Bulgarian Christian Orthodox mark Saturday the feast day of St. St. Konstantin andElena (Constantine and Helena).
Helena was the mother of Emperor Konstantin, who fought two great battles when he came to the throne: one against Maxentius, a tyrant in Rome, and the other against Licinius not far from Byzantium. At the battle against Maxentius, whenKonstantin was in great anxiety and uncertainty about his chances of success, a shining cross, surrounded by stars, appeared to him in the sky in full daylight.
On the cross were written the words: ‘In this sign, conquer!’ The wondering Emperor ordered that a great cross be put together, like the one that had appeared, and be carried before the army. By the power of the Cross, he gained a glorious victory over enemies greatly superior in number. Maxentius drowned himself in the Tiber. Immediately after this, Konstantine issued the famous Edict of Milan, in 313, to put an end to the persecution of Christians. Conquering Byzantium, he built a beautiful capital city on the Bosphorus, which from that time was named Constantinople.
At this time, Konstantine fell ill with leprosy. The pagan priests and doctors advised him to bathe in the blood of slaughtered children, which he refused to do. Then the Apostles Peter and Paul appeared to him and told him to seek out a bishop, Sylvester, who would heal him of the disease. The bishop instructed him in the Christian faith and baptized him, and the leprosy vanished from the Emperor’s body.
When there was discord in the Church about the troublesome heretic Arius, the Emperor summoned the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, in 325, where the heresy was condemned and Orthodoxy confirmed.
St. Elena, the Emperor’s devout mother, was very zealous for the Christian faith. She visited Jerusalem and found the Precious Cross of the Lord, and built the Church of the Resurrection over Golgotha and many other churches in the Holy Land.
Emperor Konstantin outlived his mother by ten years and entered into rest at the age of about sixty in 337, in the city of Nicomedia. His body was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.
According to legend, both Konstantin and Elena were selected by God to be his assistants, after they showed courage and faith by walking on glowing embers with bare feet. In Bulgaria, this day is celebrated by fire dancers (nestinari) in theStrandzha Mountain region.
In Bulgarian folklore any farm and field work is banned on this day. The feast is seen as a day to prevent the harvest from hail since Konstantin and Elena are believed to carry hail in a bag.
The celebration begins several days prior to May 21 with people collecting money for food, cleaning and repairing wells and preparing the bonfire for the fire dancers on the central village square.
On the day of the celebration, when the fire extinguishers the embers are laid in a circle with people gathering and carrying icons with the images of Konstantin andElena.
The nestinari, most often women, enter the glowing embers and dance in some sort of a trance sometimes saying prophet words, talking to the dead or making predictions for the future. The belief is that the icon they carry keeps them safe from the fire.
After the dance everyone gathers at a large table to share food.
May 21 is the name day of Konstantin and Kostadin for the men and Elena and Kostadinka for the women.