I've already blogged a number of times articles of Saint John of Rila as he is The Greatest venerated Bulgarian Saint as of today, his birthplace nearby today's Ruen Monastery as well as my inspiration from the Night Vigil prayer gatherings in the Monastery in his Memoriam in German. But I'm pretty sure this spiritual giant is under estimated and little known to the public not only the non-bulgarian English speakers but even to Bulgarian and the saint deserves much greater veneration and honour than it has received through the ages for the fact he has been among the greatest prayer intercessors for the world until the beginning of ages.
For his immerse hermit achievements in a similar way as Saint Anthony the Great he has been granted All the innumerous Gifts of The Holy Spirit.
The humble hermit even in his life time he has been defined as "Angel in flesh" and a "Citizen of heaven".
The life of Saint John has been a X-th century continuation of the life of Saint Simeon the Stylites and Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger attempted to be repeated as far as possible by more contemporary saints such as Saint Siluan the Athonite.
He has been a teacher (even though he ran away from people) all his life. He has been the major establisher of Monasticism in Bulgaria,
In 18 of August year 946 Anno Dommini saint John has departed this world. Dying with a painless way called in Church language with the term Dormition or Assumption – (meeling he did not felt any kind of fleshly pain as normally one goes through when he ends his life unsanctified). His Dormition in a similar way as The Mother of God (Theotokos), an end of life who has been granted throughout human history only to few other saints.
Saint John who spend his hermit lifetime in Mountain of Rila was born circa y. 876 AD and passed away to Christ on August 18, 946 A.D.
Thirthy four years after his dormition, he appeared in a dream to his pupils and has commanded them to dig out his incorruptable body and move it to in Sredetz (today the city of Sofia capital of Bulgaria). In Sredetz the holy relics of the saint has been kept in honour for 200 years.
Saint John has been a contemporary to Saint King Boris I the Baptizer of Bulgaria, King Simeon the Great (Son of King Boris, who raised Bulgaria to Empire reaching to 3 Oceans, who has been one of the largest empires of All times) and King Petar (Peter) the First. His glory as a Wonderworker who has been desired to been seen by many to receive physical healing or spiritual advice has been mostly through the rule of King Petar I (927 – 969). In Medieval times the Glory of Saint John of Rila has been widely known throughout all the Christianized Lands (including Byzantine Empire) and the West in the Catholic Church. The implication of his importance as a medieval healer saint and a model for hermit life and saintship and image for truthful spiritual life is well seen as his Biography (Living) is seen as he has about 15 Known different livings saying varyious details about his lifetime written in different centuries in Old Bulgarian Language and in Middle centuries in the new transformed form of Old Bulgarian writting called Church Slavonic, where saint has been simply adressed by monk name Ioan (John).
According to his biography we found until the age of 25 Saint John has been a simple shepherd. Until the yough age in his heart John had the burning love in his heart and a desire to dedicate himself completely to God. When his parents has passed away, he gave away all his received inheritance to the poor and sick people and entered as a aprentice in the monastery of today Boboshevski Saint Dimitar under the Ruen Monastery in the Mountain of Vlahina.
There in he received a Theological education, studied the liturgical books, received a spiritual dignity and prepared himself for the great spiritual mission of hermitage and life long prayer for the world. Receiving the monks schima, he gave away completely to fasting and prayer, initially establishing himself in Vitosha Mountain (most likely in today Monastery of German Monastery St. John of Rila (convent of Mount Athos Monastery of Zograph) nearby Sofia.
St. John of Rila Wall Painting XIV century from the Church Zemen Monastery Saint John the Theologian
In German Monastery often times the ancient Christian tradition of Night Vigil is followed on hist feast Major Christian feasts even today.
Later he has been for a while in the small Village "Dobarsko" near The Europe Famous Resort of Bansko.
A short after 20 km of Dobarsko he has established The Most Famous Monastery for the Balkans, the Rila Monastery, a pivotal place whose light has shined upon practically all parts of the land as it become a school for tens of thousands hundred monks throughout the last 20 centuries. Many manuscript works prepared in Rila Monastery has been later on transferred in Today Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Greece and even the Western Catholic lands.
There is no exact place in history when Saint John was officially canonized as in Medival Times, saints did not go through an official canonization but has been testified by the multitudes of peoples who has been cured by their wonder-working prayers. By the prayers of Saint John many has been able to conceive childs, leppers get cured and could walk, eye diseases were healed, full health has been restored or the gift of faith has been giving, not to mention the multitudes of people who came to Christian faith thanks to the prayers of St. John.
King Petar I-st meets the Hermit Holy Father John of Rila (Wall Painting)
The story of the powerful medieval Bulgarian ruler Peter the First who travelled 450 Kilometers only to see the saint is well known. Travelling about 450 kilometers from the capital of Bulgaria Veliki Preslav to the Cave of Saint John of Rila only to meet him.
The Cave of Saint John of Rila Cave exit
The monk however refused to meet him due to his immerse humility, where King Peter I-st was able to talk in a long distance via a valley with the saint, offering him gold and fruits. St. John refused to receive the king's gold, as he said he did not left the world and everyhing to it to attain gold or anything but to save his soul. He received the fruits not wanting to insult the king. Many people who deserved to learn a true monasticism and ascetism has quickly reached the saint and asked them to create a monastic brotherhood and wanting to be useful his poor brothers and having revelation of God that it is the will of God to establish the monsatery he accepted and become the first Abbot of Rila Monastery.
He passed to the Savior Christ about in year on 18 of August 946 AD being aged about 70 years old he has been buried in the Church porch in a stone tomb, preserved even today.
Saint John Giving his Written Testament to his Monks (The Testament is Famous for the quote "I beg you children to mostly fear from the snake of avarice which is the root of all evils".
Until his death he has departed from the brotherhood in complete solitude and wrote his famous "Testament". The Testament of Saint John of Rila he left for his pupils on 25 of March on the feast of the Annunciation in year 941. The text of the Saint John Testament is preserved in a copy manuscripts dated from the XVIII and XIX century and contains a multitude of quotes from The Scriptures of Old and New Testament.
The Living of Saint John of Rila
A little known fact is that the Russian All Famous Saint Father John of Kronstadt (also a wonderworker) (Ivan Ilyich Sergiyev, born: 31 October [O.S. 19 October] 1829 + Passed to Christ: 2 January 1909 [O.S. 20 December 1908]) has received his Baptizmal name after Saint John of Rila as he has been born on his feast day and his parents following the Russian tradition to name the baby after the Saint honour in the Church Calendar gave the name John of St. John of Kronstadt. St. John of Kronstadt deeply venerated Saint John of Rila and asked his prayer intercession alway until his life time.
In 1900, Father John established the women's monastery of Ioannovsky Convent, named for his name patron John of Rila, as a branch of the Sura Monastery of St. John the Theologian, where he was later also buried.
Recognition of Saint John of Rila Holiness shortly after his death
After his death in y. 946, st John has been buried nearby the established by him Holy Rila Convent, shortly after King Peter I-st ordered to be transferred to Sredetz (Sofia). Most likely this can be considered for original date of canonization of the saint. About y. 989 – 992 y. his holy relics has been transferred by King Samul and then Patriarch German-Gabvril (German-Gabriel) in Sredetz. This happened on 19 of October and since then on this date is venerated his bright memory.
Initially his holy relics has been kept for venerateion in the Church of "Saint Great Martyr Georgi the Glorybringer" and later on moved to Church of "Saint Apostle and Evangelist Luke". In the XII century in his honour the Church of "Saint Luka (Saint Luke)" was built near which a monastery has been established. The Byzantine writter Ioannis Skylitzes / John Skylitzes testifies that in Sredetz the Holy Relics of Saint John has miraculously cured emperor Manuel I Komnenos.
In 1183 during the consequential Hungarian-Byzantine war, the Hungarian King Bela III of Hungar conquered Sredetz and moved the holy relics of Saint John in his capitzal Estergom today the Komárom-Esztergom County. According to tradition the local Roman Catholic archibishop declared he has not been aware for the existence of a saint John of Rila and because of his words the saint has punished him with immediate numbness. Once he venerated the holy relics of the reliquary and begged for forgiveness, his speech was recovered. Amazed and worried about this miracle, in year 1187 hungarians transferred back the holy relics of the saint to Tarnovo? Bulgaria.
The Return of the Holy Relics of St. John to Trnovo Bulgaria
On 1st of June the Church celebrates the return of the holy relics of saint John of Rila from Tarnovo to Rila monastery. In 1195 Bulgarian king Ivan Asen the First solemnly transferred the Holy relics once again to Tarnovo in the church still being built St. 40 Martyrs (dedicated to 40 Martyrs of Nikomidia). Until the church was completed the holy relics has been kept on Krastec Peak, now the place has a small chapel in honour of St. John of Rila The Wonderworker".
In 1469 year Bulgaria is already invaded by the Ottoman Turks, thus after a permission from the Sultan, the monks of Rila convent brought the holy relics of the saint from Veliko Tarnovo to his established Rila Monastery, where holy relics are kept to this date and where anyone who needs a spiritual fortification, restorement of health, or suffering from unclean spirits (devils) could ask with faith and hope for healing for the saint and wait for the miracle.
I myself have had the chance to meet a man who has being to a Night Vigil to Rila monastery and testified that he and his life both being in his old age of fifties after not being able to have kids and trying out everything has asked the saint during a night vigil to pray for them to able to conceive a child and the saint heard their prayers and granted them a kid and she conceived right after that and brought to the earth after 9 months a very healthy and lively baby 🙂
Another modern miracle I'm personally aware of made by Saint John is the Gift of Faith in God which was granted to a Greek architect, I've personally met while being on a pilgrimage visit to Holy Mount Athos. The Greek shared that he had never been a believed in God and was a grown atheist, until he had a work duty to do some reconstruction restoration works in Bulgarian Rila monastery. Spending a few months as part of his business-trip duties, he has received the gift of faith. I've met the Greek (unfortunately no longer remember his name), nearby the monastery of Xenophontos.
The troparion of our rev. father John of Rila, tone 1
A foundation of the repentance, an example of the tenderness,
a model of the consolation and of the spiritual perfection,
oh Reverend Father, was your equal to the Angels life therefore
staying in prayers and fasts and in tears
pray to the Christ God for our souls.
Today the holy relics are miraculously still incorruptable and emit a specific nice odor which is typical for many of other saints, a testify to the unbelievers for their saintship. The saints relics in a special reliquarium in the right corner behind the iconostasis icons. The right hand of the saint is kept in nun convent in Island of Tinos Greece and the story how it ended there is a worthy for a small pamphlet and I'll try to say few words on that in some of the next posts.
Let by the Holy Prayers of Saint John of Rila our Home Land Bulgaria and all Countries are granted more Peace, Love, Faith and Kindness and relief from the terrible diseases that are plaguing the world today !
Holy Father John of Rila Pray the mercyful Lord Jesus with All the Saints and The Most Holy Theotokos to save our Souls and grant mercies to us the sinners !