It is said that Saint John, the Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord did not perform any miracles while he was alive on earth, but that since he is in Heaven he has not stopped performing miracles. Yet, it can also be rightly said that the person of St. John, with his unusual, angelic way of life is himself a miracle of God. Being an image of abstinence, virginity, repentance, and living free from passions through prayer and ascetic life, St. John showed himself to be an “angel in the flesh” and a “bodily angel.” He initiates us not only into the secrets of monasticism but also into a Christian life of good works, preparing us to follow the way of the Lord.
This ray coming forth from Christ God the Sun of Righteousness is the most glorious of all the prophets, the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Saint John, the Forerunner and the Baptist of the Lord deemed our people worthy to receive his transfiguring light. This light has been illuminating our land for a thousand years through his renowned Bigorski Monastery near Radika. On one occasion, our Elder and Abbot, Bishop Partenij, said of “the greatest among those born of woman” :
“I am at a loss as to whether or not I should open my mouth and say something about the glorious Baptist of the Lord. Believe me, it is not at all easy to find words worthy of the one who received the greatest praises from the mouth of Christ. And really, what kind of praise could someone say about the one about whom our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, said: ‘I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11:11)?
We are witnesses just like the voice of the one who cries in the desert (Matthew 3:3), and in our times it calls out with the same power and enticement as it did two thousand years ago in the Jordanian Desert. His message was clear then and remains so to this day. His holy hand, exhausted from fasting, points to Christ now just as it did then, and his trembling voice triumphantly announces to the whole world: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).
Sometimes, when we talk about historical events, especially things in the life of the Church, they somehow seem faded and distant and so they can hardly soften our hearts. For example, when we read about the time St. John preached on earth, how he performed countless miracles throughout the centuries, including in this Monastery, how his holy icon miraculously came here by itself, or how it miraculously saved itself every time the Monastery was destroyed and returned when it was rebuilt — all this, even if it sounds nice may still seem very distant to us. However, let me tell you honestly: in these twenty-six years I have spent in the Monastery, my eyes have seen many, many miracles of St. John. I can easily understand the miracles and love he has poured out through the centuries. On several occasions, I have called the Radika River our Jordan, because St. John is present here with his grace, as he once was in the Jordanian desert, loudly calling us to repentance. And hundreds, even thousands of young people responded to his call and found the way of the Gospel and the Lamb of God. Isn’t that one of the biggest miracles? Isn’t turning hearts of stone into children of Abraham the greatest miracle?”
(Bishop Partenij, Abbot of Bigorski Monastery)
From the face of St. John’s wonder-working icon kept in Bigorski Monastery shines an uncreated, unfading light that brings peace, tranquility, and joy as gifts of the Holy Spirit. A person will feel this when they stand in front of the image of the Forerunner with a pure heart and sincere mind, who with a peaceful dignity welcomes all pilgrims to Bigorski Monastery. In a radiant silver cover adorned with gifts of thanksgiving for his many miracles, the icon, like an inexhaustible spring, pours forth miracle-working grace. It is a great honor and grace not just for Bigorski Monastery, but for our entire society, that the Monastery possesses a large piece of the miraculous relics of Saint John, kept in the beautifully crafted reliquary in the church. Made in 1833 in the village of Bitushe, besides the relics of the Holy Forerunner, the reliquary contains a piece of the Holy Cross on which our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, was crucified, and also relics of Saint Marina, Saint Paraskevi, Saint Eustatius, Saint Panteleimon, Saint James Brother of the Lord, Saints Julitta and Cyricus, Saint Tryphon, Saint Charalampius, and Saint Nikita.
The first of Saint John’s miracles in Bigorski is the very way in which the icon was revealed to the Monastery’s founder, Saint John of Debar, the Archbishop of Ohrid. According to Monastery tradition, the icon simply floated in the air above the spring, on the site where the Monastery’s main church stands today. The fact that the icon would disappear during the Monastery’s turbulent and difficult times is also a miracle. The grace that the icon carried in itself protected it from destruction and did not allow it to be destroyed when the Monastery itself was devastated several times in its history. However, the icon always reappeared, testifying to the Monastery’s eternally living spirit, which was always reborn like a phoenix from the ashes.
Since the very beginning, the icon has not stopped working miracles. Countless pilgrims stood before it with faith and prayed to the Baptist from their hearts and were heard, healed of diseases, and consoled. Through his icon, the Forerunner came to everyone’s aid: the old and young, sick and healthy, Orthodox and heterodox. As the miracles continued, so did the gifts in front of the icon. Every gift represents a story. The numerous silver medallions in the shape of a baby testify that St. John made many childless parents happy, giving them the children they had long hoped for with tears.
Just as its silver cover protects the icon, so too does St. John conceal his countless miracles from us, humbly revealing only a few of them. The new brotherhood has tried to record them and preserve them as a testimony to the icon’s holiness.
In the following series of several articles, we will publish a small part of St. John’s miracles that took place in Bigorski, starting with the oldest ones which were recorded by our spiritual ancestors, the 19th-century monks of Bigorski Monastery.
A miracle of St. John when a bey wanted to turn the Monastery into a Tekke
In 1814, a great miracle happened. A tyrant rose up against the Holy Monastery and intended to destroy the Monastery and turn it into a Muslim tekke. This was Yusuf-bey from Debar. But on September 8, Yusuf-bey was wounded and on the 21st of the same month, he died. When they were burying him, strong hail and terrible thunder fell from the sky, which killed twenty of Yusuf-bey’s men. Frightened, the remaining Hagarenes fled. Thus, through the intercessions of Saint John the Baptist, the Monastery was saved from destruction.
St. John works a miracle for the sick child of an Albanian bey
In the middle of the 19th century, St. John also helped a Turkish bey from Albania who had a sick child. Saint John appeared to the bey in a dream and told him to come to the Monastery and wash his child with the miraculous water. The Bey obeyed him and went to the Monastery with his child and did as he had been told. And a miracle happened! The child was completely healed! The Bey recognized his benefactor, St. John the Baptist, on the Monastery’s icon of him, and out of his immense gratitude, he donated olive orchards near Elbasan to the Monastery. The Monastery was supplied with oil from these properties for a long time. In the 1930s, the fields were sold by the Priest Athanasius (Fr. Tashko) from the village of Bitushe, who was the Monastery’s abbot at that time.
St. John’s miracle when robbers attacked the Monastery
Another time, masked Albanian thieves plundered a monastery caravan that was transporting food to the Monastery. Afterwards, the leader of the group of bandits fell seriously ill. Afraid that he was being punished for his sin and considering the illness as God’s warning, he released the caravan he stole and freed the people that he had kidnapped. On top of that, he also donated a large amount of oil to the Monastery. Since then, no one has dared to attack or harm either the monks or the Monastery’s properties. Moreover, Monastery enjoyed great respect among non-Orthodox, because the Monastery doors were open day and night to all who came, regardless of their religion or nationality. Everyone found and continues to find shelter and consolation in the Forerunner’s home.