Krsna Slava – the celebration of the home Patron Saint-is the greatest characteristic of the national and religious life of the Serbian people. It is a beautiful and unique expression of the Orthodox faith that is deeply implanted in the Serbian Christian soul.
Krsna Slava is an exclusively Serbian custom. It is the most solemn day of the year for all Serbs of the Orthodox faith and has played a role of vital importance in the history of the Serbian people. Krsna Slava is actually the celebration of the spiritual birthday of the Serbian people. Our forefathers accepted Christianity collectively by families and by tribes. In commemoration of their baptisms, each family or tribe began to celebrate in a special way to honor the saint on whose day they received the sacrament of Holy Baptism. The mother church blessed this practice and proclaimed Krsna Slava a Christian institution.
According to the words of St. Paul (Phil. 1:2), every Christian family is a small church, and, just as churches are dedicated to one saint, who is celebrated as the protector of the church, so Serbian families place themselves under the protection of the saint on whose holiday they became Christians and to whom they refer to as their intercessor to God Almighty. To that protector of their homes, they pay special homage from generation to generation, from father to son, each and every year.
Slava is a day not only of feasting, but also a day of spiritual revival through which the Serbian national soul is formed and crystallized. To these celebrations, customs, and traditions, our nation owes its existence, and, therefore, deserves to be appreciated and perpetuated by all grateful Serbian sons and daughters all over the world. The living example of the Patron Saint gives to the celebrant assurance, persistence, and the feeling of protection, support, and the encouragement to do good. For that reason, we hear among our people the ancient saying: “Ko Slavu slavi, tome i pomaze“.
Because Krsna Slava is regarded as the anniversary of the baptism of the family into Christianity, it is an annual reaffirmation of the family to its baptismal vows and the renewal of its ties to the Orthodox faith and church.
The commemoration of Krsna Slava was to our ancestors one of the most important expressions of their Orthodox faith. So they always celebrated their Krsna Slava, regardless of how dangerous the situation. In our long suffering history, the state and freedom ceased to exist, but in our homes, the candle of our Patron
Saint never was extinguished.
The Serbian Krsna Slava links, as a golden string, our past and our present, our ancestors and their descendants. Serbian people should never ignore their Krsna Slava because through it the Orthodox faith was preserved and they were held together through the centuries. Krsna Slava should be kept not only as a sacred custom, but also to attest to the sacred truth that “Where the Serb is, Slava is also“.
The celebration of Krsna Slava requires the Icon of the family Patron Saint and several items that symbolize Christ and the believer’s faith in his death and resurrection: a lighted candle, Slavsko zhito, Slava’s bread (Slavski kolach), and red wine.
The lighted candle reminds us that Christ is the Light of world. Without Him we would live in darkness. Christ’s light should fill our hearts and minds always, and we should not hide the Light of Christ in our lives.
Slavsko zhito represents the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ reminded us that except a grain of wheat die it cannot rise again, even as it was necessary that He die, be buried, and on the third day rise again so that we all can triumph over death. The Slavsko zhito is prepared as an offering to God for all of the blessings we have received from Him; it also is to honor the Patron Saint and to commemorate our ancestors who lived and died in the Orthodox faith.
Slava’s bread represents Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life. It is also symbolic of our thanks to God for being saved through Its Son. During Slava, the priest cuts a cross in the bread, which reminds us of Christ’s death on the cross for the remission of our sins.
The red wine, of course, represents Christ’s precious blood, which was required to wash our sins away. Note that understanding the symbols of Slava helps us understand the meaning of the celebration. There is one symbol, the Slavsko zhito, that needs some special explanation. Some of the faithful have the misunderstanding that the Slavsko zhito is parastos for the Patron Saint of the Slava. The wheat for Slava and the wheat for parastos (Koljivo) are two different things. In both cases, the wheat symbolizes resurrection and eternal life (St. John 12:24). However, Slavsko zhito is prepared for the glory and honor of the Saint and for the repose of the souls of those departed members of the family who commemorated that Saint. We do not pray for the soul of the Patron Saint, but we pray that he or she intercede to the Lord our God for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore, you should never place a candle in the Slavsko zhito.
There is no reason to refrain from celebrating Slava during a mourning period in the family because at Krsna Slava we experience the unity with our departed ones. The gaiety should be omitted, but the zhito, bread, and candle never. On that day they are signs of living union between the living and the deceased of the family. To not celebrate Krsna Slava, for whatever reason-mourning, travel, poverty, instability, sickness, and so on-creates a spiritual vacuum, which deprives us of spiritual gladness and our departed ones of a connection with us through the prayers on that day.
For the faithful, Krsna Slava creates confidence, strength, freshness, stability, spiritual and physical peace, and the ability and incentive to do good and to lend help to others. If we want to be the meritorious heirs of our ancestors, keeping our origin, history, and symbols of Krsna Slava, we can’t permit the flame of our Krsna Slava candle ever to be extinguished.
The importance of Krsna Slava is not to have a huge, elaborate, and expensive party. All you need is the Icon of your saint, a candle, wheat, bread (kolach), and wine, the service of the priest, and an awareness that Krsna Slava is a great treasure passed on to you by your ancestors.
Do not fail to keep this ancient and honorable Serbian Orthodox tradition and to pass it on to your children. As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Thessalonians (2:15), “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught“.