Christianization of Bulgaria

Christianization of Bulgaria

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Christianization of Bulgaria was the process of converting 9th-century medieval Bulgaria to Christianity.




When Khan Boris began his reign in 852, the international situation was very complicated. The conflict with the Byzantine Empire for the rulership over the Slavic tribes in modern-day Macedonia and Thrace was still far from being resolved. In the middle Danube region, Bulgaria’s interests crossed with those of the newly created kingdom of the East Franks and the principality of Great Moravia. It was about that period when Croatia emerged on the international scene, carrying its own ambitions and demands for territories in the region.

On a more global scale, the tensions between Constantinople and Rome were tightening. Both centres were competing for the Christianization that would precede the integration of the Slavs in South and Central Europe. The Bulgarian Khanate and the Kingdom of the East Franks had established diplomatic relations as soon as the 20s and 30s of the 9th century. In 852, at the beginning of the reign of Khan Boris, a Bulgarian embassy was sent to Mainz to inform Louis II for the change in Pliska, the Bulgarian capital. Most probably this embassy was also to renew the Bulgarian-German alliance.


 Initial setbacks

Part of the series on
Eastern Christianity

Eastern Christianity Portal

Byzantine Empire
Ecumenical council
Christianization of Bulgaria
Christianization of Kievan Rus’
East-West Schism
By region
Eastern OrthodoxGeorgianUkrainian

Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Oriental Orthodoxy
Syriac Christianity

Liturgy and Worship
Sign of the cross
Divine Liturgy

ApophaticismFilioque clause
Essence-Energies distinction

This box: view  talk  edit

Some time later, Khan Boris concluded an alliance with the Great Moravian Knyaz Rastislav (846-870). The inspirer for this move was the King of the West Franks, Charles the Bald (840-877). The German Kingdom responded by attacking Bulgaria. Bulgaria was defeated and Khan Boris was forced to re-establish his alliance with the German king. This alliance was, however, directed against Great Moravia, which was a Byzantine ally. The situation held great risk for the Bulgarian state.

Another conflict with the Byzantines started in 855-856. The Empire wanted to regain its control over some fortresses on the Diagonal Road (Via Diagonalis or Via Militaris) that went from Constantinople, through Philippopolis (Plovdiv), to Naissus (Niš) and Singidunum (Belgrade). The Byzantine Empire was victorious in the conflict and reconquered a number of cities, with Philippopolis being among them.[1]

Khan Boris’ alliance with the Germans threatened Great Moravia, which sought help from Byzantium (862-863). It was exactly in the same time that a Byzantine mission to Great Moravia was taking place. The purpose of this mission (led by Cyril and his brother Methodius) was to draw Great Moravia towards Constantinople and strengthen the Byzantine (Orthodox Christian) influence there.

What made the mission very interesting for Khan Boris was the fact that the two brothers Cyril and Methodius brought the first Slavonic alphabet to Knyaz Rostislav. Bulgaria was extremely interested in the implementation of a Slavonic alphabet because it saw it as means to stop the cultural influence of its enemy, the Byzantine Empire.

In the last months of 863, Bulgaria was once again attacked by the Byzantines. The most probable reason was that Boris had informed the German king that he wanted to accept Christianity. Byzantium had to take measures because a Roman Catholic Bulgaria, standing in the hinterland of Constantinople, was viewed as a threat to the Byzantine Empire’s immediate interests.


 Byzantine demand

The baptism of Boris I

This time Byzantium did not demand territories, as the conditions for peace were: the Bulgarian representatives were to convert to Christianity, followed by the rest of the Bulgarian people. Such an offer would be unacceptable in other circumstances.

The two sides concluded a “deep peace” for a 30-years period. In the late autumn of 863, a mission from the Patriarch of Constantinople came to Pliska and converted the khan, his family and high-ranking dignitaries.


 Reasons for the Christianization

Following the conquests of Khan Krum of Bulgaria at the beginning of the 9th century, Bulgaria became an important regional power in Southeastern Europe. Its future development was connected with the Byzantine and East Frankish Empires. Since both of these states were Christian, pagan Bulgaria remained more or less in isolation, unable to interact on even grounds, neither culturally nor religiously.

After the conversion of the Saxons, most of Europe was Christian. The preservation of paganism among the Bulgars and the Slavs (the two ethnic groups that formed the Bulgarian people) brought another disadvantage — the two ethnic groups’ unification was hampered by their different religious beliefs. Lastly, Christianity had its roots in the Bulgarian lands prior to the formation of the Bulgarian state.



The Bulgarians pray to God for a famine to go away

Naturally, the German King Ludowic was not satisfied with Boris’s plan to convert to Orthodox Christianity, although things did not escalate to open conflict.

The Christianization of Bulgaria was carried out simultaneously with the destruction of the old pagan holy places. There was opposition in the conservative aristocratical circles.

In 865, malcontents from all ten administrative regions (komitats) revolted against Boris (now titled Knyaz), accusing for giving them “a bad law”. The rebels moved towards the capital with the intention to capture and kill the knyaz, then restore the old religion.

Nothing is known about the conflict, except that Knyaz Boris gathered the people loyal to him and suppressed the revolt. 52[1] boyars who had taken the lead of the revolt were executed “along with their whole families”, but the commonfolk that “wished to do penance” were allowed to go without harm.

This harsh measure should not simply be regarded as something normal in that age. Until the end of his life, Knyaz Boris was haunted by suspicions about the moral price of his decision in 865. In his later correspondence with Pope Nicholas I, the knyaz asked whether his actions had crossed the borders of Christian humility. The pope answered:

… You have sinned rather because of zeal and lack of knowledge, than because of other vice. You receive forgiveness and grace and the benevolence of Christ, since penance has followed on your behalf.

Of course, it was not zeal or lack of knowledge that caused the knyaz to execute almost half of the most dignified representatives of the Bulgarian aristocracy. From a practical point of view, all these murders were the high price of ending the conflict once and for all.

This revolt was caused mostly by the fear that the Byzantine Empire would spread its influence through Christianity and destroy Bulgaria. In this part of the Middle Ages, for Bulgarians “Christians” was equal to “Byzantines” or “Greeks”, as they were most often called. Many Bulgarians thought that along with the religion, they would be forced to accept the Byzantine way of life and morals. 

Please read more:


Related posts: