This is the story of Yoan, the hermit from Rila Mountain, whose decision to leave the world behind provokes scorn among those nearest and dearest to him, as well as the envious hatred of high cleric Alexius. As passions build up, The Shepherd Boy and The Stranger take their part too, directing the characters’ decisions towards good or evil.
This causes shaking conflicts: Vassil blames his youngest brother Yoan for his own failures. Yoan is so different, that this infuriates Vassil – also when he helps in the tannery, also when he works for others for free, also when he gives as a present one of their fields, also when he becomes a monk, then a hermit and Vasil’s son Luka runs away from home and decides to stay with Yoan at the mountain. Advised by The Stranger Vassil takes in his son. On their way back Luka is bitten by a deadly snake. In his life Vassil loses everything. But, remaining on his own, he asks himself the questions of the meaning life and death.
When Vassil brings Luka’s lifeless body to the Hermit with a last desperate request to bring Luka’s life back, Yoan understood that he is not able to help. Crushed by the weight of Luka’s death and the impossibility to meet people’s expectations for him, The Hermit struggles to overcome his despair. The Shepherd Boy lends a helping hand to him.
Martha – a Hungarian girl, escaped from slavery and sheltered by Vassil and Yoan in their youth – fights with Yoan’s choice being convinced that she is fighting for her love. When Yoan leave to become a monk she finds the high cleric Alexius and begs him to bring back her beloved to country life. Later she follows Yoan secretly and get lost in the maze of cave corridors. There she run into Alexius, who is looking for The Hermit too and they both led by fear succumb to their suppressed passion. Accept the facts Martha comes back to Vassil and after a few months she gives birth to a boy – Luka. Martha loses all battles in her life never understanding what true love is. She ends all alone riding at full speed to her motherland far away in the north.
Alexius is clever, good-looking man of letters; he is among the first warriors of the Christianity. But he wants something more – a place at the spiritual height. He foresees Yoan’s saintliness and his own remoteness from it. After the passionate meeting with Marha in the cave, ashamed and regretful, being tortured by The Stranger Alexius remains in the forest and almost freezes to death; however, he is saved miraculously by a group of axmen. Blinded by his obsession to take the Hermit’s place and to take a shortcut to God, Alexius starts living as an ascetic. People, who have heard the growing rumours about the Hermit, take Alexius for Yoan. But the high cleric cannot achieve the Hermit’s perfection and he decides to end his own life. He plunges from a high cliff and splashes into the mountain lake below; The Hermit does not let Alexius’s soul perish for eternity. By virtue of his prayer Alexius gets a second chance to come back to the monastery and to share his knowledge and his ambition with many men.
Beaten and forsaken, tormented by doubts and visions for years, Yoan is torn apart by controversy after he made his choice. Successfully overcoming his grief of his separation from the world, achieving the power of freedom, the Hermit receives the staff of a spiritual Shepherd.
This story takes place late 9th – early 10th century in newly Christianized Bulgaria. Today the Hermit is known as Saint John of Rila the Wonder-worker. He is the spiritual guardian of the Bulgarian people and the whole Christian world.
Nevena Andonova and Milena Andonova
70% covered by National Film Center (Bulgaria)