The Church marks on September 14th one of the biggest Christian holidays - Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross of God. This is the day on which back in 335 AD Christians bowed for a first time before the Cross of God found by Tsarina Elena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. Orthodox Christianity sees the holiday as one of the four through the year related to pilgrimage in holy places.
In Bulgaria the day, devoted to the Exaltation of the Precious Cross is known as Feast of the Cross (Krastovden) and is related to the Forest of the Cross area in the Laki Municipality. It is situated near the Cross Peak /1413 m/ in the heart of the Rhodope Mountain, 6 km away from the village of Borovo. In 1956 the St. Trinity monastery complex was built up there on the remains of an ancient temple, while in 1995 the Shroud of Mother Mary Church was erected.
After the temple’s sanctification, thousands of believers have gathered each year in the night of September 13 – 14 for the vigil at the peak, hoping to be healed and receive the support of God. People believe that a piece of the Cross of God, handed by Tsarina Elena to her son Emperor Constantine is preserved somewhere on the spot where the mountain forms a cross. Actually the spot is really famous for its healing power – whether that is due to the power of faith or the actual energy of the holy spot. Dozens of stories on miraculous healing come to testify on that.
The holiday of the Danube town of Silistra is also related to big Christian holiday named Feast of the Cross. In the early 1990s the municipal council set September 14th as the town’s fest. Traditionally the festive events last till October 1st – the date of South Dobrudja’s returning within Bulgaria’s borders 70 years ago. Different traditional fests are held - music concerts, swimming across the Danube, sports events, a beer fest and many others. The Danube Memories festival of old city songs, the Sculpture & Painting display of Prof. Georgi Chapkanov – Chapa and Bedig Bedrosyan.
There will also be concerts of the city brass orchestra and the I Love My Silistra festive children’s morning are among those too. A display of the Popovo historical museum will be an exclusive guest, named Major Field Manoeuvers near Popovo 1937 and representing the military trainings organized by Tsar Boris III back then and directly related to Dobrudja’s liberation.
Feast of the Cross and Grozdobernik /Start of Grape Picking Season/
The Feast of the Cross is also related to the Sun turning to the winter in Bulgarian folklore beliefs. Thus the day ‘crosses’ the night and the autumn equinox comes. Sowing time approaches, shepherds leave the mountainous shielings and descend to villages. Housewives collect the vegetables and fruit from the gardens and start conserving food for the winter. Farmers transfer hay from meadows to barns. Nobody works on the festive day itself, but vineyard owners start picking the gapes – hence the name of Grape-Picking Day in some regions. Women take the first grapes picked to the church for sanctification and then gift them to neighbors and relatives for health and wealth. Traditionally, in some villages young maidens smash the grapes with their bare feet, in order for the wine to be mellow.
Feast of Cross round loaf
The eldest woman in the family prepares the bread on the Feast of Cross, or the so-called bread-with-no-animal-products. The flour is sifted three times in a tray and then is mixed with a pinch of salt, sugar, vinegar, baking soda and cool water. Women in the house prepare vegetarian dishes with legumes, leek pastry, baked pumpkin, grape and wheat from the new harvest. The lent is strict and nothing in the red color is eaten. After the church service the priest lays the cross on a new woven cloth on the table, blesses the food and sprinkles holy water around the house and the yard and also over the seed for sowing. The owners of the house are thankful to send him to the door with vegetarian dishes, fresh vegetables, fruits and wheat. Finally, the woman that has baked the bread breaks it into pieces over the food with certain ritual words, repeated by everyone around the table. People pray for rich harvest over the next year.
The names of Krastyo, Krastina, Krastan, Kancho, Stavri, Krastana, Kana, Krastena, Krastil, Krastila and Krastilena celebrate their name day today.
Compiled by: Darina Grigorova
English version: Zhivko StanchevPhotos: BTA, BGNES, dnevnik.bg and archive