Nothing delights the souls of the faithful as much as the celebrating of feasts and the presence of God’s Saints who with their very appearance endow the present with nobleness, serenity and grace. Such a joy for us today, was the Feast of our very own newly canonised Saint, the Venerable and God-bearing Father Ioanniki of Rakotinci, the Wondermaker, whose name was written in the diptych of the Saints of our Church three years ago.
Gathered in his honour in the Chapel of the Three Athonian Saints at the Covent in Rajcica, and blessed by the presence of his fragrant miraculous relics brought from the Bigorski Monastery, the present monks and faithful took part in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by our beloved Elder, Bishop Parthenius in concelebration with the Hiermonks and Hierodeacons from the Bigorski brotherhood.
After the reading of the Holy Gospel, having been inspired by the wonderful and miraculous life of the Venerable Ioanniki, Bishop Parthenius, spoke about his Feast with great reverence, describing, St. Ioanniki as a man of great evangelical endurance:
My dear ones, blessed is the family that gives birth to a Saint of God, said the Holy King and Prophet David, Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. (Psalm 33:12), blessed is the family that gives birth to a Saint of God. Let us thank our Lord who gave abundant spiritual gifts to our people, so that they were able to flourish throughout history. Starting with our holy Slavic educators and teachers, the Equal to the Apostles Cyril and Methodius, Clement and Naum, Sava, Gorazd and Angelarius, some of the first Christian Saints in the Slavic world, till today, there is a vast number of known and unknown Saints who adorn the constellation of Saints in the sky above.
Today we celebrate the memory of such an inexhaustible light, our newly canonised venerable Father Ioanniki of Rakotinci the Wonderworker, and have the blessing to venerate a particle of his honourable and miraculous relics, by the blessing of His Graciousness, Archbishop Stephan. The life of this Saint, just like all the others, abounds in numerous Christian virtues, but still, if we delve deeper into his life, we will notice a major feature of his struggle, a blessed means by which he was made holy and deified. That was his indescribable patience. In fact, his whole life could be described with the words our Lord Jesus Christ addressed to His disciples in the Gospel: In your patience possess ye your souls. (Luke 21,19). During the entire years-long life of the holy Saint, his monastic asceticism, his noble deeds manifest him as a man of evangelical patience. Above all, he lived in extremely unpleasant times, in poverty, in compassion for other people’s suffering; he went through many temptations by the infidels during the reign of the Ottoman Empire and also because of the antagonism of the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions, i.e. the pressure and their struggles for power which caused great provocations. In all this, he chose to patiently serve only Christ, and not the earthly interests and rivalry. He even left his saying from that time: “I am an Orthodox Christian and I will not interfere in your struggles”.
Finally, after many sufferings and long spiritual battles won through patience, at the age of 93, the blessed Elder left this world and entered the Eternal Kingdom of never-ending joy, leaving his honourable body like a sacred tabernacle, undamaged and uncorrupted for almost half a century, as a sacred testimony for the holiness he gained in his long-suffering. Eyewitnesses testify that decades after his death, his body remained whole, his beard and hair were still intact, and his face was so beautiful and fresh, with a bright complexion so that he did not seem to be dead, but as if he was sleeping instead. Even after his death, the Saint wanted to speak to the people and to preach with his incorruptible body, testifying about the beauty of the life with Christ, about the result of his blessed patience and about life eternal. However, he probably did not find enough space in the hearts of people affected by the God-opposing communism, so he finally allowed his body to disintegrate after being re-buried in a tomb resembling a concrete trench filled with water.
Later with the revival of monasticism in our country, when our nation began to yield the most beautiful fruit of repentance, the Saint was willing to communicate again in a spiritual way, to speak to his own kind and be revealed to them. He did this by revealing his holiness to some monks and pious priests who were already interested in his holy life. Thus he allowed for his relics to be taken out and brought to the monastery and revealed his autobiography to those who began to delve deeper into his life. He also spoke through several of his contemporaries who knew him while he was alive and witnessed about his holy life and the many miracles he performed. They too were blessed by God’s providence to live to old age so that they could tell us the necessary information about his life.
And having in mind all the gathered facts about him we can conclude that Saint Ioanniki, armed with the blessed patience and hope in Christ as a supreme principle in his life, truly obtained the gifts of the Holy Spirit – those we have heard mentioned in the apostolic reading: love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5,22). Furthermore, his strong faith and love made him a firm servant of God who confirmed with his life the words of Saint Paul: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8: 35-39).
In order to survive through all this, patience is more than necessary, as Apostle James has written to the Christians: But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1,4). Such patience creates a strong faith, which leads to hope and love – the supreme virtue which is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3,14). That is why the Apostle Paul grades the greatest virtues in his Hymn of Love: And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love; the greatest of these is love, which never ends (1 Cor. 13:8,13), but continues into eternity. You see how everything is interconnected: if a person does not have patience in the first place, he will not be able to have strong faith or hope, let alone love. That is why Our Saviour emphasizes patience so much, equating it with salvation.
After all, patience is the greatest thing for us – the monks. Because without patience there can be no obedience. Without obedience, however, there is no monastic life, no perfection. People in the world today often consider patience as weakness, as powerlessness, as a weak character. They say: “He is silent, he doesn’t respond against insults and injustice; he doesn’t do anything to defend his dignity because he is weak and afraid.” However, this is not the case at all. On the contrary, patience is a great virtue and the patient man is the strongest man, because he has managed to overcome the biggest opponent – himself, i.e. his ego. It is much easier for a person to erupt when he is tempted, thus make a reckless and fatal mistake, than to endure and humble himself. I think sometimes the hardest thing is to put up with ourselves.
Saint Ioanniki of Rakotinci reached perfect patience: he overcame his sinful self, so he could easily endure all external temptations. Not only that, but through the uncreated energies of God, he became a living Gospel, an organ of the Holy Spirit, the abode of the Holy Trinity. He became a great miracle worker both during his life and after his blessed repose in Christ. In his miraculous life, no less miraculous were the healings he performed, his prophecies that came true, his incorruptible body, his revelation to the monks in recent times and the way he was canonised by the Church; miraculous are also his prayers before the Holy Trinity. In the Cathedral “St. Clement of Ohrid” in Skopje, where today most of the relics of this holy Saint rest, the pious priests write down all the miracles that he performs daily.
Many of the miracles in relation to his relics happened in our monastery as well. Yet, my dear ones, the greatest miracle for a man is to overcome himself, to be patient, to be prudent, because only then he will be able to partake in God’s uncreated energies, to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let us remember and always repeat our Saviour’s words: In your patience possess ye your souls! (Luke 3,14)
May our Holy Father Ioanniki of Rakotinci the Wonderworker help us and may his holy prayers be with all of us.