King’s Companions

Before he converted, Boris, khan of the Bulgars, peppered Pope Nicholas with questions about how conversion would affect Bulgar life. Among other things, Boris asked about the custom by which the Bulgar king ate by himself on his throne while everyone else, including the royal family, ate at a distance.

Nicholas answered that, though it violates “good behavior,” the custom “is not against the faith,”and therefore he offered no “command” but only “persuasion.” But he went on to urge Boris to change customs: “we exhort you, not so much commanding as persuading, that you pay attention to those who observe the Christian religion as leaders and after considering the evidence of their humility, cast aside everything superfluous which has no use; for they have read in the Gospel the Lord saying, Learn from me, because I am meek and humble in heart, and you shall find rest in your souls .[Mt. 11:29] For the ancient kings, many of whom merited the company of the saints and therefore they were truly called kings because they were found to be saints, are remembered to have lived together with their friends, indeed their servants; indeed, the King of kings and the Lord of lords Himself is described not only as having reclined with servants and his friends, that is, the apostles, but also as having reclined and eaten with publicans and sinners.”

True kings don’t eat or live in splendid isolation. Like Jesus, they have com-panions. One can only wonder what kind of impact this relatively small change of custom had on the political life of the Bulgars.

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