All-American Slava

When I married into a Serbian Orthodox family, I gained a Krsna Slava in the bargain, and now I wish everyone had one!

You see, many years ago (perhaps a thousand years!), my husband’s ancestors converted to Christianity; that first household or tribe was baptized on the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist. Rather than assign a patron saint to each member individually, ever since that first baptism, our family has benefitted from the prayers of one common patron saint, and we have celebrated his feast every year with a beautiful prayer service and meal.

As a convert to Orthodoxy, I have come to love this tradition, and to wish that it would catch on here in America, where so many of us are converting, and establishing our families as new lines of cradle Orthodox Christians.

We celebrate Slava on St. Luke’s day every October, inviting family, friends and at least one priest to our home. We bake the traditional kolach (bread) and we make zhito (which is essentially koliva, but because at the Slava it’s offered without memorial prayers, it’s simply blessed wheat.)  We put out an icon of St. Luke and a nice new candle and some wine, and a prayer list of our family members — both the living and those who have died in the hope of the resurrection. The preparations themselves are beautiful, as the family bakes traditional foods together.

When the Krsna Slava begins, we gather together — family and friends — around our icon corner. Father celebrates the beautiful service, during which we’ll pray for St. Luke’s continued intercessions and sing his hymns. During the service, Father cuts a cross into the bread and pours wine along the lines of that holy cross. He’ll hold out the bread and the whole family will reach out to turn it with with our fingertips. That’s my favorite part — seeing the pudgy baby hands next to the old, wrinkled hands, a family gathered together each year to turn the bread and to pray together.

The Slava is so beautiful — from baking with the kids and getting the house ready, to gathering our beloved friends and family, to praying together these ancient and beautiful prayers, and sharing a meal in an atmosphere where God’s love and His blessings are just so palpable and present!  Truly, Christ is in our midst at the Krsna Slava, and we count ourselves lucky to celebrate together every year.

It’s a tradition that is unique to the Serbs; no other Orthodox tradition has a shared family feast like this. Other Orthodox have namedays; each member has their own patron saint. As the mother of a large family, I’m relieved that we celebrate together rather than honoring multiple name days — especially since in the American culture, we also have birthdays to celebrate!  With seven of us in the house, that’s 14 celebrations plus the major religious and cultural feasts that come up throughout the year… Instead, we celebrate one Krsna Slava for the whole family, and we are able to give it the time and attention it deserves.

The Slava is the feast day for what St. John Chrysostom calls the Little Church. We know that the larger Holy Orthodox Church is organized by Patriarchs and then Bishops, and then divided into priests who lead parishes; and the smallest unit of the Holy Church is not the parish church, but the family. The parents must lead the home like the priest leads the parish, for it is truly in the home that we live out our faith. We can attend church on Sundays, but living out the everyday prayer and the fasting and the almsgiving, developing an Orthodox heart — these things happen every moment of every day, and they happen at home. So just as each of our regular churches are dedicated to one saint who is celebrated as the protector of that church, it makes perfect sense that the Little Church might also be dedicated to a particular saint who watches over that family and intercedes on their behalf. Serbian families have passed down the protection and dedication to that saint from generation to generation; the same St. Luke who watched over my husband’s great-great-grandparents will also intercede for us!

I think my favorite thing about the Slava is the way that we mark and celebrate those first baptisms in the family. We thank God that our ancestors found the Church and held tight to its traditions, so that we could be the inheritors of salvation! Whether you celebrate a baptism that happened a thousand years ago, or your own baptism ten years ago, how beautiful to stop and mark the anniversary, and to give thanks that you were lucky enough to find your way, whether by birth or by marriage or by a long and interesting journey, into the Holy Orthodox Church.

I have friends who converted as young families into the faith, all five or six of them baptized or chrismated together on the same day. They don’t look all that different to me from the households that came into the Church a thousand years ago. There they stand, all together, receiving the Holy Faith and entering into communion. Watching them, I feel like they need a Slava. They need to mark this day again next year and every year after it, knowing that they are protected and beloved by Christ’s holy Saints, and giving thanks that God led them home.

If you’re a convert, whether you came in alone or with your family, you might consider celebrating a Krsna Slava. You could celebrate a Saint whose feast falls on the anniversary of your entrance into the Church, or you could select a Saint who you already know is praying for you and guiding you. In the Serbian tradition, a lot of families celebrate St. George or St. John the Forerunner or Archangel Michael, but the most common Slava Saint is holy St. Nicholas. In fact, people joke that on December 19, the Old Calendar feast for St. Nicholas, half of Serbia celebrates their Slava, and the other half is invited to a Slava. I can imagine that a lot of Americans might choose St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, or St. Xenia or St. Herman. How wonderful if a Slava tradition grew up among American converts, and even the Saints we celebrated spoke to the American experience of Orthodoxy! We wouldn’t call it Krsna Slava, but would translate this as “Holy Feast”, celebrating the feast days of our Little Churches.  What a joy if it this Serbian tradition were to be imported and could take root here so much that it might gain an American flavor among American converts. How much would our Little Churches benefit from their own patrons and feast days!

There’s a Serbian adage: “Ko Slavu slavi, tome i pomaze” which is something like, He who celebrates the Slava is helped by it! May God help you, and perhaps inspire you to be helped by your own Slava feast as well!


If you’re interested in the services of the Krsna Slava, here’s a copy of the prayers our priest reads:

Krsna Slava (St Luke) — English

Krsna Slava — English

About Elissa Bjeletich Davis

Elissa Bjeletich is the mother of five daughters, and serves as the Sunday school director at Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Austin, Texas. Find more information on her website:


  1. It gives me a great deal of happiness to know that someone who is not born Serbian Orthodox has such insight to the Krsna Slava tradition. You are Serbian by practice which can be better than by birth. God Bless you and your family.

  2. I like this a lot. My husband, 4 children, and I were all baptized a year and a half ago. Another child has joined us by adoption since then, and I am expecting our sixth. We celebrate birthdays and namedays! It can get overwhelming; “I want Vietnamese pho and a buttercream frosted cake for my name day!” And of course, someone’s birthday will be two days later. We need a family patron with a big celebration to take the heat off!

    1. It really helps settle down the craziness of “too much” and it’s so beautiful to work together on one wonderful party for the patron of the whole family!

      1. I am going to pilgrimage at a Serbian monastery for the next couple of days. Maybe I can get some advice for celebrating a Krsna Slavs straight from the experts 🙂

    2. Thanks SO much for this meaningful article. I will share w my husband who converted 20 yrs ago. He truly embraces & loves our faith. Busy prepping 4 St George on Mon. MAY 6. I’ll have to remember saying ko slavu slavi ! One can never educate themselves enough in our faith! As “Ortho” means true faith. God bless you for being head of Sun school ! I taught for 12 yrs. How comforting to know that our saints continually watch over us!!!!!!
      Melissa ( St Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church Monroeville PA)
      PS. Growing up w / my grandparents we celebrated both Sveti Nikola & St George. !!!!! We were truly blessed to have their priest come.. eating some awesome food is like the cherry on top!!!!!

  3. Also wondering, is Krsna related to the Russian красный? In Russian it means red and beautiful and is used to describe Pascha in the paschal stichera…

    1. That’s a great question and I don’t know — but Serbian is a Slavis language, so it should use a lot of Russian roots.

        1. Thank you, Anna! That makes sense. Krsna is baptismal, Slava is celebration or feast… baptismal feast. Of course!

      1. It is thought the all Slav languages originated from one of two nations Serbian or Czech.

        Krsna Slava – Patron family sain celebration celebration
        When you enter a Serbian house, you usually find an icon showing a certain Christian saint. It is believed that this saint is the patron saint of the host family and is usually celebrated for generations. Every Christian saint has his or her day in the Orthodox calendar. That day is the most important day the family celebrates, right after Christmas and Easter. On that day, the are completely dedicated to their family and their loved ones.

        Slava is a very festive day and usually the host organizes a great feast to celebrate his patron saint and gathers the entire family and all friends at the table. The day starts very early when the family goes ton church attends liturgy accompanied by the cutting and blessing of the bread and wheat by the priests. As Orthodox Serbs have several fasts during the year, and every Wednesday and every Friday, some feasts can not contain products of animal origin, and such a feast is called fasting Slava. For these celebrations, the hosts usually prepare various salads, fish soup and grilled sea or fresh water fish with other marine life, vegetables and cakes made from non animal products On the other hand, mrsna slava traditionally consists of a lot of meat (usually pork and / or lamb). Do not deceive yourselves, both are equally abundant in choice and delicious.

        The Serbs have the habit of saying that it is only once called for glory. Every next time you feel called, even more obligatory to come. Maybe the host will briefly invite you to tell you what time he is expecting you. If someone invites you to fame, you should be honored, because this means that the host considers you a dear friend. You should know some customs when it comes to Slava …

        It is customary for the guest to bring a gift – usually a bottle of red wine showing Christ’s blood, a bouquet of flowers for the hostess. It is not mandatory, but you will win the whole family’s sympathy if you bring some sweets for the children, in this way you will show the host that you appreciate his family.

        When you arrive at a Slava, the first thing you say is “Happy Slava to the Hosts!” Which would mean “a happy celebration. Remember that the Serbs are quite noisy, so you can not be loud enough when you wish him good luck on this happy and joyful day. The ritual of greetings can not be bypassed, so you go from the host and say hello to the whole family. If you come for the first time, let the householder meet you with all family members. And remember one thing: the Serbs love to kiss their friends and we do it three times!

        Once you’ve met your whole family, you can continue with other celebrations. The housewife will then serve you with grain and red wine on the tray. Here begins the party for your hosts if you are not a Serb, because it is usually a confusion about what the next step is ridiculous. You should do the following (you will be grateful): Cross over and wish the host to another happy glory, take a spoon and grab a bit of grain from the bowl and eat (put the spoons in either a glass of water or next to a clean spoon) and then take a sip of red wine . Now you can get yourself indoors and relax.

  4. Thank you for that insight! I am german and also married to a Serb, going to the russian orthodox church. We celebrate Slava , the kids are even officially excused from school on that day……Our priest visits us on that day . He learned over the years about that tradition since the russians dont have Slava.

  5. Thanks for sharing this! I’m currently a catechumen, and since I am a part of a evangelical family, it’s easy for me to see the path I’m walking in an individualistic way, so it’s really wonderful to learn about these family traditions and I hope to incorporate them when I have a family of my own.

    1. Welcome! May God bless you on this journey! It’s true that we come in as individuals, but truly grow into a part of the Body of Christ.

  6. My Parish out in Washington State, St. Katherine’s in Kirkland (OCA), celebrates Slavas. We are up to 4 families now…and only one of them (our Priest’s wife is Serbo-Canadian) is Serbian.

    The rest are just families, that with Fr’s encouragement have decided on a family Saint and made it their Slava…(various reasons, one is the Father (and only convert)’s saint, others pick one that reflects their family’s heritage..etc.)

    It is now a normal part of ‘our’ jumble of things we do that make up our local tradition and custom.

    So we are trying out here on the west coast to help you ‘make it so’

    In Christ,

  7. Thank you for this article. We were baptized into Orthodoxy as a family on February 18, 2017. (We had three children at the time; the three we’ve had since then had their own baptisms). We knew we wanted an annual celebration to commemorate the day in our family’s history. Then, we discovered the Serbian tradition of Slava. So, today, with St. Leo the Great as our patron saint, we celebrate our first slava (to commemorate the fourth anniversary of our family’s baptism).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.