The Heart of St. Naum

On the almost farthest southwestern point in Macedonia, only one kilometer from the Albanian border, stands, 1100 years now, the monastery of Saint Naum and its church, Saint Archangel. Like all monastery builders, Saint Naum had an extraordinary sense of choosing the right place for construction – a cliff leaning just over the lake, caressed by the gentle murmur of the purply-crystal, virginal waters of Crni Drim, which has its source right in this spot, and immediately flows into the Lake Ohrid. Over the monastery there rises the mountain Galicica, covered with meadows where the most perfumed thyme, St. John’s wort and mountain tea grow. As if Naum was searching for a spot where he could use his healing powers to help people.

There are few sources which describe the life of St. Naum – three hagiographies were written about him and best known is the one written by the archbishop Constantine Cavasila (13th century).

Along with Clement, Angelarius and Gorazd, as one of the four best and most faithful followers of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, Naum leaves Great Moravia after the brothers’ death, persecuted by the German clergy. They seek sanctuary first in Sirmium, a bishop town of St.Andronik, and afterwards they travel through Beligrad, carrying the flame and light given by the holy brothers to Bulgaria, where Knyaz Boris intended to convert the population to Christianity. Clement and Naum wouldn’t be separated, but still the knyaz sends Clement to Kutmichevica, while Naum resides in the monastery of St. Archangel near Pliska. He joins Clement in their motherland after seven long years. In 893 Clement receives indications that he will be ordained bishop of Ohrid and knowing that Naum’s heart beats for Ohrid, he writes to Knyaz Simeon: ”I know of his pain… Tired and sick is he… He wishes to spend the rest of his life in the place where he was born, which he, as I myself did, left behind as a young boy. Let father Naum come to me. Who else could continue the work that I have started in Kutmichevica? It could be only him.”

And that is how, with feeble strength but great enthusiasm, Naum joins Clement in Ohrid, where not long afterwards, he begins building his monastery. There he creates a monastic brotherhood, a literary school, and he utilizes his miraculous power to cure people, especially those suffering from spiritual illnesses.

He passes away in 910 and finds eternal peace in his monastery, lying in the tomb placed in the chapel in the southern part of the church.

Even after his death, miracles didn’t cease to happen. As a proof there are the five frescoes on the walls of his chapel depicting the scenes:” A harnessed bear in a yoke”, “The stiffening of the monk who tried to steal Saint Naum’s body”, “The healing of the mentally ill”, “A horse thief who stayed in front of the monastery church until dawn” and “The bucket leaves a hole in the stone”.

According to the sources of the monastery, in 1662 there used to be a hospital, and two centuries later a linguistic center, where some of the most prominent representatives of the Macedonian literature, like Dimitar Miladinov, got their education (The church itself is of great importance for the linguistics because of the writings in Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabet dating from the 10th till the 10th century, one of the oldest written evidences of the Slavonic literacy).

Another proof that St. Naum even after his death can perform miracles is the fate of his monastery: it has been destroyed before the coming of the Ottomans and restored in the 15th/16th century. The iconostasis carved in wood is manufactured by unknown craftsmen in 1711, and four years after the fire of 1802 the restored church and chapel were picturesquely decorated by the woodcutter Trpo from Korçë. His father Constantine was the one who manufactured the five large sanctuary icons. Another fire in 1875 destroyed parts of the monks’ quarters but they are restored and today parts of them serve as an outstanding hotel.

However, even till this day, after centennial hardships, if you place your ear over the tombstone of his sarcophagus, you will hear Saint Naum’s heart still beating.


The Millenial Saint Sophia

The cathedral church “Saint Sophia” is one of the oldest and most magnificent Christian temples in Macedonia. Dedicated to Saint Sophia, that is to The Christ embodying the Divine Wisdom, the church which over a millennium, until this day, quietly but proudly defies time, has been constructed over the foundations of an older church. That was in the time when SS. Cyril and Methodius were sent on the great mission, when the Macedonian Slavs accepted Christianity in Slavic language. And when Tzar Samuil relocated his capital from Prespa to Ohrid the church was used as a cathedral temple.

In the 11th century “St. Sophia” was the Great church of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, which had spread its ecclesiastical power over a vast territory, from the Danube to the Albanian shores on the Adriatic Sea and to the Gulf of Thessaloniki. Having in mind the high reputation it had in the orthodox world, in the centuries that followed only the most respectable members of the eastern ecumenism could be ordained archbishop (Teofilakt of Ohrid, Dimitri Homatian), and they always emphasized its Justinian origin.

Architecture: St. Sophia has the shape of a three-nave basilica, it has a dome and galleries in the side walls, an as early as the 11th century it had a forecourt. In 1313/1314 its construction is completed by adding the magnificent forecourt with galleries in the upper floor and towers on the northern and southern side, it is one of the most beautiful constructions in the Byzantine and Macedonian architectural history dating from the 14th century (it represents one of the works of the archbishop Gregory I, who was deeply trusted by the Tzar Andronik II Paleolog. In the second half of the 15th century it was converted into a mosque, the frescoes were covered with lime, the stone sanctuary removed, the dome demolished and instead a minaret was raised. The church defied time and it wasn’t until after the Second World War that it was protected from dilapidation. The frescoes that emerged from under the Turkish mortar are among the most precious treasures of the medieval art.

Wall painting: The origins of the frescoes in “St. Sophia” date from the period after the fall of Samuil’s empire. In that period, the person ordained archbishop of Ohrid is Leon (1037-1056), a distinguished head of church, polemics philosopher, writer and one of the most highly educated people of that time. He renovated and expanded the church and acted as patron of the decorations in the church. He himself chose the subjects and their arrangement on the walls. The older paintings in “St. Sophia” were part of the monumental painting of the 11th century, the authors of which probably came from the more developed painting centers.

The most notable position, which is the altar, belongs to the portraits of more than sixty patriarchs of Constantinople (St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. John the Theologian…) and the side walls represent six roman popes, a placement which reflects the relations between the Eastern and the Western church before the schism in 1054. Among the representatives of the patriarchates from Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, the Archbishopric of Cyprus and some other Bishoprics, are also the portraits of the Slavic saints St. Cyril the Philosopher and St. Clement, his disciple and protector of the city, as well as the one representing St. Methodius, whose cult of worship increased in the 10th and the 11th century.

The most popular and closest to the viewers are the frescoes on the southern side: “Saint Trinity” (represented as three angels visiting Abraham), “Abraham’s Hospitality” and “Abraham’s Sacrifice”. On the northern side your attention will be drawn by the compositions “Three Jews in a fiery oven” and “Jacob’s Ladder, as well as “The liturgy of Basil the Great” and “Saint Sophia the Holy Wisdom of God”, represented as an angel who appears in the dreams of St. Basil and St.John Chrysostom. The “Ascension of Christ” dominates the semi-circular vault and the entrance hall is covered with a cycle of frescoes dedicated to the most important feast days: “The Nativity of Christ”, “The Entrance into the Temple of the Virgin” and “The Assumption of the Virgin” (which is one of the oldest compositions in the Byzantine art treating this subject in general). What is also characteristic are the two representations of the Mother of God with the infant Christ: on the first one the Christ is represented with bare and crossed legs, and on the second one The Virgin is seated on a low fence, heralding the apparition of the Madonna of humiliation, (dell’ Umilità). These two images are iconographic models of the emotional relationship between the mother and the child, later adopted by the craftsmen of the West.

Some parts of the church have been painted in the first half of the 14th century by the famous craftsman from the workshops in Ohrid, Jovan Teorijan, and his disciples. The upper floor of the narthex, the despot Oliver’s chapel and Gregory’s gallery have been painted in the time of the archbishop Nicola who was a patron of the art. The subjects in Gregory’s gallery concern the “fate of the soul”, represented by the compositions “History of Joseph from the Old Testament”, (this cycle, along with the one in the church “St. Mark” in Venice bearing the same title, is the most comprehensive illustration of this subject in the eastern and western medieval art), the “Canon for separating the soul from the body” (a rare cycle, found elsewhere only in the monastery Hilandar on the Holy Mountain) and the “Last Judgment”.

Because of its exquisite acoustics, the cathedral church “St. Sophia” is the location where traditional musical and cultural manifestations are held, as part of the Ohrid summer festival.

And even today, when entering this rare and remarkable monument of the medieval art, you can feel the thousand years shining from the walls and the memory of an entire civilization engraved there. The time on earth ceases to exist and you find yourself in the timeless beauty of the Holy Wisdom of God, Saint Sophia.


Saint Erasmus in the City of Light

On the road leading to Ohrid, in front of the very entrance to the city, stands a small, modest board bearing the inscription “Saint Erasmus”. It points to the eponymous 5th century three-nave basilica dedicated to this saint, who is one of the 14 saints-helpers in trouble. Besides this one, there is another church nearby, a small cave church dating from the 13th century, and his portraits can be found not only here but also in the church “St. John the Theologian – Kaneo”, where he is represented next to St. Clement, the protector of the city.

The date of his birth is not known. As a young man he became bishop of Antioch. Diocletian referred to him as young and beautiful, but he tormented him because of his faith in Christ. The Macedonian Slavic tradition ascribes him certain missionary activities for a period of nearly ten years (293-303), naming him the first and true missionary in Ohrid.

We learn about his life from two hagiographies dating from the 9th and 11th century and describing his coming to Lihnidos at the end of the 3rd century, carried on the wings of the angel who rescued him from Diocletian’s (284-305) tortures in Antioch. The angel led him out of the terrible darkness and took him to the City of Light, where he immediately started preaching the Gospel of Christ and performing numerous miracles: he restored sight to the blind, and healed those suffering from various illnesses.

“… There was a certain noble and prominent citizen in the city, named Anastas, whose son had been lying dead, and they carried his body to be buried. Coming to his grave the blessed one said: ’Anastas, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, He shall bring your son back’. Then, kneeling over the body, he shouted in a strong voice: ‘Rise, little child!’ Before this voice, the child resurrected and shouted in a loud voice: Great is the Lord of the Christians!’ And so Anastas believed and his entire family believed, because in that moment 40,000 of the people present were baptized. And the Lord blessed His people who believed that day, and in the days to come. And St. Erasmus didn’t stop teaching God’s people for seven whole days…”

When the emperor Maximilian found out about this, he called him to come to Sirmium in order to be punished, but before that he showed him the great copper statue of Zeus, 12 cubits high, wanting him to bow to it. But the moment Erasmus looked at the statue it collapsed and turned into dust… 30,000 of the people present that day were baptized, but the emperor ordered for them to be executed, and St. Erasmus to be punished by dressing him in heated copper clothing. Hearing this St. Erasmus began to sing: ‘We have passed through fire and water, yet you led us again to blessedness… ‘The heated clothing immediately chilled like snow…”  The Angel again rescued St. Erasmus by taking him to Durres, from where he traveled safely by boat to Formia, Italy. Seven days later (June 2, 303) he died exhausted by exertion and torture, and for all this he is honored as a martyr. After this city was destroyed in the 9th century, his remains were moved to Gaeta.

And so, Erasmus became the universal patron of all sailors (he was honored in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal) and his symbol was a spool with a rope wound around. Pictures can be found in Belgium and Germany representing the saint with his stomach torn out, because he was considered protector against stomach and labor pains. In many regions he is also honored as protector against cattle diseases and epidemics, and in others as patron of the miners and turners as well.

We find proof that he existed, preached Christianity, performed miracles and was a martyr in his hagiographies. His cult has been well-kept in Ohrid since the time it was called the City of Light (Lihnidos). That is why he will forever remain known as St. Erasmus of Lihnidos.


The light of Saint Clement

Ohrid – when you come here for the first time or for who-knows-which time, when you enter the church “St. Sophia”, “St. John” at Kaneo, “The Holy Mother of God Peribleptos”, or you climb up the magical Plaoshnik, always and everywhere you have the feeling you are being penetrated by a miraculous ray of inexplicable light, coming neither from the sun rising above Galichica, nor from the crystal waters of the Lake, named White in the times of old, and now bearing the name of the city – Ohridsko. This light shines from the ever-present spirit of the saint-protector of the city, the founder of the Ohrid archbishopric and its first bishop, spreader of enlightenment and establisher of the Old Slavonic language as the third official language of the Orthodox Church, Saint Clement of Ohrid. His protective presence – just the way he is represented on the fresco in the church. “St. Spas” in the village of Leskoec, holding the model of the city in his hand – can always be felt, when you walk the narrow, stone-paved streets in the old part of the city, when you are being flooded by the waves of the “strmec”, when you are walking into a whitewashed house with its beams standing high above the passers-by, when dazzled by the petrified time you touch the walls of its ancient churches and faced with the images on the frescoes and the icons you face eternity in contrast to your own smallness and transience. And again, you can feel Clement everywhere.

The legend says that “when Clement came to Ohrid, he didn’t only start teaching the inhabitants of the saint brothers’ Cyril and Methodius glagolitic alphabet, but when he saw that they lived in huts covered with straw and supported by beams, he also started teaching them how to build nice stone houses. First he built his church, and afterwards they all started building nice stone houses.” He taught them how to plant and graft fruit-trees, he healed them with herbs and various plants, and he taught them how to evade sieges of conquering armies.

Clement, one of SS. Cyril and Methodius’s best disciples, who also took part in the Great mission in Moravia, was extremely close to Methodius even in the days of his youth. After their teachers’ death, he and his peers were banished from Moravia and Panonia, and so in 886, by Knyaz Boris’s decree, Clement, aged 45, was sent to Kutmichevica (near Ohrid), to encourage the Christian spirit and the people’s faith, to teach and enlighten them. Nearly 3.500 disciples gathered around him, and so he is considered to be the founder of the first great Slavic University. For seven years he was spreading the light of knowledge, he translated Gospels, he established the fundaments of the Old Church Slavonic language, he created the first church library on the Balkans, he was a music pedagogue and composer of spiritual works, and in the year 893 he was ordained the first Slavic bishop of the church of Ohrid, which continued the tradition of Justiniana Prima. Clement, the bishop of Velika, the apostle missionary, teacher, translator, poet, becomes the pillar of the Slavonic church of Ohrid. His biographer, the Ohrid archbishop Teofilact says that “Clement’s poems resembled psalms”, that good was his knowledge of the biblical literary skills. It is also known that he fluently spoke and wrote Latin, Hellenic, Hebrew, Khazaric, he had considerable knowledge of Arabic – he was a great erudite, in one word – a genius.

His peer Naum had greater skills as a healer, teacher and transcriber. He came to Ohrid at Clement’s request, despite his feeble strength. Nevertheless, Naum continued the work with great enthusiasm, completing Clement’s deeds. He is considered the founder of monasticism in Macedonia.

Both Clement and Naum built their own monasteries on the Lake’s shores: Clement built the monastery “St. Panteleimon” looking over the city, while Naum raised a monastery on the southern opposite side of the lake. Naum passed away in 910 and he was buried in his monastery. The legend provided him with the name Miracle maker, and that is how he is honored and glorified among the Macedonian people. Even today, if you place you ear on his tombstone, (it is said that) you can hear his heart beating.

Six years after his peer’s death Clement passes away, and is buried in the tomb he personally prepared for himself, situated on the right side of the sanctuary in his church on Plaoshnik.

Clement and Naum left behind a priceless heritage to their Macedonian people – a linguistic and literary tradition and a culture accepted not only by the conqueror of that time, the Bulgarian Tzar, but also by the cities of the Holy Trinity in the Christian tradition: Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem, and most important of all, it was accepted by their own people. Ohrid becomes the Slavic renaissance center, primarily on Clement’s merit. The light that Clement, and later Naum, brought to Ohrid, even till this day shines above their city and its people. It is that strange, inexplicable light which shines out of every pebble in Ohrid.

That’s why you should take a pebble before leaving. So you don’t forget the light.


The Archbishopric of Ohrid

Macedonia is a biblical country. It is the first country on European soil where the apostle Paul along with the apostles Silas, Timothy and Luke in the period between 51 and 54 sowed the seed of Christianity, and Lydia from the town of Tijatir, who at that time was staying in Philippi, is the first Macedonian and European Christian woman.

And among the other cities which guard the light of Christ and the Word of God since the times of earliest Christianity is Ohrid. The Macedonian Orthodox Church is proud of its roots which go back to the 10th century, when the Ohrid Bishopric elevates to the rank of Archbishopric. Saint Clement’s church, this temple of love, goodness and peace prevails till this day. In its turbulent millennial history it has marked high achievements, ascents, serious crises, denials, abolishments, but also new revivals, resurrections.

Sixty years after St.Clement’s death in 976, after the successful completion of the second insurrection, Samuil deprives the powerful Byzantium of an enormous piece of its territory inhabited by Slavs (from Thessaloniki to Zadar, from the river Bistrica to Sirmium), he creates a strong Macedonian land and he proclaims himself emperor. His empire is the expression of the spiritual aspirations of St. Clement and St. Naum. Samuil chooses Prespa to be his capital, and he proclaims German – Gabriel his first archbishop. Some historians believe that he elevated the Ohrid Archbishopric to the rank of Patriarchate; however it is an undeniable fact that it was him who fought for the autocephaly of the church.

After German’s death, the archbishopric seat is again relocated to Ohrid, in the cathedral church “St. Sophia”, constructed by Samuil. The last head of the Ohrid Church, until the fall of Samuil’s empire in 1018 was David (according to J. Skilica’s chronicles).

The Byzantine emperor Basil II restored dignity to the church as archbishopric, and he proclaimed archbishop the notable John of Debar, the first Macedonian head of church in Byzantium, who formerly was the prior of the monastery “St. Mother of God” near Debar. He is the founder and patron of the monastery “St. John Bigorski” (around 1020). Being a wise and moral person he was particularly respected by the people, and he is considered to be one of the best heads of church in the history of the Ohrid Archbishopric. He strove persistently to preserve the autocephaly of the archbishopric and the economic privileges they received which made life in the country more tolerable. John remained head of the church until his death and he outlived not only Basil II, but his successors as well, and he died when Basil’s third successor Michael IV the Paphlagonian came to the throne. After John’s death the heads of the Ohrid archbishopric are no longer Slavs.

Along with the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 comes the 13th century, filled with wars, political changes and suffering. By conquering Macedonia the Serbian emperor Stefan Dushan also takes Ohrid in 1334. At the end of the 14th century, all Macedonian principalities fall under Ottoman rule and the Ohrid Archbishopric shares the same fate.

The first archbishop under Ottoman rule is Mathew, who manages to regularize the legal status of the church. Nevertheless, the ecclesiastical organization grows feeble and poor, and so does the spiritual life. In the battle for autocephaly the archbishops Gabriel, Atanasij and Joasaf have a prominent place. In the second half of the 18th century the struggle ended without success, so six months after the Serbian church was abolished, in 1767 the Ohrid Archbishopric was forbidden to continue its function.

Exactly after two centuries of struggle for a country of its own, on the Third Macedonian Clergy and Laity Assembly held on June 18, 1967 in the church St. Sophia in Ohrid, the Macedonian Orthodox Church as a successor of the Ohrid Archbishopric proclaimed its autocephaly, and Dositej was proclaimed its first archbishop.

Cave Churches

Saint John the Theologian – Kaneo (13/14th century)

Raised on a cliff just above the lake shore, this church, as the time passed, became a visual identity of Ohrid. The name Kaneo originates from the former fishermen’s settlement in this area. Judging by the looks of the upper part of the eight-angled dome with its ribbed triangular crowns the church is considered as the only one in Macedonia where you can feel the influence of the Armenian building tradition. Its walls have been painted by the master Jovan, the best-known master before Mihail and Eftihij, in the spirit of the komnenid tradition. A special importance has the composition where one of the oldest portraits of St. Clement is represented, dating from the 13th century, and next to him there are portraits of St. Erasmus (the only one preserved) and the archbishop Constantine Kavasila.In the upper zone of the altar you can see the composition “Communion of the apostles”, in which they are represented wearing royal garments, which is the only case in the whole history of Byzantine painting. The paintings are one of the works of master Jovan (predecessor of Mihail and Eftihij), who still kept to the Komnenid style, which is archaic compared to the new Palaiologan style.

Saint Mother of God Zahumska (St. Zaum. 14th century)

This church, raised in 1361, has a unique location: it can be reached only by boat, by water.  It is situated on the southeastern side of the lake, some 20 km from Ohrid, near the village Trpejca.

The legend says that the king’s daughter was visiting the monastery “St. Naum” and when she wanted to go back to Ohrid, big waves started to rise on the lake’s surface.  Despite the advices to wait, she directed home, but she barely managed to save herself, right in this place.  As a sign of her gratitude and in order to “think better next time”(“za um”), she raised this church.  But according to historic data, it is a pledge of the donor Grgur, Vuk Brankovic’s brother, and its patron is the bishop of Devol Gregory. It is constructed in the shape of inserted cross, with a central dome, and in the period when it was being built it also had a forecourt.
The frescoes are severely damaged, but the skillfulness of the zograph is evident, the natural forming of the compositions, the refined taste accompanied by lively colors and a bright spectrum. Very noticeable are the life-size figures of St. Clement and Naum, the Christ, The Virgin in royal garments, the hermits, as well as St. Peter and St. Paul, St.  George and St. Dimitrija wearing clothes of a ruler.

Saint Mother of God Bolnicka and St. Nikola Bolnicki

Two small churches in the city itself, built side by side, named by the neighborhood Bolnicko, where they are situated. According to the legend both churches were converted into hospitals during times of epidemics (men and women separated).

“Saint Mother of God Bolnicka” is a single-nave church built between 1335 and 1345, and its walls are painted during construction, but also in the centuries to follow (from 15th to 19th century). The first layer of icons reveals the work of a talented local craftsman. The icons are part of the works of master Nikola from Debar, dating from the first half of the 19th century. Inside the church there is a communal tomb of Ohrid citizens whose remains were transferred from the individual graves in the churchyard.

“Saint Nikola Bolnicki” was built in 1313, and it is famous for the double sided icon portraying St. Naum (14th c.) and St.Archangel Michael (17th c.). There is an old graveyard surrounding the church.

Cave churches in Ohrid surroundings

2 km. before Ohrid there is a cave church named “St.Erasmus”, dedicated to the archbishop of Antioch Erasmus, dating from the 3/4th century. The small-sized living quarters indicate that here lived single ascetics or maybe a small ascetic brotherhood.  The portrait of emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos from the 18th c. and the fresco representing Archangel Michael are well preserved.

The small cave church “St. Stephen – Pancir” is situated 5 km on the south of Ohrid and it is dedicated to the first Christian martyr, the archdeacon Stephen. Its southern side is separated by a wall built with broken stones. It has been there since the period of the intensified hermetic way of life, and it wasn’t painted until the period when art began to flourish.

Some 20 km. from Ohrid, on the right side of the road leading to “St. Naum”, stands the small church “St. Mother of God Pestanska”. Inside that church are the best preserved frescoes of the cave churches on the shores of  Ohrid Lake.

In the region of Struga there are another two precious cave churches, “St. Atanasij” near the monastery Kalishta and “St.Archangel Michael”, high among the rocks above Radozda. Both have been painted in the 14th c. and in the second one the fresco “The Miracle in Hona”, dating from the 13th c. is well preserved.