Bulgaria is an Orthodox country, Bulgarian Orthodox to be specific, and there are many days in the calendar to mark and honor the Virgin Mary. To mark the life and death of Virgin Mary are some of the most important days of the Orthodox calendar since she is one of the most meaningful and beloved from the Bible.
The Life of Virgin Mary
On the 8th of September the Orthodox Church celebrates the festival of Malka Bogoroditsa, the birth of Virgin Mary. The Bible tell us that Mary´s parents, Saint Anna and Saint Joachim, was old and barren, the birth of Mary was a miracle and an answer to their prayers.
Mary lived in Nazareth in Galilee with her parents and she was very faithful to her Jewish beliefs. There are many paintings that show us how Mary is visiting the Synagogue. When she was 14 years old and betrothal to Joseph, she had a visitation from the archangel Gabriel, who announced that she would give birth to the promised Messiah through conceiving by the Holy Spirit. Joseph found out about the birth that Mary was suppose to give through a dream where an angel send by God and told him.
The Roman Emperor Augustus had forced everyone to register for census, which meant that Joseph had to return to Bethlehem. When he and Mary arrived all the inns were busy and they only found a stable to spend the night, during the night Mary gave birth to Jesus. Mary went through cleansing rituals after the birth, and after that Mary and Joseph went to the Temple where they met Simeon who earlier had been visited by the Holy Spirit who had announced that he would not die until he had seen the holy Jesus. Legend tells that Simeon was righteous and devout, and when he met Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the Temple he blessed both Mary and Jesus, after that they went back to Galilee. They did not stay there for long because of Herode the Great. Herode knew the prophecy about the birth of a great king and according to the Gospel of Matthew he let every first born son of Jerusalem die. Mary and Joseph took Jesus and flew to Egypt (he also had John the Baptist killed).
Mary is not mentioned that much in the life and event of Jesus, but the Bible tells that she was with Jesus and the students at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine. Mary was also one of the women that was in Judea when Jesus was crucified.
Her death is not mentioned in the Bible but Orthodox (as well as the Catholics) believe that both her body and soul was taken to Heaven by angels, and she is a dogma.
The Symbol of Virgin Mary
The Orthodox Churches believes that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus, and she is often being referred to as Theotokos- The God Bearer. In the Orthodox Church the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit are one and the same and are considered to be the most holy, together with Virgin Mary. There are many hymns to honor her and she is highly positioned in the Orthodox liturgy where it starts with hymns to the Theotokos, Angels, Prophets, Apostles, Fathers, Martyrs etc. Therefor she is called Lady of the Angels. In the Orthodox world you will find many icons that are connected to Virgin Mary and Jesus and her colors of her clothes are red and blue.
Virgin Mary, or The Madonna, is loved by Bulgarian Christians as she symbolize the protection of the family and the home, she is also the patroness of lonely people and orphans as well of mother and pregnant women. There are many holy days connected and celebrated in the honor of Virgin Mary. One of them is the day of her birth on the 8th of September. Back in the days the Bulgarian mothers used to be free from work except from baking a ritual bread to take to the church as a gift to honor the Madonna.
The Assumption of Virgin Mary
Another day that the Orthodox world recognize is the 15th of August, the death of Virgin Mary. Just like the day of her birth the women are baking a ritual bread, but in the tradition of folklore the women also picked the first fruits of the season on the way to the church and let both the bread and the fruits be blessed (sometimes cheese, honey and milk was also blessed).
On the 15th of August 2015 me and my Bulgarian family went to Shiroka Luka, a small village in the Rhodopean mountains where traditions remains strong. The whole village was full of people and we went to the church where an old woman was singing the most beautiful hymns to the Virgin. Many, specially women were coming to kiss the icon and light a candle. Outside the church they were preparing for a feast, lots of pitka, a Bulgarian ritual bread and fruits. In huge pots they were preparing soup from lamb meat, as have been done through hundreds of years as a ritual dinner.
(Virgin Mary has been painted and sculptured by many famous artists, and as an art historian I couldn’t help but sneaking in pictures from other famous artists even thou its not Orthodox, sorry)