St. Sofia Day Celebrations – The Day I met the President of Bulgaria – Sofia, Bulgaria
Last year when we came through Sofia, we arrived late in the evening and just managed to catch sunset views of the external facade of St. Sofia Church and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This time around, we were much luckier as we happened to be in the city on St. Sofia Day (September 17), a day when the Orthodox world pays tribute to the Holy martyrs Sofia and her three daughters Faith, Hope and Love.
From the group of defence personnel, police and crowds that had gathered, it was apparent that an event was about to take place, but we couldn’t get anyone to tell us what it was in English.
There was a large stand set up for the media and photographers on one side of the road and across from them, a temporary altar that had been set up. A large gathering of Orthodox priests were standing by the altar in colorful and magnificent gold embroidered robes. It must have been really hot for them in the sweltering heat. Next to the priests, rows of men and women were standing in line. From their mixed nationalities, one assumed that they must be from the diplomatic missions.
A moment of panic as we thought that we had missed all the good viewing spots, but fortunately, a bit further up from the media stand, we found a spot under a shady tree. What a triumph as this turned out to be much better than the photographer’s stand! From where we were we had a frontal view of the altar. More people were gathering along the street and everyone seemed pretty patient in spite of the long wait. Eventually, a black limousine pulled up in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral square. A very distinguished looking man got out of the car and walked towards the altar. The local lady next to me was all smiles and she told me that it was their President, Georgi Parvanov, accompanied by the city’s Mayor Boyko Borissov. Cameras clicked away while all the military personnel and police stood to attention.
The President did his ceremonial duties, greeting the senior priests, inspecting the guards and then greeting the diplomats. After the national anthem, a liturgy was conducted by the Deputy Patriarch (we think).
When the official ceremony was over, the troops marched off and the crowd then pushed past the barriers and made their way across the road to St. Sofia Church where the President had headed. We thought this was a gross breach of security, but apparently, it was normal and we followed suit. The President did a meet and greet in front of the church and as he was leaving a tall teenage boy asked for something to be written in his notebook, I thought. The President wrote a long message in this boy’s book and it was touching that he took so much time and care to do this. When he was finished, a lady next to me handed her notebook for an autograph which the President kindly obliged. Not speaking the language, but gauging from his friendliness, I plucked up courage and asked for an autograph as well, declaring that I was from Australia. He looked up, surprised at a foreign voice, but still signed on my notebook and I also scored a quick handshake. So this was the day that I had my brush with presidential fame. It really made my day in Sofia! It’s not everyday that one gets to meet a president of a country whilst on holidays. The greatest disappointment was that Tony was nowhere to be seen and missed the photo opportunity.
As the President was leaving and the crowd dispersing, I said to this senior looking military guy that “Your President is great. He’s so friendly.” This guy turned out to be the Chief of Military Protocol. Tony recognized him, through his lenses, giving instructions during the proceedings. The next blog covers our time with our newly found Colonel friend.