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Old Church Slavonic: Myths and Facts
Old Church Slavonic: Myths and Facts

Video: Old Church Slavonic: Myths and Facts

Video: Old Church Slavonic: Myths and Facts
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Where did the Old Slavonic language come from and who spoke it. Is he a direct ancestor of the Russian?

Most somewhere have heard about the Old Slavonic language, and since it is "old", and even "Slavic" (like Russian itself), they boldly assume that it, apparently, is the direct ancestor of the "great and mighty". In addition, there are those who believe that church books were written in Old Slavonic, according to which worship is conducted today. Let us try to find out what is the actual relationship between Russian and Old Church Slavonic.

Myth 1: in ancient times the Slavs spoke Old Church Slavonic

It is believed that the ancestors of the Slavs came to the territory of Europe in the II century. BC, presumably from Asia. This is confirmed by a comparative analysis of modern Slavic languages with Proto-Indo-European - the ancestor of the Indo-European language family reconstructed by linguists: Slavic, Romance, Germanic, Iranian, Greek and other languages of this family.

In the pre-literary era of their existence, the Slavic tribes used the Proto-Slavic language - common to all Slavs. No monuments have survived (or have not been found) on it, and it is believed that it had no written language.

It is difficult to reliably talk about exactly what this language was (how it sounded, whether it had dialectal forms, what its vocabulary was, etc.) - all the information currently available has been obtained by linguists as a result of its reconstruction based on a comparison of data existing today Slavic and other Indo-European languages, as well as evidence of early medieval authors describing the life and language of the Slavs in Latin, Greek and Gothic.

In the VI-VII centuries. AD The Proto-Slavic community and, accordingly, the language was already more or less clearly divided into three dialect groups (eastern, western and southern), within which the formation of modern Slavic languages took place for a long time. So no, the ancient Slavs of the pre-literary era did not speak Old Slavonic, but dialects of the Proto-Slavic language.

Where did Old Slavonic come from then?

The ancient Slavs were pagans, but under the influence of historical and political circumstances, starting from the 7th century (primarily, the southern and western ones - due to the geographical proximity and powerful influence of neighboring Byzantium and the Germanic kingdoms) gradually adopted Christianity - in fact, this process stretched over several centuries …

In this regard, they had a need for their own writing - first of all, for the dissemination of liturgical texts, as well as state documents (the adoption of a single faith, which united previously scattered pagan tribes, completed the process of forming state formations among some of the Slavic peoples - a vivid example of this is Russia).

Accordingly, in order to solve this problem, it was necessary to fulfill two conditions:

  • to develop a system of graphic symbols for the transmission of speech sounds in writing;
  • to create a single written language that would be understandable to the Slavs from different parts of Europe: at that time, all Slavic dialects were mutually understandable, despite the differences. It was they who became Old Slavonic - the first literary language of the Slavs.

Creation of the Slavic alphabet

The brothers Cyril and Methodius took up this task. They came from the city of Thessaloniki, not far from which lay the border of the Byzantine Empire and the Slavic lands. Actually, in the city itself and its environs, the Slavic dialect was widespread, which, according to historical documents, the brothers mastered perfectly.

Saints Cyril and Methodius (icon of the 18th-19th centuries)
Saints Cyril and Methodius (icon of the 18th-19th centuries)

They had a noble origin and were extremely educated people - among the teachers of the younger Cyril (Constantine) were the future Patriarch Photius I and Leo the Mathematician, later, teaching philosophy at the University of Constantinople, he would receive the nickname Philosopher.

The elder brother Methodius served as a military leader in one of the regions inhabited by the Slavs, where he became well acquainted with their way of life, and later became the abbot of the Polykhron monastery, where Constantine and his disciples later came. The circle of people formed in the monastery, led by brothers, began to develop the Slavic alphabet and translate Greek liturgical books into the Slavic dialect.

It is believed that the thought of the need to create a writing system among the Slavs of Kirill was prompted by a trip to Bulgaria in the 850s. as a missionary who baptized the population in the area of the Bregalnitsa River. There he realized that, despite the adoption of Christianity, these people would not be able to live according to the law of God, since they did not have the opportunity to use church books.

The first alphabet - Glagolitic

The first Slavic alphabet was the Glagolitic alphabet (from "to verb" - to speak). When creating it, Cyril understood that the letters of the Latin and Greek letters were not suitable for accurately conveying the sounds of Slavic speech. The versions of its origin are varied: some researchers argue that it is based on a revised Greek script, others that the form of its symbols resembles the Georgian church Khutsuri alphabet, with which Cyril could hypothetically be familiar.

There is also a reliably unconfirmed theory that a certain runic letter was taken as the basis for the Glagolitic alphabet, which the Slavs allegedly used in the pre-Christian era.

Comparison of Glagolitic with Khutsuri
Comparison of Glagolitic with Khutsuri

The distribution of the Glagolitic alphabet was uneven in both geographic and temporal sense. Most massively and for a long time, Glagolitic was used only in the territory of modern Croatia: in the regions of Istria, Dalmatia, Kvarner and Mezhimurje. The most famous Glagolic monument is the “Bashchanska plocha” (slab) discovered in the town of Baska on the island of Krk, a 12th century monument.

Bascanska plocha
Bascanska plocha

It is noteworthy that on some of the many Croatian islands it existed until the beginning of the 20th century! And in the city of Senj, Glagolitic was used before the outbreak of World War II. They say that in the regions on the Adriatic coast you can still meet very elderly people who know her.

It should be noted that Croatia is proud of this historical fact and has elevated the ancient Slavic letter to the rank of a national treasure. In 1976, the Glagolitic Alley was built in the Istrian region, a 6 km long road, on both sides of which there are sculptures marking milestones in the development of the Glagolitic alphabet.

Well, in Russia, the Glagolic writing was never in wide use (scientists have discovered only single inscriptions). But on the Russian-speaking Internet there are converters of the Cyrillic alphabet into a verb. For example, the phrase "Glagolitic - the first alphabet of the Slavs" will look like this:

Ⰳⰾⰰⰳⱁⰾⰻⱌⰰ - ⱂⰵⱃⰲⰰⱔ ⰰⰸⰱⱆⰽⰰ ⱄⰾⰰⰲⱔⱀ

Cyrillic - the second alphabet?

Despite the obvious origin of the name "Cyrillic" from the name of Cyril, he was by no means the creator of the very alphabet that we use to this day.

Most scholars are inclined to believe that the Cyrillic alphabet was developed after the death of Cyril by his students, in particular, Clement Ohridsky.

For what reason the Cyrillic alphabet supplanted the verb, it is not known for certain at the moment. According to some, this happened because the verb letters were too tricky to write, while others insist that the choice in favor of the Cyrillic alphabet was made for political reasons.

The fact is that at the end of the 9th century, the largest centers of Slavic writing moved to Bulgaria, where the disciples of Cyril and Methodius, expelled by the German clergy from Moravia, settled. The Bulgarian Tsar Simeon, during whose reign the Cyrillic alphabet was created, was of the opinion that the Slavic letter should be as close as possible to the Greek one.


Myth 2: Old Church Slavonic is the ancestor of the Russian

The Old Slavonic language created and recorded in the translations of the books of the residents of Thessaloniki by Cyril and Methodius was based on the South Slavic dialects, which was absolutely logical. At the time of its emergence, the Russian language already existed - though, of course, not in its modern version, but as the language of the Old Russian community (the eastern branch of the Slavs, the ancestors of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians), in fact, representing a collection of Old Russian dialects - at the same time it was not a book language, but the most naturally formed living language and, unlike the Old Church Slavonic, served as a means of everyday communication.

Subsequently, when church services began and books in Old Church Slavonic appeared, the inhabitants of Ancient Rus began to write in Cyrillic in their colloquial language, laying the foundation for the history of the Old Russian language (see, for example, the collection of Novgorod records on birch bark, which Academician Andrei Zaliznyak studied for decades).

Novgorod birch bark letter
Novgorod birch bark letter

It turns out that an educated person who lived in ancient Novgorod, Pskov, Kiev or Polotsk could read and write in Cyrillic in two closely related languages, South Slavic Old Church Slavonic and East Slavic native dialect.

Myth 3: services in the church today are conducted in Old Church Slavonic

Of course, in antiquity this was exactly the case. As follows from all of the above, Old Church Slavonic was created so that the Slavs had the opportunity to listen to the Liturgy in a language they understand. However, over time, the language of church books underwent modification, gradually adopting phonetic, spelling and morphological features of local spoken dialects under the influence of the human factor in the person of translators and scribes.

As a result, the so-called "revisions" (local editions) of this book language arose, which, in fact, was just a direct descendant of the Old Church Slavonic. Slavists believe that the classic Old Church Slavonic ceased to exist at the end of the 10th - beginning of the 11th century, and starting from the 11th century, worship in Orthodox churches has been in local versions of the Church Slavonic language.

Currently, the most widespread is the synodal (Novomoskovsky) revision of Church Slavonic. It took shape after the church reform of Patriarch Nikon in the middle of the 17th century and to this day is the official language of the ROC's divine services, and is also used by Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox churches.

What do modern Russian and Old Church Slavonic things have in common?

The Old Church Slavonic language (and its "descendant" Church Slavonic), having been the language of religious books and worship for more than a millennium, undoubtedly had a powerful South Slavic influence on the Russian language. Many words of Old Slavonic origin have become an integral part of modern Russian vocabulary, so in most cases an ordinary Russian speaker would not think to doubt their primordial Russian origin.

In order not to go into the linguistic jungle, we will only say that even such simple words as sweet, clothing, Wednesday, holiday, country, help, single are of Old Church Slavonic origin. In addition, Old Church Slavonic penetrated even into Russian word formation: for example, all words with the prefix or participle with the suffixes -usch / -ych, -asch / -ych have an element of Old Church Slavonic.