The Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, known as the Russian Church, is one of the most remarkable buildings in the centre of Sofia. There is a source of wonders in its crypt that most tourists do not even suspect. This miraculous site is included in the itinerary of the Sofia Free Walking Tours.
The construction of the Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker began in the late 19th century and lasted for many years. They consecrated it in 1914 on the eve of the First World War. It was built on a plot of land of the Russian Embassy. Mikhail Preobrazhensky (1854-1930) designed it especially for the needs of Russian immigrants in Sofia.
The murals are the work of a team of artists led by Vasily Perminov (1858-1932). The gilding of the five small domes of the church is remarkable. Russian Tsar Nicholay II (1868-1918) donated the bells.
They originally planned it as a chapel to the Russian Embassy in Bulgaria. But almost immediately that changed after 1917. After the October Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, priests and bishops from the so-called “Russian Church Abroad” began to serve in it. And the church became the center of numerous Russian immigrants in the country. After 1947, they handed the church over to the diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate, which still governs it today.
The temple was built in the tradition of Russian church architecture from the 19th century. The church has a number of ancient Russian elements – domes in the shape of bulbs. In combination with the traditional Old Russian mosaics and wood carvings, the church bears the marks of more modern architecture and painting. However, the Russian Church is known to the people of Sofia for something forgotten by the modern man – miracles.
Are miracles happening today?
In our hectic daily lives, miracles are actually absent. But In the very center of Sofia, however, for more than seventy years the line of people never stops at the Russian Church. They go to the crypt and send their prayer letters to the buried there Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), canonized as St. Seraphim of Sofia in 2016. Some call these “letters” simply “wishes.” Whatever.
Writing prayer letters has its place in the Orthodox tradition as a special form of prayer to some saints. In Bulgaria it is mostly associated with the name of St John of Rila (876-946) and the famous Rila Monastery. The prayer letters are an expression of the hope that God will hear the prayer of the saint and a miracle will happen.
Before his death, Bishop Seraphim ordered the congregation to write letters to him and if he had the audacity before the Lord, they would receive answers. These answers are God’s miracles, which do not cease to happen today – very often to completely non-church and even unbelieving people.
For many years the Russian Church clergy have been recording and documenting the miracles that happened because of the prayer intercession of St Seraphim of Sofia. Many of them were published in the book “Life, Miracles and Covenants of Archbishop Seraphim” (2001).
Entering the Russian Church from the Straight Gate
Nikolai Sobolev (born in 1881 in Ryazan, Russia) adopted at baptism the name of St Nicholas of Myra. His desire to become a monk has a lot to do with the well-known Russian saint St Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833), canonized in 1903. At his monastic haircut, Nicholai received the name Seraphim.
He was ordained a bishop in Simferopol, Russia, in 1920. He was tormented by the choice of remaining in the country gradually conquered by the Red Army or taking the path of “bloodless martyrdom” – the service of God in exile. He went to a clairvoyant elder hieromonk, who predicted his coming to Bulgaria.
After a short stay in Istanbul and the island of Halki, Bishop Seraphim arrived in Bulgaria, where in May 1921 he became parish councillor of the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra at the Russian Embassy in Sofia and the Russian Monastery of St Alexander of Neva in Yambol. A little later, he headed the Russian church communities here in Bulgaria, where he spent 29 years of his life.
Living in Bulgaria
Living in deprivation, he himself secretly cared for the poor, living in a modest apartment for the rest of his life. He also took care of his sick brother Archimandrite Sergius on a daily basis. Despite many obstacles, slanders and persecutions during the times of aggressive communist atheism, Bishop Seraphim founded the monastery “Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God” in Knyazhevo, now in Sofia.
Above all, the bishop remains in the memories of his contemporaries (some of them still alive today) with his great love for people. He called his parishioners “my joy, my treasure, my dear, beloved children”. Always strict with himself and condescending to others, he used to say “We must see an angel in our brother and look upon his sin as a disease.” He liked to quote St John Cassian, saying “There is a whole abyss between sinlessness and holiness”.
Bishop Seraphim acquired the special gift of clairvoyance, which he humbly hid with the words “I am not clairvoyant, it happened by accident”. He knew even the time of his own death. Already seriously ill, he whispered to his relatives “five more days”, “four more days” …
Bishop Seraphim introduced himself to the Lord on Orthodox Sunday, February 26, 1950. The church could not accommodate the multitude of people who wished to say goodbye to him. There were many weeping on this day, despite his promise in his lifetime: “I will not leave you”. A monk, who was especially grieved at his death, saw in a dream the bishop, saying, “Why are you weeping? I am not dead, I am alive”.
Miracles Do Happen in the Russian Church
There are many testimonies about the miracles of Bishop Seraphim, but the most impressive is the endless line of people in front of his grave in the crypt of the Russian Church. But remember that the Orthodox Church has a real sense of holiness because it seeks the meaning of miracles, not their effect; bringing meaning to people’s lives without offering cheap tricks.
By the prayers of St Seraphim of Sofia, many praying people are cured of serious illnesses (especially cancer), others are saved from death, childless mothers give birth to children and, many people get rid of unjust accusations, receive help in life’s difficulties, studies and many others.
Russian Church is Included in the Sofia Free Walking Tours Itinerary
Join our Sofia free walking tour and enjoy:
- Free guiding through the Sofia city center by a professional guide
- Visiting the most iconic buildings and making the best photos ever
- Good understanding of the Bulgarian habits and culture
- Laughing at the smart jokes of our guides
- Paying a tip for a wealth of experience.
The Russian Church is included in the free walking tour and you will see it only from outside. After the end of the walking tour you can go back and write a letter to St Seraphim of Sofia. Or just a “wish”. We, at the Sofia Free Walking Tours, will be glad to receive feedback from you if St Seraphim of Sofia has helped you. Our guides will gladly advise you on spending a great day in Sofia: food, souvenirs and even hiking in the Vitosha mountain. We would appreciate it if you recommend the Sofia Free Walking Tours on TripAdvisor.
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