For both the Western and Orthodox church the season of Lent and Easter coincide on the same dates. Rather than drive into Sofia and then find an English language service, we decided we would explore what was going on in Pernik, and maybe see something of the Palm Sunday experience in the local Orthodox churches.
First of all we walked down to St. Ivan of Rila (Свети Иван Рилски), the church in the centre of Pernik. As we walked along the boulevard we saw a number of people carrying greenery, or wearing a woven crown, so anticipated something interesting was going on. When we got to the church we were surprised to see a very long queue of folk waiting to get in. The church is very small, so it is expected that you have to wait your turn to get in.
Well, we were too lazy to wait, and it was a bit chilly in the breeze, so we decided to drive across the town to another smaller church on the outskirts. St George’s (Свети Георги) is a small rustic building that services the local community.
There was not queue here, although a good stream of people came and went during our time there. Outside there were people offering greenery, for a small donation. I am no expert but I think the priest said it was laburnum – I do not know if the actual shrub used was relevant or just what ever is available locally.
Inside the small church there was the usual veneration of the icons and lighting of candles. A priest was using a bunch of the foliage to spray visitors with ‘cleansing’ holy water and to say a blessing. The priest was very welcoming, and tried to explain to us what was going on, but his English was not any better than my Bulgarian. However, the experience was pleasant enough, and whilst not out own tradition of palm fronds folded in to crosses, it still felt very spiritual.
As we left, the priest explained that we should hang the foliage on in our home, so now it is beside our Palm Cross – I am not sure you can be doubly-blessed, but it is nice to see the different traditions together.