Sunday, April 01, 2007

Religion in Bulgaria?

Across many Western Christian countries, today marks "Palm Sunday" or "Passion Sunday." This is the first day of "holy week" which typically ends with a vigil on Saturday and exclamations of "He is risen!" on Sunday. Today I attended my first "Palm Sunday" service outside of the US, and it was a bit different.

First off, this year marks the rare occasion when the Eastern Orthodox and Christian calendars align for the Celebration of Easter. eerr, wait a moment. actually, every THREE years, these two calendars align with each other. This news would be surprising both to Americans and Bulgarians- the former probably have no idea that Easter is celebrated at different times in different religions, and the latter is fond of mentioning how peculiar it is that this year we will celebrate on the same day- both equally unaware of one another.

I normally would have been in Pernik on a Sunday afternoon, practicing with my choir that specializes in old religious music (though, sometimes the occasional italian love song makes its way into the repertoire), but on account of the "holiday," rehearsal was canceled. I found this odd, especially since I was pretty sure not a single person in the choir regularly attends church, and that as a group with a repertoire like ours...hmm... you fill in that puzzle!

As I wondered around Sofia before Mass, I noticed that many people were carrying some type of leafy twig which bore absolutely no resemblance to the palms they freely hand out at St. Charles each year. Recalling that the average Bulgarian attends church enough to make even the "Christmas and Easter Catholics" feel pious, I was pleased to see so many people had attended church. Moments later, I realized how wrong I was. On many a street corner, next the the bunny and easter egg adored table cloths, you could buy your very own palm-y branch... I was a bit appalled to see this Christian tradition commercialized (totally different than Christmas cards, I swear!), and I think the height of that came when I saw people adorning their heads with palms that had been worked into rings. because for half a euro, you too can be King of the Jews...

In other religious news, I was accepted to the American Research Institute in Sofia's program for the Spring of 2007! If I decide to accept this invitation, I'll be studying Bulgarian history, and the interesting role religion has played in their history. Sofia is an amazing city where, in the very center of city you can see the Catholic cathedral, the Synagogue (largest in Europe), a Mosque and an Orthodox church...all of them within 500m of one another!

last weekend, one of my favorite people in the entire world came to visit me in Bulgaria!!! Cindy, one of my friends from Vandy, is a PCV in Macedonia, and lives about 5 hours away from my town here in Bulgaria. I think I've mentioned this irony before- what are the odds of two people joining the Peace Corps, and then living closer together during these two years than they would in the US?!?! Well, she and several of her friends made a trip to the BG to; a)take a vaca, b)hang out with me! c)play in a soccer tourney, and d)hang out with me! I had such a great time showing them around Pernik, Sofia, middle-of-no-where Bulgaria and confusing the heck out of them when I shook my head up and down for "no" and side to side for "yes." The Macedonian language and Bulgarian language are very similar, so it was fun for them to listen to me speak with my coworkers and friends, AND they could interact as well. Anyway, it was the BEST of times and I can't wait until I see all of them again!

In terms of work, a few interesting things have been happening as well. We began working harder on the project we won from the "US Agency for International Development" two weeks ago, and one of the things we've done is videotape concerts. my coworkers also completed a one week course on using powerpoint, so they'll soon be making materials for art and music teachers to use in the classroom. Very cool!

well this is my update for now! Send me emails, letters or give me a call!! :)


At 5:00 PM, Blogger flar said...

bzzzzzzzz wrong again... mac and bg - same language :-)


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