Orthodox Christian pilgrims hold candles inside a minibus on the eve of the Elevation of the Cross holiday at Krustova Gora
SOFIA (Reuters) - Nadia Mironova drove 350 km with her ill eight-year-old son to a small monastery in southern Bulgaria, trusting, like hundreds of other Christian pilgrims, in faith and hope to help heal him.
It is the seventh time the 33-year-old has made the journey to the Rhodopi mountains to spend the eve of Friday's Elevation of the Cross holiday in prayer, hoping for divine intervention.
"Faith and hope bring us here," said Mironova, who also brought her three-year-old daughter Viki on the pilgrimage from Pleven, in northern Bulgaria. She declined to go into detail about her son Christian's condition.
They, like many others, will sleep in the car they travelled in. Some camp on the meadows around the monastery or take shelter in chapels to the 12 apostles that were build in 1990s, making it one of the most visited holy sites in the Balkan country.
Legend has it that a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified is buried at the Krustova Gora (Holy Cross Forest), some 210 km southeast of Sofia, bringing powerful divine energy that is especially strong on the Elevation of the Cross holiday.
Some believe that they will be healed in their sleep from the energy of the holy site, others say that at midnight, during a night vigil at the monastery's church, the skies open and prayers are being answered.
Maya Slaveva, 55, said she has travelled to the holy site to pray for her ill husband and for herself to find a job to support her family.
"I deeply believe in God and I have come to pray for the health of all of us, for me, for the children, for all to be healthy and well. I truly believe my wishes will come true," as she prepared to spend the night in the open.
Some 76 percent of the Bulgaria's 7 million people are Orthodox Christians. The monks at Krustova Gora say the night vigils at St Trinity monastery have been restored after the fall of communism in 1989, when people felt free to express their religion beliefs.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alison Williams)