Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra – strength of spirit and faith against the storms of time

Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in the history of Christianity

According to the Ancient Legend of the Church, St. Andrew the Apostle, traveling with a Christian sermon in the lands of the Scythians, blessed the hilly bank of the Dnieper and said to his disciples: “Do you see these mountains? As on those mountains the grace of God will shine, and the city will be great, and a lot of churches will be erected by God. Thus, together with the first temples of Kievan Rus, the Lavra monastery became the fulfillment of the apostle’s prophetic words.

In 1051 in the capital city Kiev during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise and during the Metropolitan ministry of saint Hilarion by the Divine Providence the Kievo-Pechersk Lavra began its existence. By a miraculous command of the Queen of Heaven, who appeared in a vision to the Venerable Anthony’s confessor on the distant Athos Mountain, and with the blessing of the Venerable Anthony himself, there was established a monastery, which became an inexhaustible source of gracious prayer.

Soon the high spiritual feat of the Monk Antonii became widely known and attracted the townspeople who came to him for blessing and spiritual advice. Prince Izyaslav, son of Yaroslav the Wise, and the Kiev nobility became frequent visitors of the cave monastery – they donated funds to build a ground church and cells when the caves became too small for the rapidly growing number of brethren. And it was about the year 1062: the Monk Antonii set the Monk Varlaam as the first hegumen, and he himself withdrew for forty years into a distant cave.

After the transfer of the Monk Varlaam as rector to the Svyato-Dmitrovsk monastery built by the prince Izyaslav, the Monk Antonii blesses the Monk Feodosii (+ 1074) as the meekest, most humble and docile one. When in the monastery there were already about 100 monks, the Monk Theodosii sent one of the monks to Constantinople to the Scoptician Ephremos to copy the Studii’s charter and bring it to Kiev. The task was executed. At the same time metropolitan George arrived in Kiev and with him one of the monks of the Studia monastery Michael, who accompanied him and gave the monastic charter to the monastery. The charter of the Pechersk monastery was created on the basis of these two versions. Later all Kievan Rus monasteries accepted this coenobitic charter.

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An important event in the life of Kievo-Pecherskiy monastery was the laying and construction of the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God. In 1091 in the church were laid the relics of the Monk Feodosii. The Venerable Anthony, according to his will, was buried under a spud in the Nearer Caves.

Strengthening the first Pechersk monks and exhorting by their example all Rus’, not so long ago having received Holy Baptism, the Lord manifested at Lavra many miracles and signs. The power of the feats and prayers of the Pechersk Monks astonished their contemporaries and all subsequent generations of believers.

The monks of the Kievo-Pechersk monastery and, first of all, the hermits were distinguished by high morality and selfless devotion. This attracted educated and noble people to the Lavra. The monastery became a peculiar academy of orthodox hierarchs. Till the beginning of XIII century from among its monks 50 bishops were appointed in different limits of Kiev Rus.

Many Pechersk monks became missionaries and went to preach Christianity in the regions of Rus where the population professed paganism. Monks often preached sermons and made appeals to the princes against the feuds which riven Kievan Rus and called for preserving the integrity of the princely government and the order of succession to the princely throne.

The Kievo-Pechersk monastery is connected with chronicles. The first known chronicler was Reverend Nikon, the abbot of the Pechersk monastery. Venerable Nestor the Chronicler is considered to be the author of the Pechersky Chronicle, who about 1113 finished his brilliant “Tale of Bygone Years”. In the first quarter of the XIII century the monastery created a unique work – the Kievo-Pechersk Paterik, based on stories by monk Polycarp and messages by Simon, bishop of Vladimir and Suzdal.

Playing an important role in integration of the East Slavic lands, being a spiritual, social, cultural and educational center, the Pechersk monastery enjoyed well-deserved fame not only in Russia, but also in Poland, Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria and other countries.

Since 40th years of XIII century and to the beginning of XIV century Kievo-Pecherskaya saw of Tatar-Mongolian invasions and together with its people suffered disasters. Golden Horde khans understood Kiev importance for east Slavs, and interfered in every possible way the city rebirth. From Tatar raids the monastery as well as all Kiev was strongly suffered in 1399 and 1416. Few sources about the life of Lavra during this period have survived. Because Genghis Khan and his successors, by virtue of their superstition (they worshipped deities of different religions), were tolerant, there is reason to believe that life and worship in the monastery did not cease.

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Metropolitan Macarius (Bulgakov) believes that the monks lived not in the monastery itself, but around it, “in the wilds and forests, in secluded caves, and secretly converged in one church aisle that had survived the devastation to perform worship.

In the middle of the 14th century the Lithuanian expansion in Ukraine began. In spite of the fact that Lithuanian Duke Olgerd to whom the Kyiv lands were subordinated, originally professed pagan faith, and then after the Unia (1385) between Lithuania and Poland the intensive imposition of Catholicism started, during this period Pechersk monastery gave a vigorous life. This is witnessed, in particular, by such a fact: the young man Arseniy, a native of Tver, who took the veil in the second half of the XIV century “… rejoiced in spirit having found in the Kievo-Pechersk monastery monks, who shone with virtues, as stars on the firmament of heaven, and, trying to imitate them, he continued for many years with different degrees of obedience…”.

The Pechersk monastery also had a certain influence on the development of the Church in the neighboring Russian lands in their time of trouble. For example, in the second half of the 14th century a monk of the Kiev Pechersk Monastery, Stephan, the Miracle Maker of Mohorin, founded the Mohorin Monastery near Moscow and the Avnezh Monastery in the Vologda land. Bishop Arseny of Tver founded in his diocese the Zheltovodsk Assumption Monastery. At the end of the 15th century the Pechersk monk Kuzma Yakhromsky founded a monastery on the Yakhroma River in the Vladimir district (not far from Moscow).

During this period Pechersk monastery enjoyed such fame that not infrequently some Russian princes came to Lavra and stayed there forever, and some of them also became famous as famous ascetics. In particular, here in 1439 the famous Russian commander Prince Feodor of Ostrozhsk, who gave his riches to the monastery, accepted monastic vows with the name Theodosii.

By the end of the XVI century, overcoming difficulties connected with polonization of Ukrainian lands, and also interference of king and magnates in internal life of Lavra, the monastery, rebuilding temples and getting new lands, was actively reviving. It no longer has the former glory that it had in the first centuries of its existence, but it remains one of the major spiritual, educational and cultural centers of Ukraine. And a new wave of revival of spiritual authority of Pechersk monastery rose in the period of struggle against unity, when the monastery was headed by prominent figures of that era: Archimandrites Nikifor Tur, Elisey Pletenetsky, Zachariah Kopystensky, St. Metropolitan Peter Mogila, Innocent Gizel and others. Thus the beginning of book printing in Kiev is connected with the name of Elisey Pletenetsky. The first book printed in the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra printing house which survived until now is “The Book of Hours” (1616-1617). In the 1680-90s at Lavra a monk from the Krupitsa Monastery in Baturyn, the future saint Dimitri Rostovsky, composed “Lives of Saints,” which to this day is a favorite reading for Christians.

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Since 1786 the metropolitans of Kiev and Galicia were at the same time abbots (priest-archimandrites) of Pechersk Lavra. The first person after the abbot at Lavra was the vicar, usually a hieromonk or hegumen, and later an archimandrite. All the monastery’s affairs were governed by the Ecclesiastical Council, headed by the vicar. It consisted of the heads of Lavra departments. Not a single Russian tsar paid attention to Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra: Alexey Mikhailovich and Peter the Great, Catherine II, Anna Ioannovna, Nicholas I and Nicholas II, Alexander I, Alexander II, Alexander III, Paul, Elizabeth… Visiting Lavra the tsars as well as their subjects took blessing from the prior, shaking hands with him. The Romanovs presented the monastery in person or through their messengers golden crosses and lamps, diamond-set frames for liturgical books, vestments of golden needlework, brocade, and cypress tombs for the deceased.

Among the donors were names of grand dukes, Count Sheremetev and Princess Gagarina, Count Rumyantsev-Zadunaisky (buried in the Assumption Church) and Prince Potyomkin, Hetman Mazepa, Countess Orlova-Chesmenskaya and hundreds of others. Significant sums for the maintenance of the Lavra were donated by nobles, merchants, industrialists, and foreigners. Even commoners, with their rather modest wealth, considered it a Christian duty to donate to Lavra a part of their savings.

At Pechersk monastery there was a hospice and a hospital. Up to eighty thousand pilgrims were received annually by the holy monastery at their dependence. Many of them not only lived free of charge in Lavra hotel, but also at the expense of the monastery were fed with bread and cabbage soup three, four or more days in a row. And so for decades!

As other monasteries of the empire, Lavra allocated considerable funds for education: it supported its own elementary school, the Religious School, gave money for educating poor students of Kyiv diocese, and even established five grants for the Kiev and Kostroma clergy educational institutions “in memory of the miraculous salvation of the sacred life of the Emperor Alexander II on April 4, 1866.

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In 1860 in Lavra a two-class people’s school for children of regular servants and Kiev residents was opened. Later it was called Lavra two-class parochial school. In 1914 it was accepting up to 130-140 children for education.

Lavra and other great monasteries made considerable donations during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I.

As we see, the Kievo-Pechersk monastery always responded to any good, Christian-people and church-public work. Charity, love to people close to them brought Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra well-earned authority. This is confirmed by generous gifts from royalty with accompanying documents “… about donations as a sign of special favor to the Monastery for the labors and prayers of the Lavra brethren for salvation of souls”.

Many notable people wanted, after their death, to be buried in Lavra’s cemetery. Such a will was left, in particular, by Field-Marshal-General Boris Petrovich Sheremetev. However, after the death of Sheremetev, which followed in Moscow, on the orders of Peter I the body of the deceased was taken not to Kiev, but to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg. In the Lavra Christmas cemetery, in the Great Assumption Church, many prominent figures of Russia and Ukraine rested on the territory of the monastery, including the daughter of the mentioned B. P. Sheremetev – Natalia (in nun – Nektariya) Dolgorukaya. The difficult fate of this woman was on everyone’s ears for many years. The disgraced princess accepted schema in the Florovsky monastery (in 1757, 43 years old). An active person, an educated woman, she participated in the restoration of the Church of the Tithes and other Kiev temples. Died on 3 July 1771 Nun Nektaria was buried in Lavra with honors befitting a princess and ascetic.

In 1911 the ground of the monastery received the relics of Peter Arkadievich Stolypin, an outstanding statesman of the Russian Empire.

A unique necropolis was formed in Lavra. In the holy abode, in its churches and caves rest: the first Metropolitan of Kiev Michael, Prince Feodor of Ostrozhsk, Elysee of Pletenets, St. Peter Mogyla, Innokenty Gizel, and dozens of other prominent figures of the Fatherland.

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After the October coup the most difficult times in its history began for the Lavra. According to the Decree of the Soviet government “On Separation of Church and State and School from Church” all the property of church and religious societies was declared the property of the people. On September 29, 1926 the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee and the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR adopted a resolution “On recognizing the former Kyiv Pechersk Lavra as a historical and cultural state reserve and on turning it into an All-Ukrainian museum small town”. Gradual isolation of the church community, and its replacement by the newly created museum resulted in complete liquidation of the monastery by the beginning of 1930. Part of brethren were transferred a hundred kilometers from Kiev and shot, others were imprisoned or exiled. Lavra was ruined and destroyed.

The great damage to architecture and historical values of Lavra was done during the Great Patriotic War. On November, 3, 1941 the Cathedral of the Assumption was blown up.

At the end of 50s under increasing pressure of party-political system the reserve turns to hotbed of atheistic propaganda. At this time by instruction of directive party organs the ancient wells of Antony and Theodosius were filled up.

In 1961 by the decision of the above mentioned bodies the active monastery, renewed on the territory of the Lower Lavra during the fascist occupation in 1941 was abolished, its inhabitants were banished.

In June, 1988 in connection with celebration of the 1000-years anniversary of Baptism of Kyivska Rus and in obedience to the decision of the Council of Ministers of the UkrSSR the territory of the Dalnie (Distant) caves with all the above-ground constructions and caves was given to the newly created Pechersk community; in 1990 the territory of the (Blyjnie) Near caves was given.

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