One of Ukraine’s religious holidays is the Honey Spas, also called the Wet Spas, and the First Savior. It is celebrated on 14 August with the feast of the Presentation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross.
There is a special custom in Orthodox tradition (Russian, Ukrainian) to eat honey on “Savior of the Honey”- Honey Spas (in Ukrainian “Medoviy Spas”). Russian people also call this day the “First Feast of the Savior”. People have to gather fresh honey and take it to the church to bless it. They believe that nature is going through certain changes after this day: bees stop bringing honey to their hives; bee-keepers cut open the hives; martins and swallows fly away; roses stop blooming; and there is cold dew on the grass.
It is also believed that Grand Prince of Kiev Vladimir converted to Christianity in 988, on August 14 (the 1st of August in the old style); and proceeded to baptize all of Kievan Rus’. People believe that water is blessed on this day in all the water sources: streams, rivers, lakes, etc. That’s why the other name for this day is “Mokryi Spas”, literally “Wet Spas”. That’s the day when farmers should bathe cattle and horses.
This tradition is very old. It dates back to 1164. The First Savior got its name to commemorate 2 military victories.
In 1164 Duke of Vladimir Andrey Bogolubsky took Vladimir Icon of Virgin Mary on his campaign against Volga Bulgarians. After their victory on the battlefield, soldiers had a prayer before the holy icon, when they saw a light from the icon and from the Holy Cross that illuminated entire area.
On the same day, Greek Emperor Manuel saw the light of Christ’s Cross. He got encouraged by this sign, and won a battle against the Saracens and freed the Byzantine Empire from Muslim rule.
Both of the battles took place on the same day. The church says that those battles were accompanied by a miracle. The icon of the Virgin Mary, and Holy Cross glittered, encouraging the warriors and forecasting the victory of the Byzantine and Kievan Rus’ troops.
On this day Ukrainians also honor Holy Maccabees (also known as Holy Maccabean Martyrs). In 166 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes arrested a mother and her seven sons (Abim, Antonius, Gurias, Eleazar, Eusebonus, Alimus and Marcellus), and tried to force them to eat pork, to prove their obedience to the king. When they refused, he tortured and killed the sons one by one. Their mother, and teacher also died in the name of God. They wanted to worship only one God. And they believed that after death they might rise again to a better life. This day is called “Makovey” by Ukrainians. People bring poppy flowers to the church; and bake pastries with poppy seeds.
This holiday combines celebration of the cross itself, celebration of holy water, blessing of new honey, and mutual agreement of the Greeks and Kievan Rus’ people to commemorate the simultaneous victories.