Making of Unique Bishop Mitres in the Monastery of Rajchica - St. George Victorious
Photographer: Georgi Licovski
Just a few kilometers away from the border with Albania and after a two hour trip from Skopje, the Rajcica Monastery emerges in a bucolic spot as one of the hidden treasures of North Macedonia, a religious place devoted to prayer and meditation but also to the craft of hand-making of one of the most significant symbols in Orthodox Christian religion: Mitres “Our crowns”, says the sister Efimija, a small nun covered in the robes of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, when referring to these mitres worn by bishops and patriarchs alike in Orthodox churches, from Bulgaria to Serbia or Greece.
This ceremonial headdress, a piece of the traditional attire of bishops in Christianity are worn in the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and some Lutheran churches, and also by bishops and clergies in the Eastern Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches.
The most typical mitre in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches is based on the closed Imperial crown of the late Byzantine Empire. Nonetheless, the crown form was not used by bishops until after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The Oriental headgear mirrors a completely closed bulbous crown, usually made of gold and damask fabric. It will display a careful and detailed decoration with jewelry. Four icons usually compose the illustration of the miter, the Christ, the Theotokos, John the Baptist, and the Holy Cross.
“Our mitres are worn by archbishops in the USA, Russia, Africa, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Serbia and most often in the Greek Orthodox Church due to the way our mitres are made, with the lavish Byzantine style, which is cherished in the Greek Orthodox Church”, says Efimija one of the nuns at the monastery, weighing her words as to not to unveil too much of the secret beneath the art they treasure.
She explains that the entire sisterhood is involved at the time of the preparation, design, embroidery on a special machine, and inserting precious stones of the bishop mitres “That is our main vow and our greatest existence here in the monastery. We have created more than 1,600 mitres, each of them is unique, because every bishop has his own style, his own requests and we try to meet their demands”, says the nun.
The monastery of Rajcica is a metochion of the famed Saint John Bigorski Monastery (Sveti Jovan Bigorski).
“The temple of our patron St. George was built in the year 1835, but it was built on the foundations of a church from the 16th century, which was also dedicated to St. George. The monk life in modern times was restored in 2001. I am talking about nuns who are under the spiritual guidance of the Bigorski monastery”, explains sister Efimija.
In the region, there are four monasteries, Rajchica - “St. George Victorious”, “Prechistanski – Mother of God”, “Knezevski - St. George Victorious”, and the main monastery “Bigorski”. “Just in these four monasteries live around 40 monks, from a total of 200 in our entire country and there are 20 active monasteries in the country”, explains sister Efimija.
The sisterhood is especially joyful for owning a part of the relic of St. George. In 2009, the part of his body, in particular a back part of his palm, was presented by Greek Orthodox Church abbot Epifanije to Bishop Partenij and since then anyone who comes to pray to St George bows in respect before the relics hoping for a miracle.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric or simply the Macedonian Orthodox Church is the largest Christian church in North Macedonia. As an independent Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction, it is not canonically recognized by the other Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. In 1959, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church granted autonomy to the Macedonian Orthodox Church in the then-Socialist Republic of Macedonia as the restoration of the historic Archbishopric of Ohrid, and it remained in canonical unity with the Serbian Church under their patriarch.
In 1967, on the bicentennial anniversary of the abolition of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, the Macedonian Holy Synod unilaterally announced its autocephaly from the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian synod denounced the decision and condemned the clergy as schismatic. Thenceforth, the Macedonian Church has remained unrecognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and all the other canonical Orthodox churches. Since May 2018, the church′s status has been under examination by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
During the communist era in former Yugoslavia, Orthodox monasteries in North Macedonia were almost deserted, losing their power and influence. There were no more than five hermits in monasteries throughout the country.