February 10 marks the day of St. Haralambos in Bulgaria.
On this day, people gather at the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in Blagoevgrad to thank the saint.
Known as the "Lord of all diseases", he serves not only to protect the home and health of worshipers, but also beekeepers, of whom he is the patron saint.
As such, bees and their honey play a central role in the mass.
The priests enter the church, releasing the heady scent of incense from a censer. In the center of the mass, there is a table in the shape of a cross, full of jars of honey and candles.
The candles are lit one by one, when the flames begin to light the church.
Priests bless honey, praying for protection and health. The devotees then take the honey home and use it as medicine throughout the year.
"Our region of Blagoevgrad is special. People are involved in beekeeping and it is an old tradition to enter the church on this day and pray to God to bless them with a productive year and to keep their bee families healthy", explains the orthodox priest Peter Stefanov. .
Haralambos lived in the 2nd century in Magnesia, present-day Greece. He was tortured and persecuted for his faith, according to Stefanov.
"The liturgy was made in honor of the martyr Haralambos", says Tsveta Alexieva.
"We came for a blessing – on this unique holiday to Bulgaria – to pray, receive a blessing and bring a small pot of honey home. Every year, I look forward to this day."
Bulgaria produces an average of 10,000 tons of honey per year, of which 2,000 are consumed locally. The rest is exported to Europe, according to the EC Department of Agriculture.
Like many around the world, the beekeeping industry in Bulgaria is concerned about the decline in bee populations triggered by pesticides and climate change.