John of Rila
|Saint Ivan of Rila
Свети Йоан (Иван) Рилски
|Venerated in||Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Saint John of Rila (Bulgarian: Свети Йоан (Иван) Рилски, sveti Ioan Rilski) (876 – c. 946) was the first Bulgarian hermit. He was revered as a saint while he was still alive. The legend surrounding him tells of wild animals that freely came up to him and birds that landed in his hands. His followers founded many churches in his honor, including the famous Rila Monastery. One of these churches, "St Ivan Rilski" was only discovered in 2008 in the town of Veliko Tarnovo. Today, he is honored as the patron saint of the Bulgarians and as one of the most important saints in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Saint Ivan of Rila was born app. 876 a.c. in Skrino, at the foot of the Osogovo mountain (close to the modern city of Dupnitsa). He was a contemporary of the reign of emperor Boris I, his sons Vladimir (Rassate) and tsar Simeon I The Great and the son of the latter - tsar Peter I.
Originally a herder, at the age of 25, Saint Ivan of Rila became a priest in the "St. Dimitrii" monastery located under peak Ruen. After accepting the life of a monk, he left the monastery in order to continue his life in solitude and prayer. Saint Ivan of Rila lived in isolation in various locations before going to the Rila Mountains. There he spent the rest of his life in prayer and deprived himself of an everyday life by settling in the uncomfortable conditions of the caves in the Rila mountains.
According to legend, Saint Ivan of Rila was known to have performed a multitude of miracles in order to help the people. These miracles brought him undesired fame as he tried to live the life of a hermit and avoid contact with others. With his growing number of followers, many young believers and supporters set up camps around his cave, seeking a blessing from him. This led the way to the creation of the Rila Monastery, which is considered to be the foremost monastery in Bulgaria.
Word of the miracles he performed reached the capital of the Bulgarian Empire - Great Preslav. Tsar Peter I (son of tsar Simeon I) took a 450 km trip to the Rila Mountains in order to meet St. Ivan and seek spiritual advice. Their meeting is described in detail in one the hagiologies of St. Ivan Rilski as well as in the Testament of St. Ivan of Rila itself. After a long and exhausting trip, tsar Peter I reached the place where St. Ivan Rilski lived, however, upon arrival, the tsar then realized that the dwelling of the saint was inaccessible, probably due to the rough local terrain. As the medieval hagiologies point out, St. Ivan of Rila refused to meet the tsar in person to avoid the temptation of vanity and pride due to the extraordinary visit. As such, the two men only bowed to each other from a distance. The emperor sent a soldier to deliver the gifts that were brought for the saint. St Ivan of Rila kept only the a small portion of food and returned all of the gold and precious gifts, advising the tsar that monarchs need gold in order to protect the country and help the poor.
Shortly before his death (Aug 18, 946) St. Ivan of Rila wrote his Testament (Zavet). A literary work and a moral message to his successors and to Bulgarian people.
As the patron saint of the Bulgarian people, his dormition is commemorated each year on August 18 and October 19.
In 1194, Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen I ordered the remains to be moved to his capital, Veliko Tarnovo. Surviving the Turkish conquest of the city in 1393, they were returned to the Rila Monastery in 1469 at the behest of Sultana Mara Branković, the widow of the late Murad II.
Saintly cult and tributes
St. Ivan of Rila is considered the patron saint of Bulgaria and Bulgarian people, and he is venerated widely both in his native country as well as among the Bulgarian diaspora abroad. He is traditionally regarded as the founder of the Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site regarded as one of Bulgaria's most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments. One of Chicago's two Bulgarian Orthodox churches St. Ivan of Rila Church is dedicated to him, located in the Portage Park community area.
As the patron saint of the Bulgarian people, his dormition is commemorated each year on August 18 and October 19. One of Saint Ivan of Rila's miracles is "the fable of two pies" where he helped feed the poor when he visited bearing "two pies" which were given to him by the village pie maker. This led to Saint Ivan becoming the Patron Saint of Pies and Pie Makers and it is said that "two pies Ivan" will always provide for makers of pies as thanks to the poor pie maker who gave his last two pies to the Saint. This day is still celebrated in Northern America on National Pie Day which is the 23rd of January, where its tradition to bring "two pies" to the parties.
Ioannovsky Convent, the largest convent in St. Petersburg, commemorates this saint. St. Ivan Rilski Col on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named after John of Rila. The St. Ivan Rilski Chapel built in 2003 at St. Kliment Ohridski Base on Livingston Island is the first Eastern Orthodox edifice in Antarctica and the southernmost Eastern Orthodox building of worship in the world.
- Great Synaxaristes: (in Greek) Ὁ Ὅσιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Θαυματουργός ὁ ἀσκητής. 19 Οκτωβρίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
- Testament of St. Ivan of Rila
- Bulgarian National Bank. Notes and Coins in Circulation: 1 lev. – Retrieved on 14 March 2018.
- Bulgarian National Bank. Notes and Coins out of Circulation: 1 lev. – Retrieved on 14 March 2018.
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