A musical poem /Music by Father Kiril Popov
The performance is dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the restoration of the Bulgarian Patriarchate.
The events took place at the end of the 9th and the first half of the 10th century in the central Sredets region of the then Bulgarian kingdom. As a historical time, this was the golden age of Bulgaria, during the rule of the kings St. Boris-Michael, Simeon the Great and St. Peter. Churches and monasteries were built all over the Bulgarian land, and the Orthodox Christian faith flourished. It was an age of both great spiritual conquests and resounding victories. All this is in complete contrast to the categorical refusal of the young and wonderful John from everything earthly. After the death of his parents, he gave away his property to the needy and left the “false world”, in which the first divisions and struggles for supremacy had already begun. The geographical area of the life and exploits of St. John includes the Osogovo Mountain, the Struma River, Vitosha and the Rila Desert.
The work consists of 2 acts and 10 scenes.
As you envied an angelic life, reverend, you left everything earthly and came to Christ!
Captivated by God's love, the young John, striving for the Upper Fatherland, first goes to the nearby monastery as a novice, for his initial training in hermitage. At the monastery gates, he is met by the abbot, Father Auxentius, who seems to already know about his arrival and is expecting him. Before the abbot, John confesses his secret desire to leave the world and devote himself entirely to God. Here he receives from the reverend father the first instructions, support and blessing for this decision of his.
“Oh, it's a pity for this people, because there are no men strong in spirit and there are no leaders who are loving... And no shyness, no shyness, oh, father, there is nothing, but only profit, deception... My soul cries out and complains that there is no way out for our great nation. Left without prophets and interpreters, without roads and without guides as in a desolate desert. Oh, my father, oh, my father, the salt is completely desalted... It weighs, it weighs on the soul, too! I will go deep into the forest... Day and night I will pray to the God Almighty for this ill-fated people”. These findings are completely justified for the time when the poem was written, and not only for it, which makes the work particularly relevant.
While the young monk is praying on the mountain, brigands attack the monastery. The robbers are so treacherous that they kill the monks, rob the sacred vessels, set fire to and destroy the monastery. When reading the text carefully, one thinks of the burnt Bulgarian settlements and territories at the end of the First World War and of the unjust Treaty of Neuilly.
After the infernal deed done, the brigands also come to the young hermit, attack him, look for gold and riches, and when they don't find any, they take out all their anger on the defenceless hermit. Beaten, bruised, he constantly prays for his attackers and exhorts them. When they leave he does not know whether he is alive or dead. At this moment, as if in utter desperation, he receives support and guidance from above to continue his feat elsewhere. And he goes to seek another place of solitude, guided by the right hand of God. Along the way, he mourns the murdered monks, wanders along the steep banks of the Struma river, reaches the Vitosha mountain and finally the Rila Desert, as the last refuge of the Bulgarian soul longing for God.
In this scene, the divine man is approached by his own brother, who seeks him with the intention of making him give up his hermitage and return him to the world. The demons also support the brother's actions. With a lot of love, but also firmness, the godly wise John managed to fend off the temptations and exhortations of his older brother. “And from this covenanted Bulgarian Sinai, I ... will hand over to this nation, which has reached the distant borders and fallen into slavery and is lost in the waters of its enemies. In the midst of this life's darkness and storm, oh Lord All-Blessed, save our people.”
Here we have the picture of Luke, the hermit-loving nephew of the humble John, who seeks his uncle, not to exhort him to return to the world, but to follow him into the monastic life. John welcomes him with joy, but also with a slight reproach that he did not call his family. They pray together on the rock, but soon the mountain storm overtakes them, but also the storm of life.
In this scene, the brother comes looking for his son. There is a short argument here because the hermit is aware of God's will and his nephew's desire to remain in a desert existence with him on the mountain. The brother, however, is adamant in his worldly intentions, and as a father succeeds in asserting himself and snatching away his son, who in his obedience, though against his will, goes with him. “My righteous uncle, ah, forgive!...”
In this scene, something terrible happens, which even nature cannot accept calmly – the innocent Luke becomes a victim of his father's unrelenting desire, who wants to return him to the world at all costs. On the way down from the mountain, a poisonous snake bites the boy and he dies. The father is forced to return his son to his brother, leaving him forever with him and realizing his injustice and sin. Nature also revolts at this injustice and innocent victim. The two brothers bury the body of the boy, who rests for eternal life. The saint predicts that a temple would be built on this site, to which pilgrims would flock.
St. John again prays for the Bulgarian people. A chorus of pilgrims searching for the hermit tells of the exploits and temptations the hermit went through in defending his feat. The saint blesses them and sends them away: “Go, children. And in peace and piety live all of you from today. Honour the good, shun the evil, cherish the kind, fatherly covenants. Protect Bulgaria and your family, and may the justice shine in you”. This part ends with an intense prayer that God would strengthen the faith of the people, give might to King Peter and reinforce his kingdom.
As if he had heard the words of the saint, the king, too, like many of the people, heads for to the hermit of Rila to receive his blessing. The courtiers search for the saint for a long time, but do not find him. Then the king raises his prayer cry to heaven and the saint hears it. The hermit agreed to a meeting where one would stand on the ridge on one side of the river and the other on the ridge on the other side, but categorically refused the gold and other gifts. This meeting is the centre of Bulgarian history, in which the kingdom, although striving upwards, remains in the world and solves its tasks, and sanctity is exalted and does not come down, does not even touch power and its riches.
In this scene the hermit teaches the pilgrims who have come to him. This is a kind of covenant where the emphasis is on selflessness and the fight against greed. “Children, listen to my covenant, which I want you to convey to my people, so that they overcome their troubles. Remember that you are their righteous salt, which should never become desalted. Tell them: In labour and all patience, let them prepare their salvation with spiritual powers strengthened – and may they be blessed on their steep way up to the ascent, shining rays; to be firm and tireless. And let them know that God will scatter their enemies.”
The final scene depicts the ascension of the Rila hermit on August 18, 946, the great respect for him and the centuries-old concentration of pilgrims at his holy relics in the Rila monastery. The saint ascends in order to descend to the faithful people of Bulgaria and remain there forever.