Saint patron of the Serbs is a holiday that decorates the lives of only Serbian Orthodox Christians. If you find yourself in a home of one of your Serbian Orthodox Christian friends during a Slava– your bellies will undoubtedly be full. The customs for this holiday are the candle of Slava, the slavski kolač (or simply kolač) = a ritual bread, and drinks. There is a lot of pagan influence in the lives of Serbian Orthodox Christians, so not only do they celebrate all of Orthodox Christian holidays, each home has their own patron saint as well. The most celebrated saints in Serbian homes are saint Nikola and saint Archangel Michael, that are celebrated on the 19th of December, and the 21st of November respectively. Some Serbian Slavas can be without fat (fish/seafood-free, and that includes sweets also obligatorily made without eggs and dairy) or with fat (with dairy, eggs, and the meat of mammals, usually including roast piglet, lamb, and poultry). Along with the many delicacies that are served during a Slava, the most noted ones are the unavoidable Serbian dish, Sarma(a dish of cabbage rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat), as well as zander, breaded hake, squid, and potato salad, which will fill your bellies.
The very name of the holiday – “Slava” signifies a christened name, the christened Slava. Saint (the etymology of this word is probably derived from the Latin “sanctus”, which got changed around in the derived Slavic languages, as well as Serbian, and so has taken todays form) is an ancient folk custom of celebrating the patron saint and the giver with the pagan man. Among all of the Slavs, it was the well-kept with the Serbs. The Serbs have, thru ought the centuries, continuously, and by far the longest kept the Slava. Traces of this custom possess, or until recently have possessed, all of the Slavs, even some of the Indo-Europeans, Thracians, Dacians, old Greeks, Illyrians, Romans etc. Similar customs can be met in Macedonia, parts of Bulgaria (around Timok). Slava can be found even among the Catholics in Boka Kotorska, in the city of Bar and its surroundings, Konavle, south Hercegovina, Dalmatia and the Bosnian Grahovo, as well as Albanian Catholics, some Muslims in Bosnia and Sandžak, orthodox Vlahs, Gorani people and Croats in Kosovo.
Most supporters hold the belief that a Slava is a Christianized form of an old Slavic holiday dedicated to a mythical ancestor of a family, or ancestors in general. Slava comes from a cult of ancestors, one of the most important ancient Slav cults. Namely, old Slavs, Serbians especially, took good care of their family and greatly respected their ancestors. Slava was then (and is now) held the bond with the ancestors and their origin. By celebrating, the families passed on the cultural heritage from generation to generation, and kept the memory of their own origin. The oldest recorded mention of a Slava on our parts dates back to 1018.
Some claim that all tribes took on the same patron saint, while others claim that Slava only represents the saint that replaced the previous pagan god-protector. It happened from time to time that a new Slava was adopted when it was believed that a saint advocated some sort of salvation. The new saint would replace the old, whose day would still be marked with the lighting of a candle, but with noticeably less celebrating.There is a theory that the christened name – Slava, belongs to the cult of the dead. It calls upon the use of wheat in the christened name, which is used in the cult of the dead. However wheat is of Greek origin, and was implemented by the church into folk customs especially around larger cities and monasteries. What completely refutes the claims that Slava is from the cult of the dead, is the fact that in the cult of the dead, there are no positive moods, while in Slava they begin before the celebration, they go on during it, and last until the end of it. Having that in mind, christened Slava, when it comes to Serbs, includes both the living and the dead.
Ancient Slavs considered their gods as their own ancestors, and treated them as such. The religion of pagan Serbs was authentic and strongly engraved. This is why this significant local custom had great importance with Serbs, and remained for thousands of years. Upon accepting Christianity, the churches zealously started uprooting this pagan, polytheistic custom.
Since the pagan local customs have proven to be impossible to uproot even with Christianized Serbs, the wise archbishop Saint Sava canonized old local customs in the 13th century, and the told the church that they should stop their crusade, and simply give them a Christian characteristic. Other churches, as well as other monotheistic religions, acted similarly. And so Slava arrived to the Orthodox Christian customs.
In many places, there is a custom that a priest should come to the house before the Slava, and baptize the water that will be used to make the ritual bread.
The housewife, usually a day before the Slava, would prepare a pot with the water, basil, candle, lamp, frankincense, and then light the lamp in front of the picture of the saint. The priest then baptizes the water. For this occasion you will need: an incense burner, fire, frankincense, candle, candle holder, basil, and a pot of clean water. Holy water is treated as sacred and thus handled with care. The day before the Slava, when all the preparations are finished for tomorrow, using the holy water, flour, and other ingredients the ritual bread is made.
Before the Slava, wheat is prepared. Wheat is prepared in several ways. Boiled wheat has been used by the church since ancient times. As a symbol of the church it reminds is of the plant sacrifices from the Old Testament. It is considered that it represents the illustrated relationship of this life, and the next. Wheat is also the symbol of the second coming of Jesus Christ.
When the day of the Slava comes, the ritual bread is taken to the church, along with the wheat and red wine. When all three are blessed at the church, the priest then pours each grain of wheat separately, and cuts each piece of the ritual bread individually.
During this occasion the chandler gives the priest, before the liturgy, the list of both living and deceased family members because of the importance of removing particles and the prothesis- for the health of the living people and for the peace of the deceased soul
The bread-man (the one who brings the ritual bread to the church) gives the church his gifts: frankincense, oil, wine… and these days money as well, which the church spends for its needs.
Where the family tradition is to cut the ritual bread in the home, either in the evening or in the early morning, the table must be set for the ceremony (it must face east, towards the saints picture). The table should have: the ritual bread, wheat, a glass of red wine, a candle, the list of the deceased family members for the prayer, the incense burner with a match or a lighter. Next to the wine and wheat there should be a spoon, and next to the ritual bread a knife. Before the ritual itself, the candle is lit, while the incense burner was lit the night before and has burned thru the whole night. When the priest arrives at the house the table is set. After exchanging pleasantries, the host approaches the candle, crosses himself, and lights it. After that the priest reads the prayer Our Father, recites the Slavas, and at the end recites the prayer for baptizing the wheat. During this ritual, the saints pictures are censed, the ritual bread, the wheat, the wine, the room that is used for the celebration as well as the present family members and guests. Immediately after the ceremony, without interruptong the flow, the priest cuts the ritual bread. During that time the tropari are sung.
Slava gathers the whole family and a feast is usualy prepared.
Slava is an ideal oportunity for the family to gather, for friends, who are usually too busy, to gather and talk, fiest, sing and be merry in the name of the patron saint.