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St. Ivan Rilski – the patron of Bulgarian doctors

Photo: BGNES

On the day when the Bulgarian Orthodox Church venerates the memory of the heavenly patron of Bulgaria, St. Ivan Rilski (John of Rila) the Wonderworker, medical professionals in Bulgaria celebrate their holiday. It has been celebrated for 25 years, at the initiative of the Bulgarian Medical Association (BMA) which in 1995 chose the saint as the patron saint of all healthcare workers. 

According to the legend, the most revered Bulgarian saint helped, with God's help and fervent prayers, many sick people to regain their health both during their lifetime and after their death. This is the reason why Bulgarian doctors choose him as their protector.

It is believed that Ivan Rilski was born around 876 in the village of Skrino, near the present-day town of Dupnitsa (Southwestern Bulgaria). Before entering the monastery of St. Demetrius in Vlahina Mountain, he worked as a shepherd. In the Holy Monastery he received his spiritual education and accepted monasticism, after which he devoted himself to hermitage in prayers, fasting and deprivation. He travelled many places in the Bulgarian lands until he settled in the Rila Wilderness – this was once the name people used to call Rila Mountain, which was deserted and inhabited only by wild beasts. There the hermit remained until the end of his life, where with several followers he founded the monastery of the same name – it became a centre of Bulgarian spirituality and education.


Today, the Rila Monastery is the largest stauropegial monastery in Bulgaria (under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy Synod). That is why the feast of St. Ivan Rilski is celebrated most solemnly in all churches in the country.

It is also believed that the most famous Bulgarian saint and ardent intercessor before God for the Bulgarian people is the patron saint of the Bulgarian national enlighteners (narodni buditeli). Therefore, on October 19, a number of schools bearing his name celebrate the holiday. Among them are the Sofia Theological Seminary and the University of Mining and Geology "St. Ivan Rilski” in Sofia.


Traditionally, the "Doctor of the Year" award is presented today. Like the previous year, marked by the coronavirus pandemic, the self-sacrifice of the Bulgarian medical professionals working on the frontline in the fight against the virus stands out in the foreground.


Compiled by Darina Grigorova

English version Rositsa Petkova

Photos: BGNES and archive

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