Religious Beliefs. The majority of Slav Macedonians are Orthodox Christians. Most belong to the Macedonian Orthodox church (MOC), which was established in 1958 with the help of Marshal Tito. This is a rare example of a Communist leader actually supporting the establishment and welfare of a religious body. To this day the MOC is not recognized by any of the Orthodox patriarchates and churches. The reason behind this lack of recognition is the realization that the Creation of the MOC was politically motivated on the part of the Yugoslav Communists, engineered to weaken the power and influence of the Serbian church, and intended to lend more legitimacy to the newly established "Macedonian" nation. Despite the political problems surrounding the MOC, the Slav Macedonians uphold similar dogmas and liturgical practices as their Orthodox neighbors in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece. Central elements of their belief are the primacy of the Holy Trinity and the importance of saints as examples of Christian living. During the Middle Ages a heresy known as Bogumilism spread throughout the central Balkan Peninsula. It was a mixture of Christianity and Manichaean teachings, which held that there is a constant eternal struggle between good and evil, light and darkness. God is the creator of the soul, which is perfect and good, whereas Satan is the creator of the body, which is imperfect and impure. The Bogumils believed only in the New Testament and rejected church sacraments. (A related heresy in western Europe is known as Catharism.) Slav Macedonians joined the heresy in large numbers and suffered persecution by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Eventually, Bogumilism weakened and disappeared, thus closing the chapter of a very interesting part of the history of Slavs in Macedonia.
Religious Practitioners. The importance of the Orthodox clergy in Slav Macedonian history and culture cannot be underestimated. During the centuries under Ottoman domination it was the clergy who maintained a sense of continuity of culture. Often enough the priest was the only literate person in the village, sometimes functioning as a teacher as well.
Ceremonies. As is the case among other Balkan peoples, the saints of the Orthodox church appear to have replaced ancient pagan deities and many of the ceremonies of the church can be viewed as a continuation of pagan rites and festivals. For example, beliefs in thunder being caused by the chariot of Saint Elijah as it is driven over the sky, or in fertility rites involving slaughter of a rooster or a lamb to assist Conception in a sterile woman, are remnants of ancient pre-Christian beliefs and practices. The celebration of Christmas is of great importance and the customs surrounding the occasion can be traced back to pagan winter celebrations akin to the Roman Saturnalia. Easter has been delegated a second place, but it still may be considered as a continuation of ancient festivities of Dionysus. Women then color eggs red, which is considered the color of life. The Easter festivities are connected with the pagan spring rites, celebrated to ensure fertility of humans, beasts, and fields.
Arts. A long tradition of Christian iconography among the Slav Macedonians has left many splendid examples in the hundreds of churches and monasteries. Although Slav Macedonian iconography was heavily influenced by Byzantine art, there was a definite move away from the stylized Byzantine rigidity, with a strong emphasis on nature and the addition of a three-dimensional perspective. Another aspect of artistic expression can be found in the colorful female peasant costumes that are still worn by the older women. The variations from region to region are bewildering and stand in sharp contrast to the all-black clothing sometimes seen worn by women in Serbia, Greece, and Italy. Embroidery motifs borrow heavily from ancient themes such as depictions of mythological animals, bears' paws, and geometric figures. The traditional Slav Macedonian round dance ( oro ) is a highly intricate, fast-stepping dance whose origin can be traced back for centuries. Similar dances are called horos in Greece, horo in Bulgaria, and hora in Romania. The music is rich but has highly irregular rhythms. Polyrhythmic combinations are common. Lazarice are folk songs sung by girls on Saint Lazarus's Day, related to pagan spring songs. Kraljice are sung on Saint George's Day.
Medicine. Modern medical science has replaced healing practices that traditionally fell within the domain of older women. Dancing around sick people, as a form of exorcism, was part of the ancient healing practices to ward off evil spirits causing the illness. The "evil eye" was also believed responsible for causing illness in babies and animals and even inanimate objects such as houses.
Death and Afterlife. Among the Slav Macedonians the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany are dedicated to the reverence of the dead, during which period their souls wander about the living and participate in everyday life. Evil souls are believed to be found among the rest of the souls, so a dance known as dzamala is performed to chase them away. In the dance, dancers representing the world of the living fight with and defeat dancers representing the underworld. As Christians, they believe in an afterlife along the lines held by the Orthodox church, but, as can be seen, ancient Slavic beliefs do find a place in modern practi