Missionaries to Eastern Europe had to cope with political barriers long before the Iron Curtain was established. The ninth-century Prince Ratislav of Moravia was very intrigued by Christianity. He ruled a region inhabited by Slavs that included much of the modern-day Czech Republic and Slovakia. He was concerned that if he welcomed missionaries from the neighboring Christian kingdom of the Franks, it might give powerful Frankish rulers an opportunity to annex his kingdom. He wanted Christianity with no political strings attached. So he wrote seeking missionaries from distant Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and the protector of Christianity in the East, entreating, "We have not a teacher who would explain to us in our language the true Christian faith."

Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, chose two brothers for the job: Constantine, who would later adopt the name Cyril when he became a monk, and Methodius. Photius chose his ambassadors well. Cyril and Methodius had grown up in Thessaloniki and spoke a Slavic dialect as well as Greek. They were well educated; Cyril had served as the librarian at the great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, while Methodius had been a governor of a Slavic region of the Empire. Together the brothers had gained experience representing Byzantium to its neighbors, debating the merits of Christianity on diplomatic missions to the Khazars and Arabs.

A new alphabet

Cyril had earned the nickname "The Philosopher" for his well-known love of wisdom. When an imperial officer once asked him to define philosophy, he replied that it was "the knowledge of matters of God and man, to what extent man can approach God and how, through virtue, it teaches man to be in the image and ...

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