Icon of St. John of Rila (Bulgarian, Circa 18th-19th c.) – S353


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Egg Tempera


18th – 19th c.


St. John of Rila Monastery, Rila, Bulgaria


St. John of Rila (a.d. 876-946) is the national saint of Bulgaria, and a great light of Orthodoxy in the world.  He was born to pious Bulgarian parents in Skrino near Sardica (now Sophia) soon after the Bulgarian people had accepted the Orthodox Faith in a.d. 865 under King Boris I.  When St. John’s parents died, he soon left to join the Monastery of St. Daniel at Skrino.  There he fasted and prayed, and led by God, later left the monastery to become a hermit, first above Sardica, and then later in the Rila wilderness.

Living for years in a cave, far from the sight of men, in time St. John became a great ascetic light that could not long be hidden.  He worked miracles, by God’s Grace and condescension, and in time many people came to him to seek spiritual guidance, which grew into a small, then a larger monastery.  Once the Bulgarian King Peter wanted to meet him and came nearby, but St. John, from humility, gave his emmisaries thanks and sent him a letter instead how to righteously rule his kingdom.  St. John was a great practitioner of the Jesus Prayer, and encouraged its use in his written Last Testament given at Rila in a.d 946.