St. Ivan of Rila (or St. Ivan Rilski) is the most praised saint in Bulgaria.
He was born around 876 in Skrino, hidden village in the Osogovo mountain near the Struma river.
Until his 25th birthday he was a shepherd and at this fragile age for the soul of St. Ivan Rilski - his religious faith began to grow and develop. At those times there were building churches and monasteries around the whole Bulgaria.
Monasteries built at his time became not only centres of the Christianity but literary and educational centres.
The desire of the young man was to devote himself to God. His wish was to go a monastery and become a monk.
Firstly, Ivan went to the monastery near his village called St. Dimitrii where he studied many sacred, liturgical and religious books.
He accepted the title of monk.
However, he did not stay for too long at the monastery and became a hermit devoting his life to God in prayers, fasts and destitution.
St. Ivan Rilsky lived in many places when finally he settled down in the magnificent Rila mountain where he lived until the end of his life.
There he founded a monastery that survived more than a 1000 years till nowadays.
During his liketime and even afer his death, St. Ivan of Rila created many miracles: cured madness with pray, healed and continues to heal from different illnesses many pious people.
The fame of the hermit spreaded among the Bulgarians and soon reached the capital. While traveling to Sofia, the ruler of Bularia tsar Petar I, made a 120 km detour to meet St. Ivan of Rila.
The hermit however did not allow tsar Petar I to come close to him - he simply bowed to the ruler from a far distance. So did Tsar Petar I.
Later on the Saint received gold as a gift from the tsar which he returned.
That action increased even more Ivan Rilsky's glory and many students joined him.
St. Ivan Rilski, those students and the houses he built for them were the beginning of the most famous Bulgarian monastery.
Before his death St. Ivan Rilski went in full privacy living in a cave above Rila monastery. He passed away on 18th August 946, almost 70-years-old and was buried in a stone tomb in the narthex of a little church. His tomb still exists and can be visited.
The relics of St. Ivan of Rila were first located in the Rila monastery, then transfered in the capital Serdica (now Sofia) by tsar Petar I where they continued to cure different sicknesses.
After one of the Hungarian-Bizantion wars there relics were taken by the Hungarian ruler to his own capital. Impressed, but also worried about the miracles the relics created there, the hunarians returned them to Serdica and then again transfered to the new capital of Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo.
The relics survived even the looting of the capital by the Othoman empire and with the agreement of the sultan they were finally returned to Rila monastery where they are still worshiped.