Posts Tagged ‘St. Cyril’

The Art of Saving Souls

Posted in On This Day on May 24th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Today–May 24th– Orthodox Christians honor the Saints Cyril and Methodius.  Roman Catholics would try to be politely indifferent to the hallowed pair, masking a genuine annoyance.  Ecumenicalism has its limits, after all.  Coke does not honor Pepsi. 

In the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, there was a competition between Rome and Constantinople to see who would convert the pagan Slavs to Christianity. The vying missionaries couldn’t always produce miracles on schedule to win converts, so they often used means that we might find nauseatingly familiar.

The Byzantines tried advertising. However, going door-to-door, they noticed that no one would read their Greek Orthodox religious tracts. The Slavs were illiterate and, even if they weren’t, it is not likely that they would want to read a foreign language. A pair of Byzantine marketing wizards, Cyril and Methodius, made their ad campaign more intelligible by modifying the Greek alphabet to the Slavic tongues. (Cyril and Methodius received sainthoods but Cyril got the glory; the Cyrillic Alphabet is named for him.)

Both Rome and Constantinople sought celebrity endorsements. Their respective salesmen appealed to the local kinglets and chieftains, who would then coerce their respective tribes to salvation. In wooing the petty royalty, the Byzantines had the advantage when it came to bribes: silks and crafted goblets, craftsmanship beyond the ability of those benighted western Europeans. To many a Slavic chieftain, the Byzantine luxuries were unearthly delights and easily seemed proof of Constantinople’s superior faith. That approach sold Russia.

Of course, Rome’s missionaries had their unique offers as well. They often could point to an army of Catholic Franks or Germans just across the border, and who were more than eager to proselytize in their own way. That proved very convincing as well, perhaps even more than silverware and a designer wardrobe.