Orthodoxy, Plovdiv, and Kirkovo

Owen and Nansi came again for breakfast. We packed for a two-day excursion. We went to the oldest Orthodox Church in downtown Sofia. As we entered the Church they were beginning a service. The elaborate detail to the liturgy with incense and music with an ancient style chant mysteriously beckons one to worship. Nick observed that the artwork points to Christ. Kim said she was moved by the reverence of it. There were multiple clergy involved using an ancient language that even Nansi did not know. There were no seats or pews.

Everyone was standing and the regular worshipers would bow repeatedly making the sign of the cross but differently than in the Catholic tradition. The thumb, forefinger and middle finger together symbolizing the trinity while the other two fingers together symbolize the dual nature of Christ. In doing the sign of the cross they begin on the forehead sweeping to the right shoulder, then touching the heart and then the left shoulder. Some did this repeatedly perhaps in adoration but I had the sense it was more out of a desperate need for mercy, sadly being unaware that what they seek they already have. Others even more desperate seek mercy by praying and kissing icons of past saints whom they believe led a more exemplary life and are now closer to God so that they might intercede on their behalf. I found myself praying that they would find the scriptures where they could read Paul’s letter to Timothy. There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5.

We left the Church and made a two-hour journey to Plovdiv the former Capital of Bulgaria. What a fabulous town! This will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019! We would love to come back for that. We had lunch with Paschal, a 27-year-old Missionary from Nigeria. We walked through downtown Plovdiv and came upon an Orthodox Church and sitting outside was a priest. We engaged him asking questions about Orthodox theology and comparing scripture. It was a fascinating conversation. We continued walking coming upon an ancient Roman amphitheater that had been discovered only 15 years ago. It was constructed in the 3rd century and had been buried for centuries! How amazing! Again we continued walking, purchasing souvenirs and finally some gelato. We then hit the road again back up into the mountains to the region of Kardzhali. More beautiful and scenic areas on a winding road on the way through the Bulgarian countryside. It was hot in Plovdiv but much cooler in the mountains. We arrived at the town of Gorno Kirkovo where we met with Hari and Penka, local Christian leaders and had a short meeting with the Mayor. It is a Pomak Village, meaning they are a
Bulgarian Muslims, at least by culture. They are remnants of the Ottoman invasion and occupation.

The Christians here are teaching art classes to the poor Muslim children. We were able to see the drawings that the kids did earlier before our arrival based on the lesson of the day. The Mayor and his wife were very receptive to us. They were most hospitable, giving us fresh baked bread and candy. After leaving the Mayor’s office, we arrived at our hotel which is about 8 km from the border of Greece so it is a popular stopping point for travelers from Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria heading to vacation in Greece. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant outside. We had a wonderful time of fellowship over dinner and learned more from Owen & Nansi about the struggles, the difficulties and challenges as well as the vision for the future for their ministry in Bulgaria. Nick prayed a very powerful prayer over Owen and Nansi. All were tired after a long day with lots of driving so we all retired for the evening.

This is a guest post written by a member of a short-term team. Click here to read Day 4.

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