#RILA14 IN ENGLISH | Feel The Rila Monastery

#RILA is an annual expedition of students with the slogan “Feel the Rila Monastery” which includes several disciplines – Medieval Bulgarian Literature, Medieval Bulgarian Language, Anthropology, Architecture, Photography etc. The main purposes of this research is develop and expand knowledge, to analyze the students, who visit the monastery for the first time and to make an innovative international presentation for the cultural monument through thematic assignments with creative thinking, which will be uploaded here and translated in a number of languages. Sponsor of this project is the National Assembly of the Students’ Councils of Bulgaria.

#RILA is nominated for an annual prize at the BAIT Awards 2014 by the Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies. In 2015, it represents Bulgaria at European contests for projects connected to cultural heritage and student works. The expedition is on the list with initiatives that the organizers won 2nd Place on the National Award of Enlightenment 2016, under the patronage of the Minister of Education and Science of Bulgaria.

TRANSLATORS: KREMENA SPASOVA & VENERA DIMITROVA
EDITOR:VENERA DIMITROVA

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Dayana Borisova

An experience at the Rila Monastery.This is a place carrying somewhat mystical energy.You feel alive and at the same time insignificant. Unimportant amidst such a significant and holy place.The combination of natural and spiritual riches is priceless, and the experience-unmatched.

You can feel the energy even on the way to the monastery when a natural painting comes to life around you.The air is clean and the music that is carried around you comes from all kinds of wild birds, that leave in the area.You can not only see the Balcanic skylark but also the roaming falcon as they fly by.Here man and beast not only live in harmony but also human bows to the power of earthly and unearthly forces.

There are always tourists at the Rila Monastery.Even in bad weather conditions you will find someone that has come to pray for the health and well-being of their family.In spite of the huge groups visiting this holy place, there’s always a moment when you are all alone with God.The monastery itself radiates stability and strength and at the same time can make you feel the humbleness of the hundreds of people that visit it.This feeling of certainty that is created once you step into the center is a symbol of the Christian belief that has been preserved thanks to a majority of eminent priests, one of which is Ivan Rilski. The position of the monastery is such that sunlight can easily make its way through any window and even the smallest of corners.The Symbolism exists even in this case – the light of the speech, which is capable of shining with golden rays of knowledge, even the darkest soul.
The central temple “Nativity of the Holy Virgin” welcomes visitors with richly adorned murals, attracting with their colors.These live paintings, however, have a much deeper meaning which everyone must learn.At first glance-colorful murals, but in depth – the History of the Creation and the Holy Commandments. In the temple itself, the walls continue to unveil ancient biblical breves. You have to come in when making cross three times thus paying tribute to the Holy Trinity.The temple is the place where you feel the presence of God most strongly, and despite the people around you, you are left alone with yourself.You can sense the incredible peace and harmony coming from the light of the candles.You notice all kinds of different people, who, however, are doing the same thing – they are bowing down before God’s power and sending a personal prayer.It is interesting that in the House of God everyone is equal and that is felt once you look around and see poor and rich, young and old coming together because of the Christian belief.After lighting a candle, you go out of the temple, crossing yourself again while facing the altar. Going out of the temple it can be seen that not every layman knows Christian traditions and not be aware of what needs to be done at church.Despite that, the fact that they have come to the House of God shows a strong influence of Christian holiness and inspired hope, even in the worst of times.

South of the main entirety of the Rila Monastery, you can find the ossuary “Presentation of the Blessed Virgin”. The road to it is covered with greenery and accompanied by the wild dance of the Rila river.There is a feeling of great peace and quiet. Despite the belief that all ossuaries and cemeteries are scary and covered in darkness, “Presentation of the Blessed Virgin” radiates harmony and light. The reason for that is the natural picture, which embraces everything in its surroundings and makes everything becomes alive.The place itself inspires respect and every person feels in their heart that they must bow down before all the brothers in Rila’s Monastery unity.This area is holy and every single thought related to fear disappears because God’s chosen ones are buried here, serving only the Creator and his light.

Not to far from the Rila Monastery is the cave of Ivan Rilski. The path leading to the cave is covered with rocks and steeps, which symbolizes the hardships of the saint in his holy act.Embraced in greenery and a picturesque sight, man feels balanced and peaceful. Here the relationship between man and nature is materialized. Everyone realizes the might of Mother earth and that he is also a part of her. In the cave, you can feel the strong energy that comes from the holiness of the place and the hundreds of visitors that have come to pray and cleanse themselves over the years. This holy place tells the story of the historical person Ivan Rilski. It is very dark in the cave, but in spite of that you can light a few candles, where he slept. The crack through which you pass symbolizes mother nature’s womb from which everyone has originated. It is thought that who can crawl through the crack in the cave’s wall, is righteous. At the sight of the narrow space, many people feel uneasiness. Once you stand in front of the crack you should ask yourself: “Am I sinful?”. Many people accept this challenge with a smile, but anyone guesses for his sins, when it is his turn to pass.Overcoming this challenge is accompanied by a steep climb and an uncomfortable narrow space.Going out is easier for some, for others – not so much.But maybe that depends on the sins of every person. Once you have had crawled to the other side, you can feel a sense of relief. This experience is the equivalent of catharsis, of spiritual experience. In the beginning, you are dizzy from the euphoria, but after a few minutes feel the energy and peace from this holy place.

You are leaving the Rila’s area with the feeling of energy and new emotions. Centuries have reached – worth of history, you now keep this holy place inside your heart.From here on out, every time you hear about the Rila Monastery, your mind, and your soul will remind you of this day. You will want to come back and become one with Heaven and Earth, to be reborn again!

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Stefani Stefanova

The Hrelja’s Tower.This is one magnificent building, which arouses respect with its height and also with the coolness when you go inside.The climb starts climbing wooden stairs.Entering into the premises of the first floor, chills go up and down your body from the sight of the place, which has been used as a dungeon. A hole with gratings, complete prison, place of torture. Above the prison’s bars, there’s a chain, that makes it even scarier.

Once you head to the second floor, you are welcomed by high and narrow steps, which make climbing even worse because you are touching the cold and wet walls.While watching not to slip and fall down, you are amazed by the sight, that is revealed by the small windows in the tower.There are bars on the windows at the second floor, but you can still see the monastery.The higher you climb up the steps, the more beautiful becomes the view.From the last floors, you can see the green forest and under it the small peaks of the monastery. On the last floor, the fifth, where the chapel is, your breath stops while looking all around.. You feel like you can grab everything with your hands, almost reach out and touch the forest, but then realize that window glass stands in your way.
The second and the third floors are a service area while the fourth floor is for resting. There are different copies of murals of the temple on all walls. Unlike the other floors, on the fifth floor is quite bright and the so-called deadly freeze isn’t felt anymore That, of course, is maybe because you’ve warmed up on the way up.The fifth floor for me was like a labyrinth-passages, circles, turns, you go back from where you came, you pass those who you’ve already passed.Here is the temple “Transfiguration of Christ” with uncommon iconography.The oldest image of Ivan Rilski is kept In the east part of the temple.

The descent down the stairs is a real thrill, then you’re going to wonder, whether will become a prisoner, stumbling.As I went outside, I felt the warm breeze and thought to myself of the way of life that we all live. Despite all the technology and comfort that we possess, we are still light-years behind the people, for example, who have lived in towers as this one. But is the difference only in the way of life or is it in the way of thinking?

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Radostina Pavlova

What is the first thing one sees when he goes to the Rila Monastery? Usually it’s the exquisiteness of the monastery, with its gorgeous murals.The second thing, that is noticed, is the nature.At least for me. Surrounded by tons of greenery, the monastery is a wonderful place to spend your days.In spite of the huge amount of greenery, the inhabitants of this holy place were still able to create small flower gardens all around the monastery.That really impressed me.Flowers. They are the only missing things on this area.
Have you noticed how exuberances are the murals on the walls in the church, the one placed at the center of the monastery? Did you peer carefully at the elegance of the iconography?A bunch of grapes, petals and flowers. Here and there is a representative of the animal kingdom complementary divine abode. From all sides, you are embarrassed by God’s work. And every little detail that you notice, makes the monastery blossom in your mind like a beautiful flower. A flower was given to us by God so we could come closer to him, and ourselves.

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Vladimira Vladimirova

Bulgaria is a piece of heaven. Such immense natural riches on such a small area. The collected and synchronized natural resources in this majestic country, bring tourists from all over the world and makes its citizens proud.The Rila area, however, is not only a geography landmark, a museum attraction and an anthropological tourist resource, but is also a holy space.Majestic and secluded.

Right at the entrance of the monastery, even with yours first inhale, you can feel the excitement from your first encounter with this holy area. It is hard to put in words just how slowly and painfully the time runs out while I was listening to the introduction during the expedition.I wasn’t even paying attention, I was constantly looking around, trying to glimpse something through the doors. The first thing that impressed me were the murals before the entrance to the monastery. I had the feeling that I could sit on the bench all day and stare at the majestic mural. But alas, do not have enough time for that.

And so we went.I passed through the door and ended up in the heart of all these incredible murals.But when I saw the mighty stone walls and iron doors, I felt immense safety.It was like they could protect me.It was as if nature had collected all of its multi-colours in one place.I was convinced of the validity of all shades of green. Neither yellow nor white nor any other color can beat the greatness of green.And the beautiful mountain and the background of the monastery so enveloped in the mist. The ancient pine stretched branches so close to the monastery’s walls. It is a great feeling as if you are in another dimension.It is not an accident that so many authors have glorified the majesty of the monastery’s area.

Wherever you look, stone tablets have kept the ancient history, they can send you back in the time.You start to imagine the countless crowds of pilgrims, the luxuriant festivities, the monks.

The main church “Nativity of the Holy Virgin”, placed in the center of the monastery, was painted everywhere. Everywhere you turn murals.The smell of frankincense almost cleanses you soul. The peace, with which you are filled when you step inside, is inexplicable.You forget all your troubles and you stare at the same things for minutes-on-end without even realizing it.The golden lace at the altar, in which beautiful birds, angels and suns were tangled, will always stay in my memory.The grandeur of this gorgeous altar, and, of course, the excitement of the moment, made the experience of paying tribute to Ivan Rilski all the more exhilarating. It was incredible how much respect I had towards the saint.

The mystical aroma of the temple will always stay with me in spirit.The cleanse that I felt after I had visited this holy place, re-charged me with strength. I felt purified from all dark and foul moments in my life.
I had visited the monastery when I was little but never have I seen it in this light. Age, maturity, and knowledge gained over the past few years gave me the chance to experience this holy area in a different way.

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Diana Savova

At the place where dozens have searched for a way to connect directly to God and talk to him, was the same place we were able, even for a moment, to separate ourselves from the chaos of the city life. Taking in the atmosphere of the Rila Monastery, mentally we returned back when-when Ivan Rilski lived in these places. In this way, we were almost able to experience that which he had experienced. Not only the monastery itself, but also nature, made us to forget about all the problems we had and to fall in love with this place, and completely immerse ourselves in this experience. Maybe a piece of us stayed there, along with all our hopes and dreams. Even if we don’t feel any different or if we don’t realize it, everyone learned something about everyone else on this trip. The important thing is that at some level we are more enriched now and that leaves a bright image in my consciousness.

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Gabriela Daganova

Majestic mountain is the only one
that hermit who was chosen by her to keep him till none!
Because of the powerful embrace of huge rocks
or because of the mysterious power of ancient forests!
Perhaps because of the gentle breath of wind
sent by God to bear the good news!
Or because this lush, fiery river
magically touched by the hand of God.
Hear the voice and whisper it: Open your heart for goodness!
Let the light shine fiery
and lit up your face with heat!
You hear her in this quiet night
magic water tells of God’s power!
She whispers, and I listen to it with interest.
Close your eyes and hear honeymoon and voice;
it will tell you about the past days,
more distant from those of our ancestors!
Unimaginable power is in the water mountains
but only pure heart draws on the magic and wealth;
only those who see with your heart, not the mind
fail to take the path to knowledge and kindness!

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Petya Krusteva

The Rila Monastery, Sofia, even the world which we used to inhabit, are all radically different.They have only a few similarities and the contrast is strong and deeply expressed. Even just on the visible surface, they all differ in many ways.It is almost as if there are two dimensions of the same world, alternate universes, which almost cross each other.Worlds that everyone can reach and enter, and become a part of them, even for an hour or two, and afterward be able to return to the everyday life, routines and behavior.
The feeling of this experience is unique, it can’t be compared with going to the movies or for a walk, for example. It’s different, more specific, more unusual. It is phenomenal event-how often does it happen for a regular person, drowned in his work, repeating the same old routine every day, with a full schedule, to visit such an emotional, historical, and holy place. Rarely, almost never. The peace that embraces you is weird at first if I could say so for myself. We are not accustomed to this state of mind, in which we do not have to worry about anything or analyze the situations, or even think about what is going to happen next.
The chaos and disorder of the city are almost forgotten, the situation almost literally fascinates you. Nature has hidden this little corner from the world which has no power over this place, it is failed to burn and to ruin it.Tired of getting up early, insanely long journey, you are so much away from your comfort zone – all of this is left in the background, is gone without you know. Now you don’t need to sleep, have no headache, do not irritate the little things that usually irritating you. Your brain cleanses itself from all thoughts, questions, and worries. The time seems to have stopped, there is no power over you now, it does not oppress and bother people as usually does.
The massive nature has enveloped the monastery, is hidden in its depths and has become an indispensable part of it.Nature has adopted it, accustomed with it. It looks natural, right, complete. Imagine a monastery in the center of Sofia, for instance.It’s almost contraindicated, the city is one dirty place, literally and fictionally.Cities are filled with injustice, ugliness and obscenity; they follow the social norms that often revolve around the morals; people are so stressed out, always hurry, always late, they could not feel anything in the way we succeeded.
It all might sound exaggerated, like some kind of propaganda or a free advertisement, but the idea is different.The feeling itself, once you cross the doorsteps of the temple, once you see all the murals that even outside have already caught your attention, the lighted candles, all of that absorbs you somehow.Your whole awareness is caught up in it, your senses start to perceive everything in a different way.Your mind takes a step back, it doesn’t try to analyze and see what is going to happen next, it is not trying to seclude itself, it just accepts this conception of the world that feels unfamiliar.You break away from your home, from the people, from yourself. Feeling came over you, the feeling that you have denied so far, even had laughed over it. But there, even for a little bit, you can find some little piece of mental harmony that has escaped from you thus far. If you let yourself feeling it of course- if you let the logics, the doubts, and the prejudice take a step back.
The more you separate from the monastery, the more you start notice the difference between the world, whom you know, and the other – beyond the temple, where laws and customs don’t matter, where people confide to different values, where good and evil are separated.

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Lora-Magdalena Petrova

I had slept about 3 hours the previous night, which was the reason that I could not stand more than 15 minutes before fall asleep in the bus. As a result of that I couldn’t see all the sights on the way.At some point, someone shared that he had seen a stork. I looked around, but like every time, this year I do not have enough luck, to see one.

In the Rila Monastery, as soon as I entered, my eyes started noticing more and more images of animals each and every one of them symbolizing something.There were mainly birds. Between the balconies, a few different kinds were displayed. Well-known is that the birds are the symbols of God’s essence and the sky…
As we were entering the church, right before crossing the doorsteps, I looked up and I saw something like a calendar – the months were written in a circle. Above each month, there were painted animals or people showing the astrological sign to every month on the year.

Around the temple I came across a lot more images of birds, a fountain with the main emphasis on birds: white, black, and on the top of it- there is the most important – the golden bird, that chirping towards the forest. I can’t miss mentioning the flying horses (called Pegasus in mythology), which were a transport of God. There is something so magical in this image.Of course, in these countless paintings, drawn by the church, a lot of Underworld displays were also presented. The Devil and the seven sins – were clearly negatively displayed. In one of these masterpieces, demons pull men from well-off families into hell. Around them, however, are animals similar to pigs, and from their mouths stretch hands towards the demons. A sinister image, sadly unexplainable for me.Or maybe the people have turned into dirty animals while traveling to the hell with outstretched hands?A little further down was the underwater world.It looked peaceful, the water was full with all kinds of sea creatures. A water nymph holding a ship in her hands and radiating bliss. The Goddess of the Sea is probably doing well with controlling the waters and sea creatures. The next image showing how dogs licking the feet of a half-naked man, perhaps to clean them up.These animals always have been man’s best friend…

And somewhere in all this was the white dove. Elevated. entering the church, it was there- the dove- almost everywhere once you begin to look for it. In the temple, around the relics of saint Ivan Rilski, as well as in so many other places that a person usually doesn’t notice, was a sculpted majestic bird- the dove.It is a symbol of the holy spirit. Therefore in the images is pure white, that’s why is exalted.
And on the pedestal where the priest says the prayer, and on the highest place right above the relics of the saint, the eagle stands, looking up to the sky. This creature carries the symbolism about a myth to Ivan Rilski who turned into an eagle after his death and flying to the sky. His image is not present everywhere in vain.
And somewhere deep in my imagination trying to find more types of animals, I noticed the lions, sculpted just like on the Bulgarian Coat of Arms.Little cubs were sculpted right under the priests’ feet.Under the lower back was a hydra.

My eyes have been encountering birds. If I had forgotten for a moment that they weren’t alive, I would have imagined how have made a plaintive cry to heaven to pick them up there.
The visited Hrelja’s Tower was marked with the symbol of the animal world – the honorary lion.
The other entrance of the monastery there is a lion and a deer, high painted.

I was surprised by the huge presence of animals. I wonder how many times I have looked at a certain object without actually having seen it! This time was different-I was able to notice the small things. A million stories could probably be told about every creature present there. I may have failed to mention all, but I learned a lot.
On the way back to Sofia, we saw two wild horses, a donkey, a cat and its kitten. The free animals don’t even know about the nasty way of life of urban animals. The small houses with smoking chimneys, the green lawns, and the mountain, preserving every creature of that which we tried to escape, even for a day. These animals were different from the others.

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Atanas Neychev

I touched. I felt. I saw. I remembered. And I will continue to remember. It is not my first time at the Rila Monastery, from the first makes me feel at home, like this time with Bulgarian Philology. No matter where you look, enjoying the amazing and the fantastic, you can see signs that are useful, knowledgeable. At the bottom of the church, there is a description of the sins. While I was reading and translating everything written on and around the church, I did not think how to analyze it, but rather why is it written and what is its purpose. Going through the cave we experienced a rebirth, a cleanse. That means that all sins are removed and we can pile on new ones, and at the moment when we are feeling guilty, we could come back and go through the cave again. To cleanse ourselves and keep ourselves pure, in spite of all reasons for our guilt. The speech does not show the idea that we can be sinful, but rather excused, and it teaches us to be better and how to control our needs for sinfulness. Let us be nice, let us be more than just walking bodies, and to respect holy places, we cannot deny how powerful they are and how touching the deepest part of everyone’s souls, despite how “cool and modern” we are trying to be.

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Veronika Stoimenova

I would say that if someone decides to visit the Rila Monastery, they first should forget about all problems that have, and also to pick the right company for the trip. The journey to the monastery is one beautiful and unforgettable experience. The clean air, the peace, and the beauty of the place, feel you with harmony. It is important with what attitude you are going into the Rila monastery, It is important with what attitude you going in Rila Monastery, but even more important is the feeling inside you when you will leave the place.
I am happy that our trip became a reality.I had a great day. I am sure that for my colleagues were interesting to go there, to see and hear the story of each picture, each mural is confident that the company of my colleagues made this adventure even more interesting for me.Every trip brings us closer together. The traveling with them anywhere is equal to fun times and long conversations. Despite the fact that we are many people in the major and many groups, it did not prevent us to have fun together and live here and now. Taking in consideration that there are people, who are close friends, and such that are in love with each other, even all of this makes us even closer. In addition to my colleagues, some of our favorite teachers were with us. They were curious and took photos of everything that was more interesting for them.

The thing that impressed me was the fact that there were many tourists, who had come to see the monastery.
I can say for myself and for a moment I have not been biased for this trip. I wanted to visit the monastery quite a while, and I am glad that happened, and again I experienced wonderful emotions with these people. The Rila Monastery is a nice place, which energizes you with positive emotions, no matter how you perceive it I have done mountain trekking in the Rila, when Maliovica peak was climbed, the breathtaking view from the top motivates you even more to explore the beauty and nature of the country. When you see the monastery from the inside, you will get more knowledge about the deeds of Ivan Rilski and all other saints, and will feel yourself spiritually enlightened by emotions, that you will remember for a long time. As Vazov said in his poem -“Now I am at home – I am not a stranger here”.We saw several cats and dogs while were outside. This place welcomes everything and everyone.
Looking around we spent enough time at the monastery to seal up our memories, and also to try the delicious mekici. Even the weather was favorable. When we left, started raining.

We also went to the cave where Ivan Rilski had lived. There we left our wishes, looked around inside and afterward successfully got out, although with slight difficulty. Our trip mixed the pleasure and the business. We learned a lot of interesting things and had a wonderful time. This was our first a day trip, with aim learning.
It is a recommendation for every Bulgarian to visit the Rila Monastery at least once. It is the oldest and biggest monastery in Bulgaria. It has a rich history and is also an invaluable landscape, adding to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage. Еvery man experiences different his stay in the monastery, but more important is to go there and to become one with nature.

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Nikolay Genov

Over the sky
Real sky
in the golden light of
expanse that;
inside of me
reincarnated a child
and kindle in arms of
God …

As a step
jump with the wind,
as flight in turbulent spark seven;
as a word – a real lesson
to remind;
to remind Heaven!

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Christina Ivanova

A few days ago I had the unique chance to visit the Rila Monastery for the third time.This is the most incredible and secluded place I have ever visited.There is so much positive energy, that it embraces you and it makes you feel closer to God and to yourself.You start to think about life and the world surrounding you.

The feeling cannot be expressed in words, it needs to be experienced-your breath stops and your heart beats faster and faster.You start to realize that only God can judge you, and your belief in him can help you.When you are at the Rila Monastery, you are actually in a different world, in a different place far away from everything unholy and tainted!At night, once I got back home from the holy place, I realized that this was the most peaceful day I’ve had in a while.My mind and my soul were cleansed from all worries and bad things.This was the day I was closest to God and mostly to myself, and the ones close to me, whether in a visible or non-visible way.I was able to get close to the monastery and it got close to the deepest parts of my mind and soul, and I am extremely thankful about this opportunity.I haven’t really paid attention to this before because the previous times I have gone there were when I was a kid… Now it’s different, the hope and belief at this holy place reached me and will stay with me forever!

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Madlen Dimitrova

The dictionary describes the word “door” like this: a tool used to open and close an entrance in a wall, fence, through which one goes in and out. Perhaps everyone who hears this word imagines the door of his own home. This is completely normal and natural. Of course, this word can have a million figurative meanings, create other analogies, to be read differently in a certain context. We use this word so often that don’t even think about this. A word from our everyday life, which material function we have transformed into something that creates a distance, rather than creating an opportunity. And the door, before anything else, does exactly that – it opens.

When a person visits a certain place – a sightseeing, a historical landmark, a national tourist attraction, a holy monastery, the God’s home or any other monument of that kind, he does not think what exactly will be exposed in front of him. Often he is there only as a tourist, a fan, just a visitor, or observer. He sees things that cannot always explain, understand or penetrate. It does not matter, if he is a local or a foreigner, if he understands the language or not, he is there. There is only one thing that matters – how he feels and what emotions will breed this place, a monument or a building in front of him.

Since the tenth century, the Rila Monastery has become one of the most iconic and cultural monuments in Bulgaria. Its history can be read in dozens of languages on the Internet. It cannot be left out as a fact, that as a symbol of Bulgaria the monastery is one of the holiest places for every Bulgarian. Perhaps there is no Bulgarian who has not visited this place at least once in his life. The peace that is created there is amazing. The atmosphere, the air, the image – everything is different and one of a kind. Going there for the second time (first conscious), new, specific, interesting, and beautiful things showed themselves to me. My visual perspective about the monastery completely changed. There is only one way in which I can describe this place. It is the following: The human body is like a closed system. From the Christianity point of view, it is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Every monastery is a peculiar society, a home for priests and nuns.It is also a closed system.

When you stop and stand in front of the walls of the Rila Monastery, the first thing that catches your eyes is majestic and at the same time humble façade of the main entrance. Even before you enter, you are filled with the sensation of holiness and spiritual. Еntering just before you step into the cloister, white horns appear above your head, in the center of which is placed a small camera. Going into the yard, a beautiful sight reveals in front of your eyes – a church, a medieval tower, the floors of the monastery. And all of that is one whole, homey, warm and welcoming place, filled with peace. Everything has its own place, there is nothing superfluous. On your right side, you can see a door that leads to the post office, on your left, there are stairs that lead to the upper floors, where the priests and nuns live, after that there is a door above which writes “Monastery bookstore”. Your eyes are drawn to the center of the yard, where is the main temple – the church “Nativity of the Holy Virgin”. At first you look at the dome, but then your eyes stop on the entrance of the church and painted outside walls Walking towards it, you unknowingly look at everything again. And then you will notice how different and how many small doors this place has. There are inscriptions above some, but most of them do not have, others look more like windows than doors. They all have one quality – an entrance to one micro world, which will remain hidden for visitors to the monastery, a world that is known only to the inhabitants of this holy place.

And then I thought about the function of the doors. I wondered for what this place reminds me with the feelings it creates within me, why I want to look through each of those doors, no hidden, but remain locked for my eyes. The only analogy that came to my mind was that this place is in its own way like the human body, one temple of the Holy Spirit. The walls are the outer shell and inside is the soul. The central temple is the heart while the Hrelja’s tower with the chapel “Transfiguration of Christ” is the brain. Everything inside is connected just like in the human body. And the doors, which don’t give you any idea where they lead or what is behind them, illustrate the secrecy of the human soul. The soul that has its own weird, unknown places, which only God knows where they lead and what guard.

And so, I answered my question – the doors that attracted my attention, are seemingly a natural part of the monastery, they have a double function – to indicate the next wonderful place, but also to stay closed, to seclude and to stop you. In both cases, they interest you, wake up and provoke your imagination. The most curious thing is that you do not feel close to the exit even for a moment. Wherever you look, wherever you go, everything leads to something else, it never sends you away.

The Rila Monastery is a place that needs to be visited at least once in a lifetime. For some, one time would be more than enough, for others it won’t be, but one thing is for sure – one time is enough. Because once you visit that holy place, will feel like have never walked away from there. It stays with you and within you.

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Simona Krushkina

At the moment you are entering up into the yard of the Rila Monastery, realize that this place is really different, unique.And you will see how people have turned every corner of the complex into a money maker. It’s disappointing!
The traders around the monastery (and not only around it – the picture is the same around every religious monument in Bulgaria) take advantage of the faith of the people while trying to sell them spiritual crosses, rosaries and icons on an unreasonably high price. Of course, it is a matter of personal choice if you are going to buy something, but people get fooled by the word “illuminated” because they need to know that something cares and protects them. Others, however, give their money for tasteless trinkets that have a clear souvenir purpose- as a memory of the Rila monastery?!

But is this supposed to be our memory of such a place- trinkets with a suspicious origin?Isn’t it more important to experience the holiness, to discover the mystical beauty that the monastery radiates?

I do not want to say bad things about this place, because when you are there, you are in different world, but the reality is this – the religion today is being turned into a very profitable business! But instead of giving spiritual contemplation, to merge oneself with the energy of the place, to forget about the hectic lifestyles, you come across on this things.

Truthfully speaking, in churches – ever since they exist – have been marketing with indulgences, with candles, with people’s destinies; and at the stores outside – with belief; the offered range of good is not small at all…This is so pitiful and wrong! We have to think that when we have made belief in trade – business trade, aren’t we destroying everything holy, that has been left to us in this deceptive, cruel world?

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Irina Dimitrova

To be able to get close to this miraculous place has been able to savor a big part of Bulgarian history, this is something amazing. Ruined, robbed, destroyed and burned down, it still rising – centuries one after another – like a Phoenix of Orthodoxy, and protects Bulgaria with its blessing from the immortal Father Superior – Saint Ivan Rilski. I doubt that there is a Bulgarian, no matter the age, that would not want to lead his, foreign guests, exactly there. And the admiration and reverence of these guest, deservingly makes him feel proud of his ancestry and history.

Nearing this holy place you are feeling free, cleansed and peaceful. Even for a short time you can separate yourself from hectic city life, there in the mountain surrounded by clean air, peace, and tranquility. With this feeling, I was able to reach the temple and from there to the protector Saint Ivan Rilski. This will be one of the things, which will be remembered about my first visit to the most majestic temple in Bulgaria.
I would not hesitate to spend a little time and to visit this holy place in the future – a heavenly nook, separated from the city noise, clean and rousing.

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Marina Voykova

There is probably no one that has not visited the Rila Monastery because it embodies the emblem of Bulgarian awareness, that has been preserved over the years.This place was a center for sheltering Bulgarians during the Ottoman slavery, but it is also a place where Christianity finds a very bright reflection.

The task that I was given wasn’t at all easy because is harder than it seems. The eyes help us to know the world around us. They give to us the opportunity to see every color, every move, every human being. With just a glance, we can show our approval, our loathing, your kindness, and so on. It is the same with iconographies, but of course, the difficulty is a lot higher, because everything in this art has some kind of symbolism. The eyes have to be kind because they are the key to the soul for every saint. There are specific techniques used to create the feeling that the eyes of the certain person drawn into the iconography, are following you, which without a doubt is filled with symbolism that I am going to explain later on.

One day isn’t enough to see every single iconography at the temple of the Rila Monastery. Each icon is so different, but at the same time is connected with the others. Right at the entrance, your eyes are fixed on the door, and more accurately, around it, where the angels or the so-called protectors of the temple, are placed. Their stares are directed to the visitors of this House of God. From the point of view of the symbolic thinking, these angels call every person to enter the temple, their eyes show hospitality and give the idea, that everyone is welcome in the House of the Lord, even the sinners, because they can also find their salvation.

In front of the altar of the temple, icons of many Saints are placed – of the Virgin Mary, of Jesus Christ, and also the Saint to whom the temple is devoted – Ivan Rilski. If anyone looks at one of the icons at the altar and gazes into the images, he will see that the images are almost real and somehow alive. If our position changes but our gaze stay onto the eyes of the icon image, we will feel how the eyes follow us. This way, every Christian, which has visited the temple, will have the feeling that he is protected and looked after the Saints. At the temple, no one can feel alone because the eyes of the Saints always look after him.

It is interesting to mention that the eyes have a connection with the individual scenes in the murals. If you follow the eyes of a random image from a mural, you can see logical how they refer to some other scene. The angels of the iconographies always follow a certain person, because they are the ones, sent by God, who protect us.
To those who visit the temple, the feeling that they are protected by the angels cannot be wrong. The eyes always seem incredibly realistic, as human.This is so because the images have to re-create their own presence and their contact with the humans.

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Fatme Mustafa

The idea of God as an absolute, as in Christianity and Islam, is basically the same: God is almighty, immortal, beyond time and space, the Creator of all that is and will be. Both religions are monotheistic – they believe in the existence of only one God, who on one hand is a Creator of everything that exists, and on the other, exists beyond the metaphysical space.
For every religious man, no matter – a Christian or a Muslim, one of the biggest pleasures is when he visits the House of God. Entering at it, you feel God’s presence, you know and believe that God exists, that he is there, and there is no need for proof of his existence because you can feel him in your heart and soul.
I am a Muslim and I am not afraid to say it because I believe that every person has the right to believe in the God, who feels closest to his heart. There is no doubt that Bulgaria is my native land, I live here as a woman professing Islam and at the same time, like all sisters in Bulgaria, I fight every single day with the endless challenges who stands on my way. I live with mixed feelings of sadness, pain, happiness, by everything that happens in our country, no matter what it is. Despite the fact that my beliefs are different, I respect and support the same of my friends, who are Christians. I believe that every House of God, no matter – a mosque or a church, is filled with a lot of energy, prayers, and memories. I am happy because yesterday I had the chance to visit a miraculous Christian home, that made me tingle and to feel the big amount of energy and faith which was there.As I was stepping into the Rila Monastery, I felt something strange.I felt an energy, something I can’t describe with words.Some people might find it weird, but I know it to be true because I felt it with all my being.
After I saw the remains of Saint Ivan Rilski, I felt a whole rainbow of different feelings – fear, humbleness, respect, pain. For me, that was not ordinary because we do not practice such things. It was the first time that I had seen the remains of a Saint and I got really sad. I was amazed that for hundreds of years these remains have carried from one place to another, and everywhere they have worn their miraculous power. I believe that every religion has its own miracles, and I know that the God which we believe in is, in fact, one, no matter how we call him. I want to mention one fact that honestly intrigued me. I do not know why but entering into the central part of the monastery, I felt this huge tension, my head was going to explode, and I do not exaggerate. I even shared this with some of my colleagues, but they just smiled at me and told me that was probably my imagination, but I am sure it was not. I really felt some kind of power and it scared me, I felt that there is not my place. As if something did not allow me to be there, and the most interesting part is when I was going out from the temple and the tension disappeared. It sounds weird, I know, but I really felt it.
It is difficult to make a comparison between entering the monastery and a mosque. When I go inside the mosque I feel different. I feel a certain satisfaction, I know that this is the place where I can be closest to God, and that calms me down. I know my colleagues felt the same way in the monastery, because they believe in it, and there is nothing more important than belief.
The faith keeps the person in the most difficult moments, no matter what we believe in, the important thing is to do it with your whole being, and that will help for our spiritual maturation. I knew one thing for sure, it does not matter if I am a Muslim or a Christian when the place is holy, a faithful person can feel it with his heart, no matter the religion. I felt the power of the monastery and now I feel a lot better, somehow energized.
This day somehow changed me, everything was so beautiful and re-energizing. Nature was so hypnotizing, and after climbing to the grave of Saint Ivan Rilski and passing through the cave, I really felt cleansed. I am astounded of the energy of this holy place, and I will go there many times more. It is worth seeing and most of all the feeling.
I can analyze and compare holy temples all day, but the truth is one, man feels best where he wants to be, when a person believes in the existence of salvation, and no matter who he is and where he comes from, if today and tomorrow feels safe on this place and believes in its sacred power, thеn he truly is faithful. The only condition is to wear this faith with yourself like one small piece of us that creates our whole being, because the believers reach to places where an unbelieving person can not. This is the way we come to immortality, and more precisely, to God.

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Kaloyan Petrov

Peace and quiet – it is surprising how easy it is to feel at home to an unfamiliar place like this. Intricately are interwoven the cultural line, dedicated to the spirituality, and the wildlife. When someone imagines how people feel the eternal need to leave something behind, it is impossible not to smile. So anything you can touch, see, hear and feel with your soul, interlaces to the man like it is subservient to the great force of a genius. If someone allowed to be obsessed by this secret and keep his mind and his senses open, then the secret would be transformed to ascension and greatness. I was like a researcher, awakened by his passion for observing and noticing everything in deep details because each of these details is constructive and even one missing thing could change the notion that deviates it from the desired truth – the discovery.

With this attitude, I got off the bus, but at the first minutes the wildlife captured my mind, and I became more wild creature than a researcher. Nature is a home for everybody, it gives me the air which I breathe and the earth that I walk on. Despite that, my initial intentions were not left unfulfilled, and this is something in which everyone can make sure.

Sadly, the time was limited, and this visit insufficient to become onе with everything – buildings, people, trees and leaves, bugs and other small creatures, stones, soil, water, fire, and metal. This is why for the Rila Monastery you should be prepared – I will visit it again and this time armed and ready – with my eyes, my hands out of my pockets, my feet, and my mind.

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Maria Petrova

My visit to the Rila Monastery definitely impressed me. The main thing that caught my eye when we went inside were the murals. They surround whole outside and inside façade of the church. Every mural depicts different scenes.
The church “Nativity of the Holy Virgin” is the central temple of the Rila Monastery. The medieval church, built by Hrelio Dragovol and named to him, existed until 1834 when by a decision of the monastery brotherhood, was destroyed, and in its place was built today’s church. The church of Rila Monastery was built according to the model of the “Mount Athos” type. It is a domed basilica with five domes in the shape of a cross. There are two chapels dedicated to St. Nicholas and St. Ivan Rilski on the north and the south side. On the outside façade, the main noticeable thing is the division of Heaven and Hell. The second takes less space in the murals, but it is noticeable. The colors, that were used, are dark and creepy enough to represent Hill’s main function and its true image. The furies are depicted as demons like the suffering sinners. The soul is depicted as a naked body. The devils punish a man for sins committed by him – perjury, theft, murder, etc. The body itself is not being punished, more like the psychological being of a person is being punished. For example, things connected with the mystical and the fortune-telling. In this case not only diviners are punished, the people that believe in them also. Every soul suffers its punishment, by the way, the sin is committed. The punishing demons are created by us and through repentance we can get rid of them.

Other showed scenes of aerial tollhouse. The soul was not depicted as a naked body but as an infant. This image actually shows the purity and innocence of every soul. However, whether it will be deprived depends entirely by the man. The demons are like tax-collectors. When someone does not pay his share of the vow, the demons show the injustice and punish him.

This process does not take a big part of the murals. But in spite of that, it is present, because it is clear that if there is good and proper, there is and evil. The truth goes hand in hand with injustice. The man is created with good and with not so good qualities. He can make mistakes at any one moment, but he must know that every mistake has a price. And every action is equal in strength to its reaction.

For me, there should not be a person which has not been at least once close to this energy, radiating from this place. It is a place where you can ask yourself many questions, certainly you will get the answers as long as you look around. When a person has faith in himself, it can not remain indifferent to this situation and even he does not want to know anything, he learn many things. This was my first visit to the Rila Monastery, but it won’t be the last.

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Victoria Toncheva

Did I feel the power of the Rila Monastery? I do not know. But it certainly became a part of me. As it would become a part of anyone that realizes the strength of this holy abode. It is a place where “becoming one” has a whole new meaning – more honest and more valuable.

One trip that takes you a few centuries back – a time when the martyrdom and the trials were necessary in order to gain strength and faith. There, in the “desert”, exactly faith has what has kept the identity of the Bulgarian. The monastery exudes respect out of which you shudder, but the real awareness is somewhere within the Rila forest, which hides the home of the miracle worker Joan, far away from the vanity and the temptation.

The Rila monastery is a holy place for me, as a part of the whole orthodox society that protects the emotion which every Christian feels when he is meeting with the relics of such a radiant and well-known angel. This is my third visit to the monastery. The first time, we probably admire the beauty of the building in the middle of the forest in a totally childish way. The second time, with knowledge only in the field of history, I appreciated how important is the place for Bulgaria. But now, for the third time, I was able to look deeper into the soul of the monastery and finally to see the beautiful murals that embrace the whole church. I was able to open my eyes and to comprehend the meaning of word “touch”.

The trip ends, you get on the car and go back to your daily life. But once tasted the sweetness of Rila, you are forever marked. Even if you are far, you can mentally go back. As Hermann Hesse wrotе in “Siddhartha”: “There is one place of peace inside you, a sanctuary, where you can go at any time to be yourself.”

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Rosalina Lazarova

Have you ever paid attention how exactly you hold your hands and why? If a person’s goal is to notice the body language, he will understand a lot about people’s feelings, ideas, even their thoughts. That was also my individual task on the a day trip to the Rila monastery – what hands of people express at different moments. Most impressed me the expression of emotions in the monastery. 90% of the time my colleagues kept their hands folded over his chest. Now, you are probably thinking: “it is just a comfortable pose”. But no…Every gesture has an explanation. The crossed hands usually mean uncertainty, danger, even a tested assessment. They represent a shield. People who stand like that want to protect themselves from something or to cover themselves from someone’s looks and shadow. I noticed a different variation of the same pose, but this time the hands were crossed in a low down. The meaning is the same – alienation amongst other people. Another remarkable thing is the hands of the Saints. Most of the time they stand with hands behind their backs. This gesture undoubtedly demonstrates fearlessness, authority, superiority.

After the most intimate moment in the church, namely the prayer, the index finger, the thumb and the middle finger, are collected in one to form a cross above the top part of our bodies. This way we send our prayers to God with our hopes to be fulfilled.

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Andrean Petrov

There are many remarkable monuments that can be seen and felt in the Rila Monastery. Walking where Saints and believers centuries ago have walked, we feel the blissful tranquility emanating from the huge walls of the monastery hidden in the woods, deep in the mountain. I have been here many times and despite that everything looks chaotic at first glance, I have noticed that every stone was stepped on is just a small part of the holiness of the place. We walk on the same paths that had walked in the past from some of the biggest Saints.

And outside of the monastery, a little bit further into the mountain, there is a path, hidden and supported with faith. This path had walked by thousands of people searching peace in the old abodes of Saint Ivan Rilski. Every step leading to the cave where he lived is somewhat made by God’s will and by every foot passing there – stones were created in the woods, white and smooth as if they are from a heavenly tower. I climbed up the path and thought to myself how God has created it so even the most incapable man to come and to pray in the name of the Saint Ivan Rilski.

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Venera Dimitrova#RILA14 IN ENGLISH | Feel The Rila Monastery