Prior to 1986, Cyrillic Alphabet Day had virtually disappeared from Russians’ calendars during the Soviet era. Nevertheless, Vitaly Maslov, a writer from the northern Russian city of Murmansk, managed to revive this tradition despite it having faded from national memory following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
This was done with the help of the government of Bulgaria, where this red-letter day has perpetually been celebrated.
Two years later, Maslov was invited to Bulgaria, and the country’s culture minister offered to award him the highest state honor, the Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who were Byzantine Christian theologians and Christian missionaries.
The writer kindly said ‘no’ to that idea, but asked the Bulgarian government to present his native city of Murmansk with a statue of Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a replica of the monument unveiled in front of Sofia’s National Library in the 1960s.
The sculpture for Murmansk was chiseled out by Vladimir Ginevsky, the designer of the original monument.
The replica was unveiled in Murmansk on May 22, 1990. As a matter of fact, the square facing the monument annually transforms into the center of celebrations for Cyrillic Alphabet Day and other cultural events. Today 78 statues of Saints Cyril and Methodius are scattered throughout the world and about 20 are located in Russia.
The six-meter statue’s voyage to Murmansk was rather complicated. Starting out its journey, it was loaded into a KamAZ truck, which drove it across Bulgaria. From there, it was ferried to Ukraine, then transported across to Belarus before it was finally brought to Russia.
Bulgarian journalist Vasil Popov even wrote a book about this trip.
Maslov worked as a radioman at the world’s first nuclear icebreaker Lenin. He was among those who labored tirelessly to save the legendary ship from scrapping, and helped turn it into a museum.
Maslov’s wedding day back in the 1960s coincided with Fidel Castro’s trip to Murmansk. When the Cuban leader was visiting the icebreaker, Maslov invited him to his wedding celebration and Castro agreed. However, the visit was not on Castro’s schedule and Maslov and his new wife were invited to the reception hosted by the Cuban guest. However, Maslov couldn’t go to the reception, since he was not able to abandon his wedding guests.
Cyrillic Alphabet Day coincides with the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius. They were two brothers who lived in Greece in the 9th century that created the Cyrillic alphabet to translate the Bible and other texts into Slavic languages. The alphabet is used in the Russian, Bulgarian, Belarusian, Macedonian, Serbian, Ukrainian and Montenegrin languages.
Russia celebrated the Day of the Slavic Alphabet at the state level for the first time in 1963, the year of the script’s 1000th anniversary.
In 1991, the holiday regained its national status and Moscow became the center of celebrations in 2010.