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Representation before god

Nestled in the heart of the Rila Mountains in Western Bulgaria is the centuries-old Rila Monastery. It is a place pursued not only by pious worshippers but also by nature lovers captivated by the imposing beauty of this part of the Balkans. The mountains are the home of peak Moussala which at 9,596 feet (2,925 meters) is the highest point of Bulgaria, and the beautiful glacial lakes called the eyes of Rila.

It was not for the excitement of the hiking treks that we undertook our journey. We decided to explore the place of divine serenity and awesome architectural beauty that had withstood history's tumultuous times - Rila Monastery. The monastery was one of the places that the Travel Channel declared an Amazing Destination.

Our journey began in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. There are regularly scheduled excursions to the monastery but the best way to explore is by car. We could set our own itinerary and we stopped for lunch at the village of Rila. We found a quaint hole-in-the-wall restaurant with traditional decor and friendly service. The food included Bulgarian salad (chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions seasoned with olive oil and salt and covered with shredded white cheese) and grilled sausages called kebapcheta.

The arrival at the monastery was an amazing experience. We parked at the small parking lot and walked towards the imposing stone walls of the monastery. As we passed through the arched gateway the church of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin revealed itself. Its five domes and amazing frescoes of Bible scenes captivated the eye.  The church's altar was elaborated decorated with carved wood and ancient sacred icons. The church was located in the center of the courtyard and was surrounded by the wall that held the monastery rooms. It was a three-floor structure with balconies facing the courtyard. Some balconies were protruding even farther and we could see their beautiful carved ceilings. Richly decorated carpets and rugs were hanging from the railings. It was so hard to believe that the monastery founded by Saint Ivan in the 10th century was so well preserved and its air of divine tranquility and mysterious beauty still mesmerized visitors to that day.

A nun had once told us that Saint Ivan was the representative of the Bulgarian people before God. He worked numerous miracles and founded this sanctuary that played a vital role to preserve Bulgarian culture and national identity during the five-century Ottoman domination. Following his death he was buried in a cave in the mountain slopes above the monastery. Many faithful believers still hike to his tomb to pay their respects.

We lit a candle, silently said a prayer and revered the deeds of this Bulgarian saint whose faith and work had survived in the hearts of the people throughout the centuries. With our spirits renewed we decided to return to Sofia where the world of the modern metropolis awaited us.

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