"I thought they were written in cipher"

The Russian Cyrillic alphabet does bear a resemblance to cipher.

 

Russian traditional prayer in cyrillic
Public DomainRussian traditional prayer in cyrillic - Credit: Lev Tolstoy
Copiale Cipher (18th century)
Public DomainCopiale Cipher (18th century) - Credit: Kevin Knight, Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer