Serbian Slava


There are many texts and articles about St. Patron Day, a tradition unique to Serbs. My intention is to focus on the most frequent misapprehensions and misconceptions about Slava.

It can often be heard that one does not celebrate Slava, because “his father did not hand it down to him”. That is absolutely wrong understanding, most probably, remaining from the time of communal life, when everyone for several generations, from great grandfather to great grandson lived together. It is understandable they all celebrated Slava together. That was completely normal in those circumstances.

However, even then, if a son, for whatever reason, separated from the community, and took his family with him, he would begin celebrating Slava, independently, in his new home. It was expected that the father gives him the blessing to begin celebrating Slava independently.

Slava is not something to hand down, a Serb celebrates his Slava as long as he breathes, and it is only the form that is different.

Patriarch Dimitrije told archpriest Cvorkov, who was at the time a young theologian, the story of the custom of settling in a new home and beginning to celebrate Slava independently.

In the old home, the mother, who was the older housewife, would take and keep the pieces of the bread over which the wine was poured in the sign of cross from previous Slava. Those pieces would be put before the vigil lamp and the slavska ikona (icon of the family patron saint), and they would stay there until dry, and then, the mother would finely crumble them, and keep that as flour for her son’s bread (kolac). The remaining part of the old slavska candle was stored in the same place.

A few days before Slava, the parents would gather a few of the most significant people in the village, and they would go together to their son’s house. They would stop at the house door and the father would ask those significant people if they thought his son was honourable enough to start celebrating Slava independently. After getting a positive answer they would all enter the new home. The older housewife would pour the remains of the old bread (kolac) into already prepared flour for the new bread (kolac); the old candle would be lit and the new housewife would make the new bread (kolac). That was a way of linking the old bread with the new one, and the flame of the old candle to the flame of the new one. The new head of the family would begin celebrating Slava in his new home and the father would continue celebrating it the way he did before.

Nowadays, it is common practice that the father and the son, together, in the old home or in church, with the priest, break the bread (kolac); then the father gives one half of the consecrated bread (kolac) to his son, and the son takes it home and begins celebrating Slava independently the following year.

With all due respect for the parents, the sons should emphasize their wish to begin celebrating Slava independently, primarily for their children, and then for their kumovi, relatives, and friends, and that they also want their home to be protected by their patron saint.

For some reason, a wrong belief has been settled, that for some patron saints, like for St. Archangel Michael, one should not prepare wheat. From what had been said earlier, it is very obvious why wheat is prepared; therefore, even for St. Archangel Michael, the living saint, one should prepare wheat.

The saints are saint because they are alive. There are no dead before God. “It is not the dead who praise the Lord. “(Psalm 115:17). “Will you show wonders to the dead or shall the dead arise and praise you?” (Psalm 88:10).

Lately, because they are more concerned about adventitious matter rather than the essential, some celebrate Slava on a day that is more convenient to them or to their guests.

One should not mess with sanctities. One cannot fake or pretend in church. “My dear Slava, your day, that was given to you by church, has passed, but we will pretend and fake that your day is today.”

Like day like feast. If the day of one’s Slava is lenten, the food that is prepared should be lenten. It is better to not prepare anything than to make God and the patron saint angry with wrongdoing.

Nowadays, a custom of bringing presents to Slava has settled, same as it used to be for weddings. If that is now our tradition, it certainly was not until recently. Presents were never brought to Slava. Older women would sometimes bring a few candies, or “secerka”, or an apple to the youngest, and that was it.  In my opinion, that custom of bringing presents was dictated to us by those who have neglected their Slava, and to redeem themselves, they started bringing presents.

For hospitality, one used to return hospitality, and that was it.

These novelties are a burden to a house budget. When one thinks that he cannot get an “appropriate” present for someone, he chooses not to go to Slava for that reason, and then, the other cannot return the visit.  For that reason, we have fewer guests for Slavas, and the costs are nonetheless greater.

Even in the most joyous moments, Slava, is not a drink bout or revelry, but first and foremost a prayer, and a gathering of honourable people.

Some people believe that one should not observe Slava while mourning. As Saint Bishop Nikolaj has taught us, that belief came from a confusion of terms. “Only those who think of Slava as of the celebration that is the same as a wedding, do not observe it.”, he said.

If a wedding cannot be celebrated while mourning, Slava certainly should be observed while mourning. And it should be observed particularly while mourning. Especially when mourning, one should, with even more fervour, observe his Slava and turn to his patron saint for God’s prayer. The saints then, actually God through saints, help us with more urgency. When everything is in place and at our will, we can hardly notice the benefits of Slava. That is because we already have what we wanted”, concludes Saint Bishop.

If the religious rites of consecration of the wheat and cutting the bread were performed in spoken Serbian language, it would be clearer that Slava was in fact a family prayer for the dead.

That could be best apprehended from blessing the wheat. Because your servants offer this to you for your glory and the glory of Saint (patron saint of the home), and in the memory of those who died in the orthodox faith. By not observing Slava, we deprive our dead of the commemoration and the prayer that saves their souls.

Another reason for observing Slava while mourning is the fact that through Slava’s wheat we proclaim our belief in resurrection. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) is what our Lord is teaching us. Just like that grain of wheat, we too decompose, so we could live for eternity.

To one unfortunate father, who had buried his only son, and had announced that he did not want to celebrate Slava anymore, our Saint Bishop wrote a letter, comforted him, but also reprimanded him, and provided examples to him of our ancestors who never, not even at most difficult times, stopped observing Slava. “On the day of his patron saint, a soldier in a trench, lit a candle and put it on the forehead of his fallen fellow soldier. On his chest, he put bread and wine. And he, bareheaded, continued shooting, by order. “What is this?” his superior asked him. “It is my Slava, sir.  So, I thought it could, at the same time, be the commemoration for my fallen fellow-countryman. He serves me as a table in this swamp.”

Candle, bread, wine and bare head! Do you understand this? The four symbols: the light of the faith, the dependence on God, the love of God, and the prayer to God. That is essential in celebrating the Slavas of the God’s saints, God’s sons. Are you not able to show these four essential symbols on the day of your Slava? Or you think that your home from which one dead was taken a few weeks ago is in greater mourning than the trench filled with many dead with blood still fresh? “, Saint Nikolaj asked him.