“…Of all Bulgarian glory, when there were so big monasteries and churches earlier in Bulgaria, in our times God has left only the Rila Monastery whole to exist through the prayers of the Holy Father John. It is of big benefit for all Bulgarians, that is why all Bulgarians ought to guard it and to give alms to the holy Monastery of Rila, so that the great Bulgarian benefit and praise remain ablaze, which are received from the Rila Monastery through the prayers of our Holy Father John, the glorious Bulgarian saint…”
/The Reverend Paisi of Hilendar, “История славянобългарска”, 1762/
Rila Monastery, or rather the Treasury of Bulgaria, is blooming like an evergreen and magnificent flower in the bosom of Rila Mountain, in the place where the rivers Drushlyavitsa and Rilska join.
Founded in the first half of 10 c. by the heavenly protector of the Bulgarians Saint John of Rila, the monastery is a cradle, a pillar and a repository of the Bulgarian spirit even today.
While the records about the fate of the relics of Saint John from 10 c. to 14 c. are detailed, for the Rila Monastery itself they are scarce. Since 11 c. until today in the monastery book depository MS books have been kept, such as the glagolic transcript of the notable “Exhortation” by Saint Ephrem of Syria, which testifies for perpetual literary activity. In the roya decree (certificate for donation) of king Ivan Shishman (1371 – 1393) it is said the Bulgarian rulers – the kings Ivan Asen II (1218 – 1241) and his successor Kaloman (1241 –1245) confirmed the estates and the rights of the monastery, and they honored it as holy place and place of worship.
During 1334 – 1335 the protosebast (ruler) of Strumitsa Khrellyo, generous donor to the monastery in Hilendar, built a protective tower, monastic cells and a temple, which was on the place of the present one, built in 1834.
During the Otoman Rule (15 c. – 19 c.) the Rila monastery became a center for spiritual, cultural and literary self-preservation and renaissance of the Bulgarian spirit and nation. The literary school of Veliko Tarnovo moved to the monastery after arson. The Rila book repository was renewed and enriched with new manuscripts. By the end of 17 c. a book-binding workshop was created. Connections were established with monastries in Sveta Gora, and in 1466 a treaty was signed with the Russian monastery “Saint Pantaleimon” for mutual assistance and giving refuge in case of danger. The connections with Russia also begin in 16 c., where in the next few centuries Rila monks were sent for collections of donations (books, icons, church attire and financial means).
Schools were founded in the Rila monastery during the Bulgarian Renaissance (18 c. –19 c.). The monk Neophit of Rila, who was a notable man of letters and an abbot of the monastery, was considered a father of the Bulgarian pedagody. He prepared teachers and clerics for the whole country. He also founded and became the first teacher in the renowned secondary school in Gabrovo.
After the liberation of Bulgaria from the Otoman rule the spiritual life in the monastery still flourishes, and the imperishable relics of Saint John of Rila, even today, are source of consolation, miracles and heavenly assistance for the ones who approach them with faith.