Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bulgarian Sunday

On Sunday, Brendan took us to the little Bulgarian parish he used to go to when he lived in Sofia for 5 months. Dedicated to the Protection of the Theotokos, it was tucked away off all the main streets (see the top photo).

We arrived around 8:30 and caught the last half of Orthros. The piety of the Bulgarian people is very different from the Greek ethos. Movement in the church is much more regulated; people make their crosses very slowly and deliberately; there is a definite order for venerating the icons, etc.


When it came time to receive communion, only one child was brought forward. I had heard of the infrequent communion by the Slavic people, but it was the first time seeing it.

I was moved by how compassionate the parishioners were. A group of orphans came into the church during the Liturgy, and the people treated them with so much love and affection. Each adult seemed to have a surrogate child they cared for.

After Liturgy, we visited the small bookstore and then went downstairs for coffee. There, in the basement, the church ran a daycare-type program for the orphans. We met some great people (who spoke English) and they even invited us to stay for a play that the orphans were putting on.

We decided, however, to head out into the city again. First, we stopped for some breakfast at a nice little restaurant. (See the second photo.) Brendan and I had ‘Salty Pancakes’ (sort of a mix between an omelet and a quiche) and RM and Pelly had the ‘Russian breakfast,’ which seemed a heck of a lot like American breakfasts.

After breakfast, we visited a couple more churches, including one named after St. Kyriaki. I can’t remember or pronounce the name in Slavonic. (See the third photo.) This church also had the full relics of the Serbian king, St. Stephan Milutin (reigned 1282-1321). (Modern-day Bulgaria was part of the Serbian kingdom at that time, I believe.)

After that, we visited the open-air market one more time to find some gifts for people. RM found a babushka doll of the American presidents, featuring George W. Bush as the outer figure. The innermost doll was of John F. Canady. ( ;

(The bottom photo is of one of the many convenience kiosks which are actually located in a basement, with a window coming out of the ground. To get a pack of gum or a drink, you have to crouch down on the ground to speak with the cashier.)

Exhausted from all the walking around and the blur of ancient churches we had seen, we caught the bus back to Thessaloniki at 3:30.


The trip home was uneventful. It was practically empty – only about 4 other people, as people were probably getting prepared for New Year’s Eve that night. We made it back in only 4.5 hours, arriving in Thessaloniki around 8 PM. We stayed downtown to celebrate at John and Marina’s apartment.

Before the festivities began, Brendan, Gregory and I went out in search of some dinner. Nothing was open and our blood sugar level was getting dangerously low. Finally, we found a place open which specialized in crepes. I waited for my food in a weakened state while the preparer went back and forth from turning the television up and talking on the phone. At this point, I turned to my friends and said, ‘What is this?’ and they said, ‘It’s Greece.’ I think she was also smoking. I said, ‘A place like this wouldn’t be open a week in the States.’

We did finally eat, and enjoyed the night with friends. At midnight, we went up on the roof and saw some of the sporadic individual fireworks that were going off all around us.

Check out all the photos from the trip here.

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