Upon our arrival back from doing missions in Bulgaria, we spent several weeks at the University of Nebraska. Taught a couple of classes, discussed minorities’ identity development within the context of political campaigns and even helped in couple of political research experiments. It was also an unexpected treat to go and hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak about the role of the occupy movement in democratizing American democracy. But most importantly, we had a lot of opportunities to reflect on our Bulgarian experience and the results from the recent presidential elections in the country.
So here’s a lesson learned from the windy fields of Nebraska – a secular tradition from a state funded university, if you will. Around Christmas, every professor in the university gives a donation to an employee of a lesser status. No gifts or gift cards – cash only.
It made me think what would happen if this “secular” tradition is brought to our church. Because it is pretty certain, it originated from Christianity to begin with. And it is also certain that many ministers within our denomination will meet Christmas on a limited budget this year. Wouldn’t it be great if more of the more fortuned among us find colleagues whose families may have a need approaching the winter and try to minister to them in the Spirit of Christmas? And if you feel this may be all about the money then do something different. Spend a day with someone lesser in the ministry, mentor and encourage them, but most importantly, be the person to put Christ in their Christmas this year. After all, you may be the only one that can make a difference in their situation.
True Reformation does not start with preaching or theology, although they are both fundamental stones of every process that changes the people of the church. But in order for this to occur, both preaching and theology need a text; and not merely any text, but Divinely Inspired Scriptures – the Holy Bible.
In our humble ministry efforts, we have attempted to provide this text in the form of a new Bulgarian literal translation made from the Nestle-Aland critical edition of the New Testament. The initial work started in 1996 with brief interruptions until 2003 when the framework was completed and the project was successfully launched.
In 2007, we set course with a pilot edition of the new translation including the Gospel of John, which was printed for Christmas. Our team continued with a full edition of the Johannine works, which included The Gospel of John, Epistles and Apocalypse, published for Easter 2008. In 2009, we presented a partial methodology behind the translation at the Logos Software’s annual BibleTech conference in Seattle and at the 2010 BibleTech in San Jose, our team was able to show in an actual work setting the software used to prepare the Bulgarian interlinear text to the Nestle-Aland critical edition of the New Testament. Finally, we were able to publish in print the complete translation of the Gospel of Matthew for Christmas 2010. The printing of Mark and the Lukan Corpus are scheduled respectively for Easter and Christmas of 2011.
Other related project by Cup & Cross Ministries International:
JOHN: Gospel, Epistles and the Apocalypse (New Bulgarian Translation) released for Easter, 2008
It has been a blessing for us to be able to spend the Christmas season in Bulgaria. With your prayers and support we have been able to touch the lives of many. From spending time with those who are without family to giving gifts to children without, our spirits have been lifted proving the Word, that it is definitely more blessed to give than to receive.
The day before Christmas Eve we delivered gifts and food to those in the village of Zlatare, Pet Mogili and the surrounding Zagora area. Some of the families we had never met before, but the Lord spoke to us to bless them during this time of giving. On Christmas Eve, after service, we along with the youth of the Yambol church went choraling. As it is customary, we spent a time of fellowship with the families of each home we visited. Then on Christmas Sunday we held a regional service for the Yambol area in the village of Malomir and the choir of the Yambol church attended as well blessing us with several songs. On New Years Eve we were again in service with the Yambol church which lasted until the New Year. Each present was given a card with a scripture in which to start the New Year.
We thank you for giving to Bulgaria making our ministry here possible. We pray blessings over you, your family and your church in 2010.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
Roasting chestnuts over an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose is a comforting carol which brings many pleasant feelings around the holidays. These are two features, which are not only common to the States, but to Bulgaria as well. This is the season of chestnuts being roasted, however it is not like we picture being over a cozy fire place in a warm home. In Bulgaria it would be on the street side to sell in order to bring in some income for your family. And the Jack Frost is not just a nip for some, but it is a bone chilling cold due to not being able to afford the electric bill.
For some, there will be no gift under the tree and for others there will not even be a tree. This is not said to bring you sorrow, but for you to appreciate the simple things in life. Enjoy family, friendships, a warm home, a hot meal, your health. Enjoy the time the Lord has given you and use it for his Glory and not for bickering or complaining over the small angst.
Don’t loose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is not about the material, but it is about the spiritual. It is about the birth of our Lord and Savior even though our politically correct society wants to get ride of the “Christ” in “Christmas.” If it were not for His birth, He would not have been able to die for our sins. This remission of sin is the ultimate gift this Christmas season for it is through this act that we are able to have eternal life if we only ask.
So when you wake up on the 25th begin your day not consumed with what you didn’t get or what didn’t happen to your liking, but in silence remembering the silent and holy night over 2000 years ago. Remember those less fortunate in order not to take for granted with what you have been blessed. And most of all thank Him for His gift to you. Let these thoughts bring you comfort this holiday season.
Merry CHRISTmas 2009
From all of us in Bulgaria!
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 Day
December 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.
Christmas among the Bulgarian Protestants
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.