Saint John of Rila, First Bulgarian Hermit

Saint John of Rila (Bulgarian: Свети Иван Рилски, sveti Ivan 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.
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Saint Ivan of Rila was born app. 867 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 king 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.
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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.
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Word of the miracles he performed reached the capital of the Bulgarian Empire. Tsar Peter I (son of tsar Simeon I) took a 120 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.
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see also ,

For his Testament:


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