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July 5th is a public holiday in Slovakia. Warm summer weather and a day off are a perfect combo for day trips and Slovaks use the day and take to the mountains, lakes and castles, and, indeed, to attend the Holy Mass.

But the meaning of the holiday is much deeper than that. St Cyril (also known as Constantine) and Methodius are the patron saints of Slovakia (and also the patrons of Europe) who played a huge role in Slovak history, and politics, by transforming the religious scene of the country.

Today, we remember the arrival of the Byzantine brothers to Great Moravia, the first Slavic state in the world of which Slovakia was a part of, in 863 AD. They came from Byzantium, the empire that continued the legacy of the Roman Empire in the east.

Great Moravia had been introduced to Christianity even before the arrival of the two missionary brothers, but it was only after that, that the new religion spread like wildfire into the Slavic world, Great Moravia being the gateway.

Rastislav, the ruler of Great Moravia, realized that prosperity and stability of his country was closely linked to Christianity, which leading European countries were taking up fast. At the time, the Slavs were still practicing their native faith – paganism and they were in no rush to adopt to the new faith.

To sway his subjects, Rastislav made an ingenious decision. To convert his people to Christianity faster and smoother, it was necessary that the new religion, and its new God, were introduced to them in the language that they could understand.

Locals still refer to parts of the city as Little Prague and reminisce about the golden era of the benevolent President Masaryk. And indeed, the glory days of Uzhhorod can still be glimpsed in the sophisticated architecture and the longest Linden Alley in Europe! It is 2.2 km long and it was planted on the 10th anniversary of Czechoslovakia in 1928.

And they answered the call, created the first written version of ancient Slavic, and translated the Holy Bible into this new language! A development unheard of in early medieval Europe. Up until then, the the Bible was only available in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and the Church was adamant to keep it that way. But Great Moravia and Sts Cyril and Methodius achieved the impossible.

In the heart of Europe, people would receive the word of Christ in their own language! The written language that the missionaries created, became the first literary Slavic language. What is more, the alphabet they introduced in the 9th century is in modified form is still used in parts of Europe today!

Great Moravia and Slovakia became the gateway of Christianity to the entire Slavic world. Not only that, the Slavs now had their very own alphabet that they could and did use to write themselves into history.

Indeed, the importance of July 5th to the Slovak identity and nationhood is impossible to capture in words. The Byzantine brothers shaped the destiny of Slovakia that from that moment was firmly connected with the Christian Europe.

Moreover, the day is also dedicated to remembering Slovaks across the world – the men, women and children who left Slovakia at some point in history in search of a better life, freedom or dreams elsewhere.

We had the pleasure to attend the celebration at the monument erected to honor and celebrate Slovaks living abroad, and to remember the legacy of Slovak emigration.

Slovaks have always been a migrant nation and the seriousness of the ceremony reflected the fact, that across the centuries, hundreds of thousands of Slovaks fled beyond the nations border- in success waves.

Yet, most maintained their identity, culture and language. The diasporas strong bonds to the ancestral homeland, have created unique bridges across the world. From Serbia to Argentina and from Bulgaria to the United States of America, England and beyond- we celebrate all Slovaks living abroad!

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