Fr. Stoyan, from the Holy Trinity Church in the Bulgarian town of Dobrich, has for over eight years been helping people who have fallen on hard times. In 2004, at his initiative a shelter was built as an addition to the church where he has served as rector since 1997. Here, people who have lost all hope in the future can find refuge. The priest stretches out his hand to help scores of needy people; single mothers and their children, orphans, the elderly, and the simply desperate. They all find hope after meeting this Christian.
This man of God is famous for his mercy throughout Bulgaria. His uncle, Fr. Georgy, was the first of his relatives to become a priest. He was also Fr. Stoyan's spiritual father. Stoyan was brought up in the faith, and remembers from his early childhood how his uncle turned his parents’ house into a church in the village of Zheglartsy. In 1962, Stoyan entered the seminary. The first to become priests in his family were his two brothers, the twins Marin and Nedyalko, and then the older brother; even one of his sisters is graduating from the theological department.
Fr. Stoyan does not drive a large car and does not make use of his status as a servant of God to better his material standing. More than that, he has built seven churches and one monastery, feeds the hungry, gives shelter to the poor, and comforts the despairing.
In 2003, three brothers, Moslems, came to this priest hoping to find food and a roof over their head. One of the brothers was named Erkhan. Fr. Stoyan says that he is a kind and honest fellow. The three brothers would help Fr. Stoyan from day to day, building churches in various villages. Erkhan would listen to Fr. Stoyan's instructions with great thirst and reverence, and the priest's kindness had a strong influence on him, despite their differing religions.
Erkhan was a Moslem, but the more time he spent with the Christian Stoyan, the more he saw the priest’s striving to do good, the more he wanted to change his religious views. His wife Tanya is a Christian. They had been without children for thirteen years. His wife easily conceived, but every time, late in the pregnancy, the child would die. This happened nine times.
Spending time with Fr. Stoyan and other priests, Erkhan saw them serving molebens, and he began to secretly go to the church and pray for Tanya and himself. He had a crisis in his Moslem faith at the moment when his again pregnant wife had another miscarriage in the fifth month of pregnancy. In despair, Erkhan asked Fr. Stoyan to baptize him, although he knew that his mother, who was against his marriage to Tanya, would be very pained at this. Nevertheless, he resolved to take this step.
His parents were zealous Moslems—his father taught himself to read the Koran, and carried it around with him, often retelling stories from it to Erkhan. Nevertheless, he made the request of Erkhan's mother for her son's permission to be baptized. In 2009, Erkhan received the Christian faith with the name Emil Ivanov, and later, Emmanuel. The man of God Stoyan became his spiritual instructor.
Whether it was by the strength of his new faith or for the sake of his humility and enormous desire, we don't know; but in 2010 a miracle happened: Emmanuel's wife gave him a healthy son, who they baptized with the name Alexander. It was the birth of the child for whom had he long waited and suffered that inspired him to study in the theological seminary, and become even more convinced of the power of the Christian religion. On December 27, 2012, Emmanuel was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Kirill of Varna.
Now Father Deacon is ready to begin the path to the priesthood—although his ordination into the deaconate was a greatly unexpected event for him. It took place at the personal decision of Metropolitan Kirill. Before this, Emmanuel served as a subdeacon and altar attendant. Now as a deacon he has the right to read certain prayers in church. His first-born son Alexander is also learning to read: he says the "Our Father".
The baptism of Erkhan is not without precedent in these parts. He is not the first Moslem who has decided to change his religion after getting to know Fr. Stoyan. Nikolina, also a Moslem, once found herself in an utterly hopeless situation and went in search of salvation from the priest. She received living space for her children, work for herself, support, friendship, and security for tomorrow. For all this goodness she wanted to convert to the Christian faith. Fr. Stoyan's wife Elena became her godmother.
Erkhan's biography is essentially a story with Christian virtue as the main theme, and not a clash of religions. Regardless of many people's skeptical relationship to their country's traditions and religion [Orthodox Christianity], there still are people in Bulgaria who convert out of personal conviction. That is their right.
In this story, the important thing is the desire of some people to help others, regardless of religion. After all, Fr. Stoyan teaches that God creates people—it is not people who create God... This sounds like a medieval legend or a Christmas tale, but somewhere over there, in northeastern Bulgaria, far from today's moral corruption, there lives a man who is building churches and monasteries, who is giving people little miracles— miracles just as large or small as they need to believe in the Lord.