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The "Orlitsa" Convent

The “Orlitsa” Convent is located at an 18 km. distance from the Holy Monastery of Rila and is one of its oldest possessions. It was mentioned about for the first time in the Charter of Tsar Ivan Shishman of 1378, which currently is being held at the library of the Rila Monastery. During the Renaissance the Orlitsa Convent was one of the around 50 convents of the Rila Monastery in whole Bulgaria. The monks who lived in the convent carried out their liturgical services in the small single-nave church “St. Apostles Peter and Paul”, built in 1469 at the time of Abbot priest-monk David - one of the three brothers who renovated the holy monastery after its desolation during the Turkish invasion in our lands, at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th Century. He was a native from the village of Granitsa, in the region of Kjustendil. It was in this church that on the 29 June 1469, on its way from Tarnovo to the Rila Monastery, the ark with the holy relics of venerable John of Rila the Wonder-Worker - the founder of the Holy Monastery of Rila in the 10th Century and its first Abbot - stayed overnight. In his story about the return of the honorable relics of st. John of Rila from the town of Tyrnovo to his own Rila Monastery, the medieval scribe deacon Vladislav Gramatik, who was a witness of the events he himself described, tells the following: “Afterwards, having risen from the place of their stay, they came to the monastery convent named Orlitsa, and in the church “Holy Apostles”, which the abbot of the monastery - David - had built at that place from foundations, they laid the honorable ark of venerable John, because on the next day was the feast of the Chief Apostles Peter and Paul. And they feasted with the people, and gave honor to the day, and worshiped God with a thankful praise. Having risen on the next day, which was the 30 of June, again the abbot with the priest and the Bishop of Krupnik Mr. Joseph, who as well was his brother in the flesh, took the ark and carried it, and the people followed walking and praying “Lord have mercy!” all the way to the bridge above the convent.” Several years later a part of the church was painted, and its final decoration took place in 1491 with funds from Bishop of Krupnitsa Jacob, at the time of the prominent abbot of Rila Theoctistus. The re-painting of the church was cariried out by Nikola Obrazopisov of Samokov in 1863, whose solemn composition “The return of the relics of St. John of Rila the Wonder-Worker” has its place in the narthex of the church. Frescoes from the 15 Century are preserved in the Altar and above the door in the naos of the church.
The Orlitsa convent had many agricultural buildings where the agricultural produce grown from the monastery lands, as well as the bought wheat, were stored. It provided a place for rest and shelter of pilgrims traveling from the more distant ends of Bulgaria to the Rila Monastery. Part of the monastery watchmen, who were located there, accompanied these pilgrims on their way to the monastery in disorderly years, guarding them from bands of robbers. In the bakery, which is preserved even today, were baked delicious breads for the monks and personnel, as well as for the staying guests. In the northern wall, in the yard of the convent, is found a beautiful rock fountain built in 1812.
It is about the Orlitsa convent of his time that the great Bulgarian teacher and scribe priest-monk Neophyte of Rila writes in his “Description of the Bulgarian Holy Monastery of Rila” of 1879: “This convent is like a small monastery, because it has all requisites of a (small) monastery. That is, it has a church, cells for the brotherhood, common eating table, kitchen, water mill, spacious garden and all other requisites. In it live those men who are appointed to have supervision over the vineyards and fields, and meadows, located there, and to wait for the various travelers, from the monastery and external, who either stay to spend the night, or pass by the road and leave, a priest-monk (to serve in the church), a manciple with his helpers and other workers.”
After the Rila Monastery was nationalized in 1961, and the brotherhood of the monastery out-casted by the communists, the convent was left for a long time without spiritual supervision. Today the “Orlitsa” convent is taken care of by laymen appointed by the Monastery. They cater for the church, the buildings and the agricultural monastery garden in proximity to the convent. They meet pilgrims and worshipers of this Bulgarian sanctuary. Liturgical service here is carried out only once in a year, on the feast of the holy Chief Apostles Peter and Paul (29 June).