ca. 833 CE

After a battle between the rulers of Nitra (western Slovakia today) and Moravia (south-eastern Moravia today), their territories merged and became Great Moravia (recorded as Moravia megalé in an old Greek work).

Nitra was under the Archbishopric of Salzburg, Moravia was under the Bishopric of Passau. The bishoprics operated partly as semi-dominions extending Germany's (East Frankish Kingdom's) control beyond its borders at that time.

870-885 CE

Great Moravia had its own archbishopric under Methodius, Archbishop of Sirmium, which also covered lands to the south of it. Its establishment by the Vatican was periodically contested by the dioceses of Salzburg and Passau.

Cyril and Methodius, Rome

Detail, 12th century Italian fresco, Constantine (left) and Methodius arrive in Rome (867 CE).

862 CE

In a possible effort to mitigate the influence of Germany through its priests-cum-superintendents in Great Moravia, its ruler Rastislav (also Rostislav in English sources) sent a legation to Constantinople.

The legation related that Rastislav wanted his country to adopt Christianity, which was not faring well under the German clergy because his people did not understand them.

The Vatican allowed only Latin (and Greek and Hebrew) as the language of liturgy, Byzantium did not restrict language.

Rastislav wanted Byzantine Emperor Michael III to send him missionaries his people could understand.

Michael III chose brothers Constantine and Methodius for their missionary experience and because, along with Greek, they spoke the Slavic language.




A copy of a Roman Catholic missal in Cyril's original script from the Great Moravian period:


The instructions for the priest are in red. The second red line tells him to say what follows "above the hosts (sacramental bread)," nadъ oplatъmь – nad oplátkami in modern Slovak. The ending of the word for "hosts" is among the indicators that the Roman Mass was written down by a speaker of the ancestor of Slovak and other West Slavic languages.

Popes and language

Q: What was Old Church Slavic?

862 CE

Before brothers and missionaries Constantine (later Cyril) and Methodius (baptismal name unknown) left Byzantium for Great Moravia, Constantine designed a script he said was suitable to represent the Slavic sounds. The brothers used it to translate passages from the Greek versions of the New Testament, liturgy, and the Roman law into the south-eastern version of the Slavic language that they knew.

The elaborate literary language of those texts is now called Old Church Slavic in order to distinguish it from the conversational language of the time (called Slavic or Old Slavic) and from a religious language partly based on it that developed in the Slavic Byzantine and Orthodox Churches several centuries later, which is now called Church Slavic. (See table at bottom.)

Central Europe 875

Central Europe, Italy, the Balkans
Purple = East Franks; green = core and possibly expanded Great Moravia; marbled = Ugric (later Hungarian) tribes; dark gray = Bulgaria; blue = Byzantium; red dots = Rome and Constantinople, centers of two competing rites of Christianity.

863 CE

Constantine and Methodius arrive in Great Moravia, which is in the Archdiocese of of Salzburg. Although slightly different from the western version of the Slavic language used in Central Europe, Constantine and Methodius's language is easy to understand there in the 9th century. The German clergy report on them to the Vatican charging them with the use of an unsanctioned liturgical language.

868 CE

Constantine and Methodius arrive in Rome. Methodius convinces Pope Adrian II that he respects the Western (Roman) Rite in his liturgy, and that the use of Slavic for the Roman Catholic Mass that Methodius celebrates is appropriate. Adrian II approves the use of (Old Church) Slavic liturgy. Constantine enters a monastery in Rome, accepts the name Cyril, and dies the following year. The script he has designed develops into the modern Bulgarian, Serbian, Russian, and similar alphabets, and is named Cyrillics after him.

869 CE

Methodius goes to Rome again, Pope Adrian II consecrates him as Archbishop of, effectively, Great Moravia and lands to the south of it and reconfirms Slavic as a sanctioned language of liturgy. Central Europe remains under the Vatican as it was while in the Archdiocese of Salzburg.

Moravia megale

Great Moravia overlaid with Slovakia's (full dark line), Austria's, Czechia's, and Hungary's, (lighter dash-dotted lines) modern borders.
Dark shading = Nitra (right) and Moravia (left); lighter = united and expanded Great Moravia;
light shading = possible largest expansion.

873 CE

Partly to placate German bishops and get them to release imprisoned Methodius, Pope John VIII bans Slavic liturgy.

880 CE

Methodius is in Rome once more, argues successfully for the use of Slavic in church. Pope John VIII attests that Methodius adheres to the Western, Roman Rite in Great Moravia, reconfirms him as the Vatican's archbishop there and allows Slavic liturgy again.

885 CE

Archbishop Methodius dies, the German clergy secure Pope Stephen V's ban on Slavic liturgy, reintegrate Great Moravia in the Archdiocese of Salzburg, and expel Methodius's disciples from Great Moravia by next year. The Vatican does not allow a language of liturgy other than Latin (Greek and Hebrew) again until 1965.

The Cyrillic script never returns to Slovakia and Central Europe, but soon begins to spread from Byzantium and the Balkans along the Black Sea to Ukraine and Russia.

Language Note
Old Slavic
Ancient Slavic
(or Slavonic)
Sometimes used about the Slavic language before ca. 900 CE.

(or Slavonic)
A historical language until ca. the 10th century, or a modern language family.
Old Church Slavic

(or Slavonic)
Slavs' literary, religious language from 863 CE; eradicated in Central Europe after 885, but retained in the Balkans.
Church Slavic

(or Slavonic)
Byzantine and Orthodox religious language that developed from Old Church Slavic in the 2nd millennium.