Village life is always interesting, and with Easter approaching we were eager to attend our first Saturday Evening Easter Service at the little Orthodox Church in our village.
Though the evening didn’t end the way we expected. Instead, we walked home wondering what would Jesus have done in the same situation. But before I explain the mystery, I should describe some of the Bulgarian traditions. To my Bulgarian friends forgive me if I misquote the customs. I only had a few minutes for quick research.
On Saturday evening before Easter Sunday (known as Holy Saturday), the Orthodox believers gather at church. Usually this takes place at midnight in the larger cities, because this is the time tradition holds that Christ rose from the dead. But for our little village the service was set for 10 p.m. It blessed me to see that most of the villagers arrived, along with visiting friends and family members. The village comes alive during the holidays. The people stood in line to purchase candles for the service. One friend told us the candles were flown in from Jerusalem especially for this occasion.
The service began with the ringing of the church bells, and before long the priest and the attendees were walking around the outside of the church. Tradition says, “The faithful walk around the church three times with lit candles in hand. The belief is that the candle of anyone who has been a good Christian will not go out no matter how strong the wind blows.” Click here to read more about the Bulgarian Easter Tradition. In fact, most of the people try to get all the way home with their candles lit.
Bulgarian Easter Traditions
The priest sent to our church only walked around the outside once, but that didn’t dampen our interests in observing the traditions. He sang a passage from the book of Matthew, chapter 28 to be exact. Then before entering the church to complete the service the priest said, “Christ has risen,” and the people all replied, “He has risen indeed.” This they did three times. Click below to see a short video of the service.
What happened next shocked everyone. The priest began to read an old traditional story, but a man in the back of the church who had a bit too much to drink was talking loudly. The people focused on the priest, and ignored the man. But the priest took offense. He reprimanded the man and told him to be quiet. The drunk continued his unkindly behavior, which irritated the priest more. He stopped the service and said that he had taught three masses so far in other villages and had one more to perform. Then he went onto explain that he didn’t have time for people who interrupted him, and because of this he was finished.
He blew out his candle, turned his back on the congregation, went through his little door at the front of the altar and slammed the curtain shut. Well, that is if a curtain could be slammed. But his actions sure did demonstrate this. Not a minute later he grabbed his things and strutted through the church, leaving a stunned congregation staring after him.
What Would Jesus Have Done?
People were upset. Some were yelling at each other. It makes you wonder what Jesus would have done. Jesus came to set the captives free, including those captive to alcohol.
The sad part in all this is, the little church in our village is only open a couple of times a year. Most of the villagers came out joyfully to celebrate Easter. So my question is this: Who was the worst offender? The drunk or the priest?
Who Was Worse?
Of course, the drunk was wrong. God’s Words says don’t be drunk on wine (see Ephesians 5:18). However, he is still a guy in need of a Savior. And he came to the house of the One who could set him free.
But, I believe the bigger offender was the priest. Now, it’s understandable for a priest to leave the flock to go after the one who is lost (see Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7). But, to leave the flock to punish the one who is disruptive, well, that’s . . . You fill in the blank. I think it’s not only wrong; it’s a shame.
The priest had a God given opportunity to minister to the people. He had an opportunity to tell them about Jesus. He had an opportunity to lead these people to Christ. Yet, his flesh . . . or perhaps his tiredness . . . or . . . (and I hope this thought is wrong) his spiritual righteousness got the better of him. Thus he missed an important prospect that could have eternal value.
We must not forget that Jesus supped with sinners (see Mark 2:15 and Luke 15:1-2). It was the drunks and the prostitutes and those in need that Jesus came to save (see Matthew 11:28), not the spiritually righteous (see Mark 2:15-17 and Luke 5:32).
Easter in Bulgaria
I am blessed that our Easter didn’t end there. Sunday morning we attended our little Bulgarian church in Troyan. There we celebrated our Risen Savior. The end result was much different than the night before. The gospel was shared, and for those already saved, freedom and victory in Christ was preached. Click on the link below to listen to the church in Troyan worship the Lord on Easter Sunday.
Well, that was our Easter in Bulgaria. I hope your Easter is filled with joy. I look forward to reading your comments concerning the priest’s behavior. God bless.