St. Ivan Rilski – the patron saint of Bulgarian people

A fresco from Rila Monastery
The holy relics of St. Ivan Rilski (Saint John of Rila) are kept in the Rila Monastery, named after the mountain where it is situated. The name of the saint is related to a number of miracles. He was born in 876 and lived during the time of Bulgarian rulers Knyaz Boris I, Tsar Simeon the Great and Tsar Peter. His only goal was to dedicate his life to serving God and that is why he became a hermit in the Rila Mountain. At that time people already knew him thanks to his pious deeds and they were often visiting him to ask for advice and support. He told people that greediness was among the greatest sins that divert man from God.

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Rila Monastery

When Tsar Petar himself came to see the monk bringing him fruit and gold Ivan Rilski did not let him too close and returned the gold keeping just the fruit. Then the monk wrote a letter to the ruler and explained why he did not meet him. He also gave him the following piece of advice: “The one who wants to be first among all must be a servant of all.”

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The cave where Ivan Rilski initially lived as a hermit

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The relics of the Saint
While living in the Rila Mountain disciples started joining the monk and this way the foundations of the biggest monastery in Bulgaria were laid. The Rila Monastery has been preserving Bulgarian spirit and culture during the centuries. St. Ivan Rilski died on August 18th, 946. He was first buried in the cave where he used lived as a hermit, but after some time his relics were found incorrupt and were moved to Sredets, (present day Sofia). This happened on October 19th and this is the date on which the Orthodox Church commemorates the saint.

The Rila Monastery is the most popular one in Bulgaria. A number of foreigners also visit this place in the heart of the mountain. Near the monastery where the saint lived people continue to leave prayers written on pieces of paper. Believers say Saint Ivan Rilski continues to help everyone who has looked for his support.

English versio: Alexander Markov

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