The most venerated Bulgarian saint, the heavenly protector of Bulgaria—St. John of Rila—lived in the ninth to tenth centuries. He spent the last twelve years of his life in the high hills of Rila in a tiny cave, but despite his solitude he became the founder of a great monastic brotherhood that would become the most important spiritual center in Bulgaria.
In Russia, St. John of Rila became especially honored because he was the patron saint of the beloved St. John of Krondstadt. In the year 1900, on the banks of the Karpovka River in St. Petersburg, St. John of Kronstadt founded the St. John of Rila Convent dedicated to his heavenly patron.
St. Seraphim (Sobolev) called St. John of Rila the “Glory and beauty of the Bulgarian Church”. St. Seraphim composed an Akathist to the saint, and often visited the holy places associated with him. He always called upon his flock to sacredly fulfil St. John’s commandments, the first of which is to “preserve the holy Faith pure and untouched by any evil thoughts, just as you received it from your holy fathers, and without falling prey to foreign and different teachings.”
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church dedicates three days out of every year to St. John of Rila, but this day in autumn, October 19/November 1 has become the main one and is called “Father’s Day”—the day of all Bulgaria’s heavenly protector. It is especially celebrated in the holy Rila Monastery of St. John.