives to everyone that asks without doubt, and opens to them that knock." The Philosopher went and, following his old habit, gave himself up to prayer together with this other associates. Hearing the prayer of His servants, God soon appeared to him. And immediately Constantine composed letters and began to write the language of the Gospel, that is: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" [John 1:1] and so forth.

The Emperor rejoiced, and together with his counsellors glorified God. And he sent Constantine with many gifts, after writing the following epistle to Rastislav: "God, who will have all men come unto the knowledge of the truth [I Tim. 2:4] and raise themselves to a greater station, having noted your faith and struggles, arranged now, in our time, to fulfill your request and reveal a script for your language, which did not exist in the beginning but only in later times, so that you may be counted among the great nations that praise God in their own language. Therefore, we have sent you the learned man, a philosopher. Thus, accept this gift which is greater and more valuable than all gold and silver, precious stones and transient riches. And strive zealously with him to strengthen his work, and with all your heart to seek God. And do not reject universal salvation. Convince all not to be idle, but to take the true path, so that, having led them to divine understanding through your struggles, you too shall receive your reward--both in this age and the next--for the souls of all who wish to believe in Christ our God now and evermore. Thus shall you leave your memory to future generations like the great Emperor Constantine."

15. When Constantine arrived in Moravia, Rastislav received him with great honor. And he gathered students and gave them over to Constantine for instruction. As soon as all the church offices were accepted, he taught them Matins and the Hours, Vespers and the Compline, and the Liturgy. And according to the word of the prophet [Isaiah 35:5], the ears of the deaf were unstopped, the Words of the Scriptures were heard, and the tongues of stammerers spoke clearly. Because God's Word was spreading, the evil envier from the days of creation, the thrice-accursed Devil, was unable to bear this good and entered his vessels. And he began to rouse many, saying to them: "God is not glorified by this. For if this were pleasing unto Him, could He not have ordained from the beginning that they should glorify Him, writing their language in their own script? But only three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, were chosen as appropriate for rendering glory unto God." These were the cohorts of the Latins speaking, archpriests, priests, and their disciples. And having fought with them like David with the Philistines [I Samuel 17], Constantine defeated them with words from the Scriptures, and called them trilinguists, since Pilate had thus written the word's title [John 19:19-20]. And this was not all they were saying, but they also were teaching other impieties, saying: "Underground live people with huge heads; and all reptiles are the creation of the Devil, and if one kills a snake, he will be absolved of nine sins because of this. If one kills a man, let him drink from a wooden cup for three months and not touch one of glass." And they forbade neither the offering of sacrifices according to the ancient custom, nor shameful marriages. Cutting all this down like thorns, Constantine burned them with the fire of the Scriptures, saying: "Offer unto God a sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. Send not away the wife of thy youth. For if having begun to hate her, thou send her away, wickedness covers not thy lust, saith the Lord Almighty. And take heed to your spirit, and let none leave the wife of thy youth; and that which I hated ye have done, because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, whom thou hast forsaken: Yet is she thy companion and the wife of thy covenant. And in the Gospel the Lord says: 'Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.' And furthermore: 'But I say unto you: That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.' And the Apostle said: 'What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.'

Constantine spent forty months in Moravia, and then left to ordain his disciples. On the way, Kocel, Prince of Pannonia, received him and took a great liking to the Slavic letters. He learned them himself, and gave him about fifty students to be taught them. He rendered him great honor, and accompanied him. But Constantine took neither gold nor silver nor other things from either Rastislav or Kocel. He set down the word of the Gospel without sustenance, asked only for nine hundred captives, and released them.

16. When he was in Venice, bishops, priests and monks gathered against him like ravens against a falcon. And they advanced the trilingual heresy, saying: "Tell us, O man, how is it that you now teach, having created letters for the Slavs, which none else have been found before, neither the Apostle, nor the pope of Rome, nor Gregory the Theologian, nor Jerome, nor Augustine? We know of only three languages worthy of praising God in the Scriptures, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin." And the Philosopher answered them: "Does not God's rain fall upon all equally? And does not the sun shine also upon all? And do we not all breathe air in the same way? Are you not ashamed to mention only three tongues, and to command all other nations and tribes to be blind and deaf? Tell me, do you render God powerless, that He is incapable of granting this? Or envious, that He does not desire this? We know of numerous peoples who possess writing and render glory unto God, each in its own language. Surely these are obvious: Armenians, Persians, Abkhazians, Iberians, Sogdians, Goths, Avars, Turks, Khazars, Arabs, Egyptians, and many others. If you do not wish to understand this, at least recognize the judgment of the Scriptures. For David cries out, saying: 'O sing unto the Lord, all the earth: sing unto the Lord a new song' [Psalm 96:1]. And again: 'Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise' [Psalm 98:4]. And likewise: 'Let all the earth workship Thee, and sing unto Thee; let it sing to Thy name, God on High' [Psalm 66:4]. And furthermore: 'O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise Him, all ye people. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord' [Psalm 117:1]. And in the Gospel according to John it says: 'But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children of God' [John 1:12]. And again , in the same Gospel: 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one; as Thou, Father art in Me, and I in Thee' [John 17:20-21]. [...] And with these words and many more, he shamed them and went away, leaving them.

17. Upon learning of Constantine, the pope in Rome sent for him. And when he came to Rome, the Apostolic Father himself, Hadrian [II, 867-872] and all the townspeople came out to meet him, carrying candles. For he was carrying the relics of St. Clement the Martyr and Pope of Rome. And at once God wrought glorious miracles for his sake: a paralytic was healed, and many others were cured of various maladies. And even captives were at once liberated from the hands of their captors when they invoked Christ and St. Clement.

Accepting the Slavic Scriptures, the Pope placed them in the Church of St. Mary called Phatne [now the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome] And the holy liturgy was celebrated over them. Then the Pope commanded two bishops, Formosus [Bishop of Porto] and Gauderich [Bishop of Velletri], to consecrate the Slavic disciples. And when they were consecrated they at once celebrated the liturgy in the Slavic language in the Church of the Apostle Peter. And the next day they celebrated in the Church of St. Petronilla , and on the following day in the Church of St. Andrew. And then they celebrated the entire night, glorifying God in Slavic once again in the Church of the Apostle Paul  [the S. Paolo Fuori le Mure in Rome], the great universal teacher. And in the morning they again celebrated the liturgy over his blessed grave with the help of Bishop Arsenius [of Orti], one of the seven bishops, and of Anastasius the librarian. The Philosopher and his disciples did not cease to render due praise unto God for this. And the Romans did not cease to come to him and question him. And if someone wished to ask about these things, they received double and triple explanations to their questions from him, and would joyfully return to their homes again. Then a certain Jew, who would come and debate with him, said to him once: "Christ has not yet come according to the number of years when the One, of whom the prophets speak, shall be born of a virgin." Calculating for him all the years from Adam by generations, the Philosopher told him precisely that He has come, and the number of years from then till now. And having instructed him, he dismissed him.

18. And his many labors overtook him, and he fell ill. Enduring his illness for many days, he once had a divine revelation and began to chant the following: "When they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord, my spirit rejoiced, and my heart was gladdened" [Psalm 122:1]. Having put on his venerable garments, he thus spent that entire day rejoicing and saying: "Henceforth I am neither a servant of the Emperor, nor of anyone else on earth, but only of God Almighty. I was not, and I came to be, and am forever. Amen." On the following day, he put on holy monastic dress and, receiving light to light, called himself Cyril. He spent fifty days in that dress. And when the hour to repose and remove to the eternal dwellings approached, he raised his arms to God and, in tears, prayed, saying thus: "O lord, my God, who hast created all the ranks of angels and incorporeal powers, stretched out the heavens and founded the earth, and brought all things into being from non-being, who hast always heeded those that work Thy will, fear Thee and keep Thy commandaments, heed my prayer and preserve Thy faithful flock which Thou appointed to me, Thy useless and unworthy servant." [...] And thus he reposed in the Lord at 42 years of age, on the 14th day of the month of February, of the second indiction, the 6370th year from the creation of this world [862].[...] Then Methodius, his brother, entreated the Apostolic Father saying: "Our mother adjured us that the one of us first to pass away be brought to his brother's monastery to be buried there." [...] Then the Apostolic Father said: "For the sake of his saintliness and charity I shall transgress Roman custom and bury him in my tomb, in the Church of the Holy Apostle Peter." And his brother said: "Since you do not heed me and do not give him up, let him, if it pleases you, rest in the Church of St. Clement, for he came here with him." [...] And thus they put him with the coffin into a tomb to the right of the altar in the Church of St. Clement, where many miracles began to occur.