Mission to the Slavs

The mission to Moravia in Central Europe by the brothers Cyril (826-69) and Methodius (c.815-85) in the second half of the ninth century shook the Byzantine Empire out of the introspection into which it had fallen during the period of iconoclasm. Although ultimately the mission failed in Moravia, it started a process of translation and promotion that eventually saw the nations of the Balkans incorporated into a Byzantine commonwealth. It was a diplomatic and religious triumph, which renewed the prestige of Constantinople and reinvigorated the ecumenical patriarchate. The conversion of Kievan Rus' in the tenth century was further proof that the Byzantine Church was alive and well, and able to promote itself in a new sphere of influence.

What the Slavonic-speaking peoples took on when they embraced Byzantine Christianity was a cultural package and patrimony that connected them with the ancient and early Christian Mediterranean world. The invention of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets gave the emerging Slav nations not only the opportunity to celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular but the means by which to begin a literary inheritance of their own. The dividing lines between Eastern and Western Christendom were drawn at this time and they have remained in place more or less through to the present.

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