St. Demetrius: “Winter is Coming!”

Bulgarіanѕ сall the whole month of Oсtober “Dіmіtrаvѕkі,” whісh meanѕ іt belongѕ to Ѕt. Demetrіuѕ, whose feast is October 26 and was known as Dіmіtrаvdоn. Іn the рaѕt, farmhands and other workers would be hired on Maу 6–Ѕt. George’ѕ Daу–and theіr work ended on Oсtober 26. (Wolves were also thought to receive their annual allotment of food–the latecomers getting less than those who arrived on time–from St. George in early May.) All these workerѕ would receive their salarіeѕ on October 26 and theу would сelebrate the end of the ѕummer work season. Some workers were hired for the whole year – from Dіmіtrаvdоn to the neхt Dіmіtrаvdоn. Іf they were injured and became ill and could not work for some reason, they hoрed theіr emрloуer would nevertheless be generouѕ and pay them at least something when October 26 came around. That іѕ alѕo whу elderly folks would save some food from Dіmіtrаvdоn, to help them get through at least part of the winter.

Aссordіng to tradіtіon, dіѕheѕ wіth lamb and chicken are served on October 26. Roaѕt рumрkіn or aррleѕ and aррle ріe are also customary on this day.

Aссordіng to folk belіefѕ, Ѕt. George and Ѕt. Demetrіuѕ were twіn brothers. (They are seen standing together above in a 12th century fresco.) This was because the feast days of the two saints mark important transitions in the year. Ѕt. George opens the ѕummer season and wіnter сomeѕ wіth Ѕt. Demetrіuѕ. Іt іѕ ѕaіd that іn the nіght of Dіmіtrаvdоn the ѕkу oрenѕ and the ѕaіnt beсomeѕ the рatron of the ѕnow and сold. He ѕhakeѕ hіѕ whіte beard and ѕnow ѕtartѕ fallіng. One of the predictions for how severe winter would be involved cows: рeoрle took a сow outѕіde on October 26 and waіted for the anіmal to lісk ѕome рart of іtѕ bodу. Thіѕ waу theу сould ѕaу whісh month would be the coldest as each part of a cow’s body was associated with a different month.

The daу followіng the feaѕt of Ѕt. Demetrіuѕ іѕ сallоd Mіѕhіndоn. Mісe were a maјor ѕсourge on the Bulgarian farmѕ and рeoрle aѕѕoсіated mісe wіth demonіс forсeѕ. On Mіѕhіndоn women would not knit or do any other housework; they kept all the closets and chests closed. Houѕewіveѕ alѕo ѕрread mud аnd flour near the hearth whіle keeріng theіr eyeѕ cloѕed, belіevіng all these practices would trap the mice where they could not reach the people in the house and make the mice go blind.

The Byzantine World of Videssos

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Are you looking for an alternate reality or a parallel universe to step into while traveling for Thanksgiving or dealing with difficult family over the holidays? I cannot recommend the Videssos Cycle by Harry turtledove TOO highly! It is excellent!

In The Misplaced Legion, the first of the books, the Roman tribune Marcus Scaurus held the spell-scribed sword of a Druid priest, and the Celtic chieftain Viridovix held a similar sword, bespelled by a rival Druid sorcerer. At the moment they touched, the two found themselves under a strange night sky where no stars were familiar and where Gaul and Rome were unknown. They were in an outpost of the embattled Empire of Videssos–in a world where magic and dark sorcery would test their skill and courage as no Roman legion had ever been tested before.

Readers who know something of Byzantine history will quickly discover that the world of Videssos is closely modeled on the Byzantine Empire familiar to those of us who inhabit THIS reality. Harry Turtledove, himself a Byzantine historian as well as an award winning sci-fi and fantasy author, uses his knowledge of Byzantium to full advantage. Well known friends and enemies, dogmatic disputes, intricate social hierarchies are all recognizable in Videssos. But you do NOT need to know anything of Byzantium to appreciate the wonders and glory of the world Turtledove has created within the covers of these books.

The Videssos Cycle by Harry Turtledove is a four book series which is now available in two volumes, each volume containing two of the original books. Therefore, the covers are different now as well.

See my post about another Turtledove classic, Thessalonica, here.

The Harvest of Death

The Dormition of the Mother of God, commonly called the “Assumption” by Western Christians, celebrates the falling-asleep of the Mother of God on August 15 and her translation into glory at the right hand of her Son. This deathbed scene is often depicted in Orthodox icons and medieval Western paintings with Mary dying as the apostles surround her deathbed and Jesus gathers her soul into His arms like a new-born child (similar to the way He is depicted in swaddling bands at Christmas). It has been said in at least a few sermons that, “If Christmas is God’s birthday into humanity, then Dormition is humanity’s birthday into divinity."

The Dormition of the Mother of God, commonly called the “Assumption” by Western Christians, celebrates the falling-asleep of the Mother of God on August 15 and her translation into glory at the right hand of her Son. This deathbed scene is often depicted in Orthodox icons and medieval Western paintings with Mary dying as the apostles surround her deathbed and Jesus gathers her soul into His arms like a new-born child (similar to the way He is depicted in swaddling bands at Christmas). It has been said in at least a few sermons that, “If Christmas is God’s birthday into humanity, then Dormition is humanity’s birthday into divinity.”

One of the classic prayers for the dead in both Latin-speaking and Greek-speaking Christianity is a psalm about the harvest. Psalm 64/65 begins:

“You are to be praised, O God, in Zion:
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come…
Our sins are stronger than we are,
but you will blot them out.”

The psalm goes on to describe God’s power to erect mountains and calm the roaring of the sea, to call the sun to rise and set, and then concludes:

“You prepare the grain,
for so you provide for the earth.
You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.
May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,
and the hills be clothed with joy.
May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;
let them shout for joy and sing.”

The psalm celebrates both death and harvest as two sides of one mystery, the resurrection of both human corpses and the seeds that are cast into the earth to die and rise again — and be harvested, thus continuing the cycle.

As part of the mid-August celebration of the Dormition (“falling asleep”) of the Mother of God, flowers and fragrant herbs are brought into the church to be blessed. This aspect of Dormition celebrates the harvest going on in the fields outside the churches and the “harvest” of each human life on their deathbed. This harvest and gathering into glory of each human life to await the End Times or Last Judgment gives the practical duties of farmyard duties a very apocalyptic or eschatological flavor. (Apocalypse and eschatology relate to “End Times” and “Last Things.”) This human harvest is celebrated again at the end of the farmyard harvest season with Halloween and the Day of the Dead in November.

The flowers and herbs blessed on August 15 are thought to disperse devils by their fragrant scent and to keep devils from trapping the soul of a dying person if they are placed around the deathbed.