Picture of the Virgin Mary

In the cottages, into whose interior I could catch a glimpse, I could see no sign of the picture of the Virgin Mary, to be found so invariably in the huts of the Russian moujiks. Neither here nor elsewhere in my travels through Bulgaria did I come across any of the roadside shrines and crosses, so frequent in Russia, before which you may any day see crowds of peasants kneeling and praying, even when the snow lies deep upon the ground. Yet, in an odd way of their own, the Bulgarians are devout believers; they are also scrupulous as to observing fasts and going to confession. During Lent squads of the regiments stationed at Sofia were marched down three or four times a day to the church, and after confession received absolution en bloc. In as far as I could calculate from the frequency with which I met these squads going and coming to the church, every soldier in the garrison must have had to confess at least once a week during Lent At this season the peasants absolutely refuse not only to eat meat, poultry, or butter, but in most instances decline to supply them for sale in the towns. The result is, that even for strangers who are not members of the Greek Church, Lent time in Bulgaria becomes more or less of a penitential season. The peasants avowedly attach extreme value to the due celebration of the Church services, and pay the fees demanded by parish popes for baptisms, weddings, and funerals, without any great amount of grumbling. The pope, in the great majority of parishes, is a peasant of the same class as his parishioners, too much occupied with the cares of his family, with looking after his cattle, and above all with the tilling of his plot of land, to be able to trouble himself greatly about spiritual matters. As long as he can get his flock to pay their dues and to attend service on the great festivals of the Church, he considers that he has done his duty. In the same way, when once the peasants have got a church where the ritual of their creed is properly performed by a duly appointed pope, their religious requirements, such as they are, are amply satisfied. Their lives are too hard to allow them to pay much attention to spiritual matters, and I suspect their whole tone of mind would, under any conditions, prove eminently unfavourable to the development of religious fervour.

Christianity consists in hating Turks and Jews

So far as Christianity consists in hating Turks and Jews, the Bulgarian peasants are sincere Christians; but their religion has hardly progressed, as yet, beyond that somewhat rudimentary stage. This view of mine is derived mainly from what has been told me by every resident in the country to whom I have spoken on the subject But all I have seen myself, here and in other Sclav countries, confirms me in my belief that the Greek Faith is the least spiritual of all the various creeds of Christendom, and that the Bulgarians are the least religious-minded, in a doctrinal sense, of all the races which constitute Christendom after the Eastern rite. It does not follow that because the Bulgarians are for the most part ignorant of, and indifferent to, religious dogma of every kind, they are not attached to their own faith, or still less are not prepared to regard all persons who differ from them as heretics and infidels deserving of extermination. All experience shows that men will fight as hard and die as bravely for the most ceremonial of creeds, as they will for the highest forms of religious belief. All I wish to point out is, that spiritual fervor and doctrinal zeal are not, and cannot be, the same important factors in the daily life of a peasant country, as they are in that of more highly cultivated and more wealthy communities, where large classes have at once the means and the leisure to indulge in religious contemplation. The church—by which I mean the material fabric, not the spiritual body—is a conspicuous object in every Bulgarian village, ranking next in size and importance to^ the village school-house. Both church and school-house are invariably plain white-washed buildings. The best house in Panscherevow is that of the mayor, or rather the kmet, or deputy-mayor, as the place is not deemed important enough to have a full-blown mayor of its own. A sort of barn is attached to the mayor’s dwelling, which serves as the town house of the village, where the Communal Council holds its sittings and where local justice is administered.

Balkans are an intriguing place and always a holiday there means time spent great there. I am from Bulgaria and I’ve been to some of the Balkan countries but it has always been private Balkan holidays. I like travelling with my family or friends only.

 

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