Articles Republished

December 30, 2005 by  
Filed under Publication

Due to the high demand of the “Ministry Not for Sale” article, published by our team last month, we have republished the text and made it available on our ministry’s website. Cup & Cross’ report on the Central Church of God in Sofia, Bulgaria was featured in FaithNews and @Missions bulletins. The report can be viewed at the following link: http://www.faithnews.cc/articles.cfm?sid=6241

Christmas for Evangelicals

December 25, 2005 by  
Filed under Events

Christmas for Evangelicals

Communism changed a lot in the Bulgarian mentality. For 45 years Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter were strictly forbidden. Christmas symbols and words were changed in an anti-Christian propaganda. For example, the traditional Bulgarian Christmas greeting Tchestito Rozdestvo Hristovo (Happy Birth of Christ) was replaced with Vesela Koleda (Joyfull Koleda – the word koleda derives from the Bulgarian word “kolia” which means to kill, to slay, and symbolizes the Bulgarian custom of slaying a pig in the preparation of the Christmas dinner). The name of Santa Claus was replaced with Grandpa Frost – again an old man with red clothing, long white beard and bag with presents; however, completely separated from the Christian meaning of the holiday. Even the traditional Orthodox Church was limited in their practice of Christmas.

Nevertheless, regardless of the persecution, secretly or openly, Christmas has always been present among the Bulgarian Protestants. Usually the church congregation would gather for a special Christmas service on Christmas Eve. In the Underground Church this event was one of the few occasions where the local congregation would come together and remain unnoticed by the secret police because of the celebration going on. Using the rare opportunity the church would not only use the time for fellowship but also for Communion and Baptism services. Since the churches did not own buildings, the baptismal would usually be performed in a river after the ice had been broken.

With the Fall of the Berlin Wall the situation changed dramatically. Through the largest spiritual revival Eastern Europe has ever known, in 10 years millions came to Christ. In the midst of the severe national economic crises, for protestants Christmas became not only a time of celebration, but also a time to reach to the ones in need. Thus the renewed Christmas became more powerful as it not only reflected on the Christian tradition but a real-life inspired practice of Christianity.

The Bulgarian Church of God is no stranger to these events. Every Christmas is seen as a ministry opportunity, as several activities take place. There are Christmas dinners for the needy which take place in the churches that sponsor social centers across the country. There is also a Christmas gift service for children from homes for children.

Christmas is a time when the church congregation comes together for reconciliation and recognition of the Birth of Christ. As the Christmas message is preached and Silent Night is sung, this holiday also becomes a celebration of the liberation of spirit and soul, provided by God through His Son. Thus for the church in a post-Communist context Christmas is the gift of liberty to come together and to worship. Remembering the Son of God who came to liberate us from sin and death we also wish you a Marry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Christmas in Bulgaria

December 20, 2005 by  
Filed under Events

Although the Communist Regime outlawed the Christmas holiday for 45 years in Bulgaria, Christmas has always found a place in the hearts of the Bulgarian people. For centuries since the Bulgarian national conversion to Christianity in 864 AD Christmas has been a central Bulgarian holiday. As Orthodox Christianity is still the main religion in Bulgaria for many, Christmas has a Christian Orthodox accent including the Orthodox traditions and customs. Yet, the Bulgarian Protestant community has supported for the preservation of this Christian holiday especially during the time of the Communist persecution. According to the Orthodox customs the Christmas holiday begins 40 days before the Christmas Eve. This time is called “Great Fasting” and is a time when no meat is eaten. Christmas Eve is the end of the Great Fasting. On Christmas Eve the family has dinner together. The hostess prepares nine meals without meat. Some of them are: beans, vine or cabbage sarmi (vine or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice), stuffed peppers, pickles, walnuts, apples, honey, ushaf (a traditional Bulgarian meal prepared by boiling dried fruits), and round bread. After the fast is over meat is served. Usually most of the Bulgarians eat pork chops, kebab and sausages. The kebab is prepared by cutting in small pieces the pork stewed with onions and pepper. The sausages are made of homemade minced pork. Central for the Bulgarian Christmas dinner is the bantiza, which is a baked strudel like pastry filled with an egg and cheese mixture. A coin is put in it for luck. The oldest man in the family breaks the banitza and gives a piece everyone. The one who gets the piece with the coin in it is believed to be very wealthy in the New Year. The Christmas Eve table is not cleared until the following morning, a typical tradition to insure that there will be plenty of food in the coming year."Surovaknitza” is another typical Bulgarian Christmas tradition. The surovaknitza is made of a cornel stick/cudgel. It is pruned so that several branches remain on the two sides of it all along its length. Then the branches that are one against another (at the same level of the stick) are tied so that they form something like a round circle one half of which is at the left side and the other half is at the right side of the stick. Three or four such circles are formed on the length of the stick as the upper circles will be smaller and the lower circles will be wider. The circles and the stick are wrapped with woolen and cotton yarn (usually white and red). It is decorated with little balls made out of cotton, strings of popcorn, raisins, prunes, dried apple slices, dried peppers, etc. The ready surovaknitza is used by the children to pat on the backs of their parents, grandparents, extended family, friends and any visitors in the house after the Christmas Eve. While patting, the kids say a wish for health, wealth, happiness and all the best to one patted. The patted person pays a dollar or five dollars to the child in order to receive a blessing in the New Year. Around Christmas many Bulgarians celebrate their name days. It is almost like a birthday, except instead of a date the parson’s name is celebrated. This is usually done on the day of a particular saint after whom the person is named. For example:December 4 – St. Barbara’s DayDecember 6 – St. Nicholas’ Day (Nikoulden)December 20 – St. Ignatius’ Day (Ignazhden)January 1 – Vassil’s Day January 6 – Epiphany – St. Jordan’s Day January 7 – St. John’s Day (Ivanovden) Another Christmas ritual is called Koleduvane. All the participants in it are men – bachelors, fiances and young men who have just married. This ritual group has its own name that differs from place to place and is connected with the region of the country – koledari, kolednitzi, koledare, etc. All the men choose their leader at St. Ignatius’ Day – he is called stanenik, usually an older man. The group has 10-15 persons. Each group includes younger boys (they are called cats), who walk around the houses and tell the hosts that the koledari are coming. The koledari wear old Bulgarian traditional clothing. They go round the houses in the village or in the town from midnight till dawn. On their way, in front of the gate and in the house they sing specific ritual songs. The songs differ from one another according to the place they are sung and the person they are dedicated to. As a whole, these songs are ritual wishes for happiness in the family and rich crop in the farm. The first song usually begins with this verse:“Get up, get up dear host!We are singing for you!We have come to visit you,We are good guests for you, koledari!”The leader of the group carries in his hands the ring – shaped bun, which is a gift from the host. After the songs have been sung he tells a Christmas blessing:“Let God grant you health;We have brought in your house revelry! “Besides the ring–shaped bun the hosts present the koledari with money, meat, flour, wine, beans and bacon. This ritual ends up with a common feast. Every family has a Christmas tree in their home; some are decorated with electric lights, some with candles. The tree is usually decorated with ornaments purchased in the store, cotton balls to imitate snow and a star on the top. Gifts are placed under the tree.

Bulgarian Teachers on Strike

December 15, 2005 by  
Filed under News

Bulgarian teachers from 2,000 schools and 500 kindergartens launched effective strikes as of Monday across the entire country. In Sofia alone teachers from 150 schools and 102 kindergartens did not enter classes on Monday. The teachers are calling for a 15%-increase of their salaries.Under local legislation all protesting teachers will be in the classrooms, but there won’t be any classes. The teachers are unsatisfied with their pay and demand a 15% raise. The effective strike is a direct result from the failed negotiations with the ministries on December 7 when they were offered a raise of 3% as of January 2006.A day earlier the teachers’ syndicates and representatives of the cabinet failed to reach an agreement at a meeting hosted by Bulgaria’s president Georgi Parvanov. The president said that the education system needed a reform and that it was imperative to find funds for the teachers’ raise even if it meant mobilizing internal education resources.

Political Situation in Bulgaria

December 10, 2005 by  
Filed under News

Our preliminary impressions of the political and economical situation in Bulgaria were based on the recent acceptance of the country into NATO and its anticipated admission into the European Union in 2007. However, in the summer of 2005, the national elections were won by the Socialist party which brought extra tension to the country, although hardly 50% of the population participated through their votes. The Bulgarian Christian Coalition, representing Evangelicals, won only 21,000 votes while struggling to remain politically active. Nationalistic urges among political circles were also common. Violent public executions among underground cartels have become a normal event in Bulgaria’s everyday reality. The  economy has also been dramatically affected as over 90% of the population lives on the verge of poverty. The price of gas grew in the fall and led to the increase of the cost of food, electricity and travel.Various evangelical churches, among which many friends of ours attend, were targeted by the media. Articles against them infiltrated many evangelistic activities among Roma and other minority communities. The media attacks reminded of similar anti-protestant campaigns during 1990-93. Hopefully, this time, the evangelical churches may be prepared to respond adequately.

Mission Maranatha 2005

December 5, 2005 by  
Filed under Missions

In 2005, our team was successful in establishing several new congregations in Southern Bulgaria. The work was not without challenges from the particularity of the geographical location and the cultural setting which included: (1) ongoing migration of people between towns and villages, as well as internationally, (2) opposition from Eastern Orthodox priests and restrictions by local authorities (both described as illegal by the constitution) and (3) economical challenges and extreme poverty in the Bulgarian villages (especially through the winter periods).These factors often disable the local people and limit the ministry, as some of them are still ongoing and form the context in which the team ministers. Yet, Mission Maranatha has been successful in establishing a growing number of new congregations and providing pastoral care for each of them every week. We were able to travel with the team every week and minister to the churches in the Yambol region and were encouraged by their testimonies of salvation, provision, healing and even bodily resurrection.As an overall, the work of Mission Maranatha, serving as the Yambol region representative of Cup & Cross Ministry, has increased tremendously in the past several years. The team has invested a great deal of time, efforts and resources to keep the work ongoing. Between 12 and 30 services are held every week depending on the weather conditions and available finances for traveling. The regional structure has grown from two home groups in 1996 to 20 local congregations. At times, the mission has served over 550 people each week.

Roma Community in Bulgaria

December 1, 2005 by  
Filed under Research

The third largest ethnic and cultural group in the country is the Gypsies (or Roma). According to the last census, their number is 313,396. Analysts insist that these figures should be handled carefully because, as they say, 30% of the Gypsies prefer to declare external ethnic self-identification. Their larger part is from the Muslim Gypsy circles that present themselves as Turks; a part of the Christian Gypsies identify themselves as Bulgarians, and a third small part – as Wallachs (Romanian origin). The variety of empirical references of self-identification is manifested in regard to both the ethnic adherence and denomination, and to the language. Most Gypsies speak more than one language at home, the most used being the Gypsy language (67%), followed by Bulgarian (51%), and Turkish (34%). The situation of the Roma population in the country is extremely complicated. Their living conditions are more than poor. Despite the fact the at the end of 1970’s about 15,000 Roma families obtained long-term, low-interest loans to construct homes, a lot of them are still living in poor quarters resembling ghettos. The Roma child mortality rate is much higher than that of the Bulgarians: 240 per 1,000 versus 40 per 1,000, and some diseases like tuberculosis is three times more frequent. The degree of unemployment is three times higher than the national average. The Roma community is characterized by a lower level of education, which makes its representatives less competitive. There are strong prejudices against the Gypsies shared by the Bulgarian majority and other major minority groups. Unfortunately, the media and especially some nationalistic-oriented newspapers play a considerable role in reproducing and expanding these negative attitudes by emphasizing that Gypsies have a higher crime rate than other groups.