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St Michael the Archangel and Leader of the Heavenly Armies

 

The Feast of St Michael the Archangel and Leader of the Heavenly Armies is celebrated in the Christian Orthodox Church on November 21, though there are several other days in the year when St Michael is venerated.

 

The Orthodox Church also celebrates The Day of St Michaels Miracle  the miracle being the water of a spring near the Church of St Michael in Phrygia acquiring healing properties; St Michael was credited with doing that and also with preventing a flood which would have destroyed the church. Traditionally, on that day, the faithful in Ukraine did not work. In fact, you could only make food, take your cattle to pasture, feed your livestock and do some simple home chores  any other work was strictly forbidden by the Christian tradition  no tilling, no cutting wood, no whitewashing the house, no baking bread, or anything else that would involve considerable exertion.

Ukrainian folklore provides stories galore about punishment that was inflicted upon those who ignored the Churchs injunction not to work on St Michaels Day. Here is one of such stories from the Land of Cherkashchyna. Once, a farmer decided he did not want to lose a whole day of good work and went to his field to do the fall seeding. His job done, he returned to his house and suddenly began scattering around salt, flour, cereals, dried berries and whatever else could be scattered  he must have imagined he was sowing seeds rather than scattering foodstuffs. He emptied all these food reserves onto the floor of the house, in the vegetable garden, in the barn and in the backyard  nobody could stop him from doing it. The priest was called; it was only after the priest, who came running, read a prayer that the farmer, who had seemingly gone insane, stopped his frenzied scattering bout and became his old self. He swore he would never work again on St Michaels Day.

St Michael the Archangel began to be venerated in Ukraine in the times of Kyivan Rus when the first churches dedicated to the Archangel, Leader of the Heavenly Host, were built.

 

St Michael has been a patron saint of the city of Kyiv since probably the eleventh century.

At least two churches dedicated to St Michael were built at that time and a little later. One was in the Vydubetsky Monastery built in 1088, and the other one was built in the Monastery of St Michael in the early twelfth century. The latter was a magnificent church indeed which became known as Mykhaylivsky Zolotoverkhy Sobor  The Golden-Domed Cathedral of St Michael. It did have its domes covered in gold leaf. In the 1930s, the Bolsheviks pulled the Cathedral down but in recent years it was rebuilt to its former glory.

Much as the Bolsheviks tried they failed to suppress the celebration of the Patron Saints Day in Kyiv, though, of course, the faithful had to celebrate clandestinely.

On the ancient coat of arms of Kyiv you can see St Michael holding a sword. In Ukrainian icons, St Michael is usually shown trampling the devil underfoot, and holding a green branch of a date tree in one hand and a spear with a white banner or a burning sword in the other. As a fighter against evil, St Michael was believed to control the lightning and the wind.

In Ukrainian folklore he was described as carrying the moustached wind on his shoulder; by pulling the ends of the winds moustache. St Michael could direct the blowing of the wind to whatever side he wanted; a strong pull would make the wind cause a storm or a hurricane. The wind was believed to have been originally the creation of the devil and it was St Michael who took it away from the evil one  if not for the Archangel, the wind would have destroyed everything on the surface of the earth. St Michael used the bolts of lightning to shoot at the small devils and every time he scored a hit, the thunder would explode. The hunters considered St Michael to be their heavenly protector.

In the Ukrainian church tradition, the Day of St Michael, celebrated on November 21, was also the day of remembrance of the dead in prayer (there were several other such remembrance days in the year, in addition to St Michaels Day).

In the Land of Polissya, on the Day of Remembrance of the Dead, a dinner was organized for close relatives with no guests invited, but if an outsider, no matter who he or she could be, happened to come to the house on that day, the stranger was treated to a good meal in honour of the dead.

The traditional dishes on the Remembrance Day were the borsch or cabbage soup, chicken with pasta, braised cabbage, boiled peas, holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), varenyky (stuffed dumplings), pancakes, and jellied fruit juice; special bread, pies and cookies were also made. If Remembrance Day fell on Wednesday or Friday, fish, beans and mushrooms were cooked instead of meat. However, the traditions varied in different parts of Ukraine.

Before the November Feast of St Michael, starting from the Day of St Kozma and St Demian (November 14), the young people in the countryside began to get together for vechornytsi  evening parties. The girls cooked chicken and pasta, or fried eggs and made other dishes that contained eggs, and the young men provided home-made liquor. St Kozma and St Demian were the patron saints of poultry breeders  hence the tradition of cooking chickens on their day.

On Saint Michaels day, in those villages which had churches dedicated to St Michael, the villagers would make mead with spices right in front of the church, cook cabbage and pea dishes, and then they would sit down to a communal feast. In many villages, the communal feast was followed by individual parties at home to which people tried to invite as many guests as possible  the more guests you had, the more you were respected. n

 

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