Strumica Diocese: Berovo Monasteries

The ones who have never been in Berovo will find it difficult to picture the beauty of this place from the photos, especially the riches of nature in its surroundings. A hundred years old pine trees, meadows and pastures, plenty of medical plants and wild berries, springs and rivers... Mountain sun. Fresh air. Organic food. Excellent forest honey. Abundant traditional medicine of natural ingredients, which successfully cures problems with the respiratory organs, anaemia, vitamin deficiencies. The town itself is almost at 1,000 m above sea level. Settled as in a nest, amid softwood forest, together with its inhabitants for centuries has been firmly resisting the impact of "progress" and "achievements" of civilisation.  From outside many view this as a deficiency, yet the irreplaceable peace and the tranquillity of life here, man and nature closely knit together – are a real rarity in the present world of pollution and crises. For some time at least... When here, you have the feeling as if you were in a quiet harbour somewhere "at the end of the earth", faced only with yourself, the sky above you and the earth you stand upon... in the presence of the living God.

Female cenobitic monasticism in the Berovo monastery has almost a two centuries old continuous tradition.

From History

The first monastery church in Berovo was built in the period between 1815 and 1818. It was consecrated in 1818 and among those present at its consecration was the Macedonian Christian enlightener Joachim Krčovski.

There are no reliable historical data about the construction of the church and the monastery; still, one thing is certain: the church construction was carried out under very difficult circumstances. Here is what one of the legends says:

In the beginning of the 19th century, Berovo was a rural settlement with around two hundred houses and one small and fallen into disrepair church alone. Therefore the more distinguished inhabitants of Berovo at that time decided to have a new church built at the site called Mogila (tomb). The parish priest, Fr Peco, was assigned the task of obtaining a building permit from the Turkish authorities in Radoviš. The Turkish governor (Vali) did give a building permit, however, under exceptionally difficult, almost impossible to be fulfilled conditions. Namely, the church was to be built low, below the road level and not to be seen, construction was to end in forty days, and Fr Peco was to give his youngest daughter, Sultana, to the harem. Those conditions did not discourage Berovo inhabitants from their intention. With great effort and dedication on the part of the believers, the church was built up and covered with stone blocks in 40 days. In order not to be noticed, its outside wall was covered with soot and lime. Seeing that the church had been built above ground after the deadline, the governor got infuriated and ordered the three church elders immediately to be murdered in front of the church, and since Sultana had fled to Kyustendil, Fr Peco was imprisoned. He was released from prison three years later, and his daughter came back to Berovo upon finding out that the komitas (fighters against the Turkish rule) had killed the governor.

The foundations of the first female monastery in Berovo were lain twenty years after the construction of the monastery church (around in 1840). The first nuns in the monastery were the daughter-in-law and the daughter of Fr Risto, a son-in-law of Fr Peco. They had their monastic tonsure with a blessing from the abbot of the Rila Monastery. The first abbess of the monastery was Eugenia I, the second – Eugenia II, the third – Eugenia III, and the fourth was Eulampia, who was made abbess in 1958 by the first Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, His Beatitude Dositheus. At its flowering, and that was in the first half of the twentieth century, the monastery numbered up to sixty nuns, with a developed rich economy, a theological seminary, a weaving mill. The first single-phase hydro-power plant in this area was the monastery one.

From Monastery Life

Once outside the town, in the present the female monastery dedicated to the Holy Archangel Michael is located at the exit from Berovo, on the road leading to the dam and the lake. The main gate faces the town, and the remaining two – the river and the pine forest. At the very entry through the large wooden gate the visitor finds himself in a different world: the world of prayer. The church, built in a 19th century architectural opus, with a large porch, dominates the monastery yard. In the dimness of its interior the oil lamps lighten the saints' images, painted in a characteristic style that is not in conformity with the Byzantine canons. From the original iconostasis only one icon has been preserved – the one representing the Holy Prophet Noah, a work by the icon painter Georgi Veljanov from Strumica, painted in 1818. From 1899 until 1920 the painter Gavril Atanasov-Berovec, too, worked in the monastery. The portable icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos is a work by the painter Grigorie Pecanov from Strumica, painted in 1878.

The residential quarters are of a free-style construction. They attract with the warmth of the wood used, shaped in a 19th century old-urban style.

Together with the last nun of the previous lineage, in the monastery also live two sisters, who came from the Veljusa monastery with the blessing by metropolitan Nahum of Strumica. This monastery's sisterhood paints icons in the Byzantine style – for iconostases, or to order. The beginnings of the renewal of fresco painting in the Macedonian monasteries have been made exactly in this sisterhood.

A true rarity, the monastery is open to the spiritual needs of all well-intentioned visitors. In a conversation with the superior of the monastery, sister Macrina, in the warm wise-hearted atmosphere around the fireplace in the library, many will find the answer to various spiritual questions and also support, understanding, inspiration...

The monastery typikon, regardless of the location of the monastery (in the town) and its frequent visitors is a hesychastic one. The monastery functions as a place of prayerful stillness, a holy hesychasterion . A little nook on the upper floor in the church interior in the present has been turned into a small chapel dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas. Liturgy is celebrated four times a week.