It was St. Sava who introduced the ritual of the baptismal Slava, or Patron Saint’s Day, into practice on a liturgical basis. Since the time of St. Sava, this ritual and its accompanying customs gradually assumed the form it has today. The present aspect of this ritual was finally formed by Mihajlo, the Metropolitan of Serbia, in 1862. Among the numerous appellations of this custom in the past, some of which are still in use today, the most current ones are: ‘querns slava’ (baptismal slava) and ‘svečari’ (its celebrants).
In some parts of the country, as in Vojvodina, Belgrade and elsewhere, the custom is for the priest to go to the homes of the celebrants before the day of the Slava itself and to bless the water. The housewife places before the household icon, a candle, a censer and incense and lights the thurible. The priest then blesses the water which the housewife will use to knead the flour for the Slave cake. For that occasion it is necessary to prepare the following: a censer, a flame (or a briquette made of special coal), a candlestick and incense, as well as a posy of sweet basil and a vessel of clear water. All this has to be on a table facing the icon of the relevant Slava which hangs on the eastern wall of the room.
The housewife treats the consecrated water as something sacred. She handles it with care and puts it in a specific place. Then, on the eve of the Slava, when she has completed all the preparations for the following day, she uses this water and takes flour to knead the dough for the Slava cake, adding the requisite amount of salt and yeast. In some regions the Slave begins already on the prior evening with a supper, because liturgically regarded, that is already a new day, that is, the Slava day and vespers and the wake are held for the next day. Nevertheless, it is rare for the Slava cake to be cut at that time as this is done on the very day of the Slava.
On the morning of the lava, the cake, a wheat cereal dish, and red wine are carried to the church. In the church, the joint consecration of the wheat dish and blessing of the bread and wine is performed and then the priest pours wine over each dish of wheat cereal and cuts each cake separately. At this time, the celebrant, before the commencement of the holy liturgy, offers a list of the living and deceased members of the family for the purpose of having their names mentioned and the wafers placed on the oblation table – for the good health of the living and the peace of the soul of the deceased.
The head of the family, or host, then gives his gifts to the church – the incense, the oil and the wine, as much as he is able to. In more recent times, it is increasingly frequent for money to be offered for the church’s needs.
In the home where there is an inherited practice or where a new one is being introduced, the act of cutting the cake is done at home, with the following procedure:
On the eve of the Slava or early the next morning, all the necessities for the ritual should be placed on a table facing the icon and the east: the cake, the wheat cereal, a glass of red wine, a candlestick with a candle, a list of the living members of the family for remembrance in the prayer, as well as a small thurible with a briquette and a box of matches. Next to the wine there should be a small spoon and a knife next to the cake. The candle is lit just prior to the start of the ritual end can be lit even earlier while the censer was burning throughout the night.
When the priest arrives in the celebrants’ home, every thing is on the table. After the day’s greetings are spoken, the head of the family makes the sign of the cross before the candle and lights it. After the initial invocation, the Lord’s prayer and the troparion of the Slava have been recited, the priest speaks a prayer for the sanctification of the wheat. During this time, the icon, candle, cake, wheat, wine and room and the household members and guests are a11 blessed. This is immediately followed by the priest, who without interrupting his words, cuts the cake and then the singing of the troparion starts.
All the major ritual acts and ritual materials during the Slava celebration, stem directly from the Divine Liturgy, and, broadly interpreted, from the Church. This is what embodies the church character of the Slava. This ritual, as well as all the other church rites, represents a form of communication with God and that is why every prayer is personally intoned and all of them – except those referring to individual persons, – are plural in form, this being a fact that expresses the universal nature of prayer, just as is done in the Divine Liturgy in which we pray for all of us, for the whole world.
In this catholicity, no individual is omitted regardless of how small or insignificant he may be while the grammatical plural form does not mean an additional number, but rather the totality of the community.
The priest in his prayer first invokes the Lord Jesus Christ calling upon him to bless the bread and wine and then pronounces the following words three times: ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ bless this wine and bread with your Sacred Spirit always now end forever end ever. Amen.’ Then with both his bands, the priest raises the bread and turning to the icon towards the east, he says: ‘Our Father, we offer You this for the glory end honour of Saint… (meaning the particular saint of the household) and with his prayers accept, All merciful One, this sacrifice, in your celestial altar.’
He then cuts the cake along its lower crust with the mark of the cross made with some wine poured over it. The cake is then turned about by the priest, the host end all those present, in a circular manner from left to right, while the troparion is sung. The same troparions are sung at weddings end when the deacons, presbyters end bishops are ordained. Turning the cake, in a circle means eternity, for the circle is a symbol of eternity.
Following this, the cake is broken into half end the halves are placed on their lower crusts, towards each other so that the soft part of the bread is turned upward. These ere then kissed by the priest end the host three times. The priest says: ‘Christ is among us’ and the host answers: ‘He is, indeed, and will ever be.’ While the troparions are sung, the cake is turned around by all those present-family members and guests alike. 1f there are too many of them, those who are closest turn the cake and those further away are in contact with the cake by placing their bends on the shoulders of the persons in front of them. This action is rarer in tire home but very frequent when a church, school, society end the like are celebrating their Slava, where the coke is also cut ceremonially and a large number of worshippers are present.
After the kissing of the Slava cake takes place, the singing of the troparious begins. This has become a part of this ritual from the holiday wakes and matins. This is followed by the litany in which prayers are said for the people, the archbishops, the Serbian Orthodox Christians and finally for the members of the household, each by name. Finally, the congratulations are in order.
The Slava dinner as all the ritual offerings, does not mean food for the sake of food, but it is a common ritual of eating and drinking. That is why at a host’s Slava, his home is not only a hospitable one but at the same time a kind of shrine: both the home and the family are a church, a community, where God is offered religious thoughts, wishes, thank-fullness and where guests are welcomed as by the biblical father Abraham, who welcomed three strange, mysterious travellers.