Bulgarians celebrate beekeepers saint day amid climate change threat to national beekeeping industry

February the 10th marks St. Haralambos's day in Bulgaria.

On this day, people gather at the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Blagoevgrad to give thanks to the saint.

Known as the "Lord of all Illnesses", he is not only meant to protect the worshippers' homes and health, but also the beekeepers, of which he is the saint patron.

As such, bees and their honey play a central role in the Mass.

Priests enter the church, wafting the heady smell of incense from a censer. At the centre of the Mass is a table shaped like a cross, packed with jars of honey and candles.

The candles are lit one by one, as their flames start illuminating the church.

Priests bless the honey, praying for protection and health. The devotees then take the honey home and use it as medicine throughout the year.

"Our region of Blagoevgrad is special. People are engaged in beekeeping and it is an ancient tradition to enter the church on this day and pray God to bless them with a productive year and to keep their bee families healthy," Orthodox priest Peter Stefanov explains.

Haralambos lived in the 2nd century in Magnesia, present-day Greece. He was tortured and persecuted for his faith, according to Stefanov.

"The liturgy was made in honour of the martyr Haralambos," worshipper Tsveta Alexieva says.

"We come for a blessing - in this unique holiday for Bulgaria - to pray, to receive a blessing and to bring a small jar of honey home. Every year I look forward to this day."

Bulgaria produces an average of 10,000 tons of honey a year, 2,000 of which are consumed locally. The rest of it gets exported to Europe, according to the EC Department of Agriculture.

Like many around the world, the beekeeping industry in Bulgaria is concerned about the decline in honeybee populations triggered by pesticides and climate change.