Chernorizets Hrabr
Oration of the letters: reaching out to the future

He was a man of letters from the 10th-11th century whose true identity is unknown. He was probably a member of Tsar Simeon's cultural circle in Preslav. His work On the Letters exists in over 70 copies and versions, and has had a considerable impact on medieval literature in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, and particularly Russia.

In the course of nine centuries, a brief Old Bulgarian text crossed many borders, appeared in numerous languages, underwent translations, editing and expansion. It travelled through the Solovets Island in the Arkhangelsk province of Russia, the high school with the Saint Magdalena church in Wroclaw, and Mount Athos to the Savina Monastery in Dalmatia. One of its revised versions, entitled Second Apology of Bulgarian Letters was written during the Byzantine domination, after the downfall of the First Bulgarian State. The original, however, bears the humble title On the Letters and is signed by a "Chernorizets Hrabr" ('chernorizets' meaning monk, an allusion to the black clothes of the clergy). Scientists have not yet managed to identify the author behind that pen-name. There have been several hypotheses, including a suggestion that the author was Simeon himself, the first Bulgarian ruler to hold the title of tsar. All we have is a text, explicit and emphatic, containing indisputable arguments in support of the right of Slavonic letters and literature to exist, revealing the immense erudition and incredibly rich spirituality of the anonymous author. The author, who stood up for the Slavic cause not just on his own behalf, but also served as a "spokesman" for the recently converted Bulgarian state, could not have been a self-educated intellectual, a self-proclaimed man of letters or a parochial enthusiast. He was part of a well-established sophisticated culture, a match for the haughty opponents questioning the right of that culture to exist. The author's arguments were not theological but scientific, based not on emotions too early to be defined as patriotic, but on historical evidence. However, the anonymous author was not lacking in individuality. On the Letters is not a dry treatise or an exercise in rhetoric and logic. This seems to have always been the destiny of Bulgarian men of letters: their personal traits have been no less important that their talent and erudition.

This contemporary of Ioan Exarch and Tsar Simeon not only was a man of character and individuality but also knew how to display those qualities. They are clearly visible in his self-confidence as a learned man, which developed into a calm conviction that history would one day prove him right. The author was certain that he himself and the letters and literature of his people were not inferior to the foreign ones that were generally considered to be the greatest and the most fundamental. His dignity, based on the firm logic of the evident, strengthened his well-substantiated conviction that the culture and the people to which he belonged were to endure. They had their roots in ancient times, and he pictured them reaching far into the future. Having a profound knowledge of the culture of his time, with his Oration on the Letters, Chernorizets Hrabr himself provided a source for the future development of a complex culture, something entirely new in the context of the Christian world.

He was a warrior in a centuries-long battle for the asserion of the Slavonic culture and for the independence of Bulgarian spirituality. That battle started with Cyrl and Methodius's fight against the "trilingual dogma" and ended in the late National Revival period in the 19th century with the discontinuation of the use of the Greek language in Bulgarian schools and churches. The short oration by Chernorizets Hrabr was a landmark in that long struggle.

{Spiritual Leaders of Bulgaria}

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