"The Holy Dormition Kiev-Caves (“Kiev-Pechersk”) Lavra" - Monasteries of the World Series
Updated: Jul 1
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The Holy Dormition Kiev-Caves (“Kiev-Pechersk”) Lavra is the first and the most ancient monastery on the territory of contemporary Ukraine.
" ...The monastery was founded in the mid-11th century by the venerable Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves (of “Pechersk”). The incorruptible relics of more than 120 saints currently rest in peace in the caves of the monastery."
According to the ancient Church Tradition, in his travel with the Christian message in the Skythian land, saint Apostle Andrew the First-Called (Protocletos) blessed the hilly Dnieper riverside and turned to his disciples with such words: “Do you see these hills? God’s grace will shine over these hills, and a great city is to be founded, and many churches to be raised by God.” Thereupon, the Lavra monastery together with the first churches of Kievan Rus became the fulfillment of the prescient words of the Apostle.
In 1051, during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise and metropolitan service of saint Hilarion (ссылка), the Kiev-Caves Lavra began its existence by God’s Providence in Kiev, the capital. Under the miraculous decree of the Queen of Heaven Who came as vision to the spiritual father of venerable Anthony on the far Athos Mount, and under the blessing of venerable Anthony himself the monastery was arranged and became inexhaustible source of prayer.
The highly spiritual act of venerable Anthony became widely known and attracted citizens who arrived to him to receive blessing and spiritual advice. Among the frequenters of the caves monastery there were prince Iziaslaf, the son of Yaroslav the Wise, and the Kievan grand people who donated for construction of the on-land church and cells, when the caves became tight because of the fast growing count of the brethren. It was around 1062, when venerable Anthony appointed venerable Barlaam as hegumen and retreated to a distant cave for forty years.
After the appointment of venerable Barlaam as the first prior in the Saint Demetrius Monastery built by prince Iziaslaf, venerable Anthony blessed venerable Theodosius as hegumen (†1074) for being the most gentle, humble and obedient. When there were about 100 monks in the monastery, venerable Theodosius sent one of the monks to Constantinople to eunuch Ephraim to rewrite the Studite Statute and bring it to Kiev. The assignment was done. Those days metropolitan George came to Kiev joined by one of the monks of the Studite Monastery, Mikhail, and handed over monastic statute to the Lavra monastery. On the basis of these two variants, the statute of the caves monastery was created. This cenobitic statute was in result accepted by all monasteries of Kievan Rus.
The important occasion in the Kiev-Caves monastery life was the foundation and construction of the church devoted to the Dormition of the Mother of God. In 1091, the relics of venerable Theodosius were placed in the church. Venerable Anthony according to his will was inhumed under the oppression in the Near Caves.
God presented numerous wonders and signs in the Lavra to strengthen first Caves monks, and all Rus where Holy Christianity was taken not long ago was edified by their example. The power of acts and prayers of the venerables of the caves astonished their contemporaries and all generations of the faithful which followed.
The monks of the Kiev-Caves Monastery and first of all the recluses were distinguished by high morality and devotion. This attracted educated and noble people to the Lavra. The monastery became the peculiar academy of the Orthodox hierarchs. Till the beginning of the 13th century, fifty bishops from among the monastery monks were appointed to different corners of Kievan Rus.
Many caves monks’ went as missionaries to bring Christianity to those regions of Rus where the population followed paganism.
The sermons and appeals of the monks to princes were often directed against dissentions tearing up Kievan Rus, calling to save the integrity of the grand-prince power and the order of inheriting the grand prince throne by the representatives of the Kievan dynasty.
The Kiev-Caves Monastery is related to springing chronicle-writing. Venerable Nikon, hegumen of the Caves Monastery was the first known chronicler. Venerable Nestor the Chronicler is considered to be the author of the genial Tale of Bygone Years Caves Chronicle accomplished in 1113. In the first quarter of the 13th century, the unique piece of work was created in the monastery, the Kiev-Caves Patericon, based on the narratives of monk Polycarp and the letters of Vladimir-Suzdalian bishop Simon.
The Caves Monastery had the deserved recognition not only in Rus, but also in Poland, Armenia, Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria and other countries, it took significant part in uniting the East Slavic lands, being the spiritual, social, cultural and educational center.
Beginning from the 40es of the 13th century and till the beginning of the 14th century, the Kiev-Caves Lavra witnessed Tatar Mongol Yoke and suffered disasters together with the civilians. The khans of the Golden Horde by all means tried to avoid the revival of Kiev, understanding the importance of the city for the East Slavs. The monastery as well as the whole Kiev were strongly harmed by the Tatar Yoke also in 1399 and 1416. The remaining sources which narrate of the Lavra’s life during that period are very rare. Since Genghis Khan and his successors were superstitious and respected divinities of different religions, with their patience to another faith there is a reason to believe that monastery life and divine services did not suspend.
Metropolitan Macarius (Bulgakov) considers that monks lived not in the very monastery but around it, “in wilderness and forests, in isolated caves, and met secretly in one aisle of the church saved from destruction to perform divine service.“
In mid-14th century, the Lithuanian expansion to Ukraine began. Regardless that Lithuanian prince Olgerd having the Kievan lands under his command originally adhered to pagan beliefs, and thereafter upon concluding the Union of Krevo charter in 1385 between Lithuania and Poland, the reinforced imposing of Catholicism started, the Caves monastery lived life to the full during this period. This is witnessed in particular by such a fact: young Arsenius born in Tver who took the monastic vows in the second half of 14th century “…rejoiced with spirit to find monks who shone with righteousness in the Kiev-Caves monastery as the stars on the heavenly expanse, and tried to take example by them for many years and carried obedience of different extent…”
The Caves monastery also exerted certain influence on the development of the Church in the adjoining Rus lands in disastrous times for them. As such, in the second half of 14th century Stephan the professed of the Kiev-Caves Monastery, the Mokhryn Wondermaker, founded the Mokhryn Monastery not far from Moscow, and the Avnezh Monastery in the Vologda land. Bishop Arsenius of Tver founded the Zheltovod Dormition Monastery in his eparchy. In the end of the 15th century, the professed of the Caves, Kuzma of Iakhroma founded the Monastery on the Iakhroma river in the Vladimir district not far from Moscow.
During these times, the Caves Monastery was in such good repute that the Russian princes often came to the Lavra and stayed there forever, some of them at that became famous as men of faith. In particular, in 1439, famous commander prince Theodor of Ostrog took monastic vows here with the name Theodosius, consigning his wealth to the monastery.
Up to the end of the 16th century, overcoming various severities referred to Catholicising of the Ukrainian land as well as interference by the king and the magnates into the Lavra’s life, the monastery is actively revived by rebuilding churches and acquiring new land property. Although not possessing the former glory as in first centuries of its existence, the monastery remains one of the large spiritual, educational and cultural centers of Ukraine. The new wave of rebirth of the theological authority of the Caves Monastery rose in the period of struggle against the Union, when the monastery was chaired by the distinguished representatives of those days archimandrites Nicephorus Tur, Eliseus Pletenetskyi, Zachariah Kopystenskyi, saint metropolitan Peter Mohyla, Innocent Gisel and others. The name of Eliseus Pletenetskyi is thus related to the beginning of book-printing in Kiev. The first extant book printed in the typography of the Kiev-Caves Lavra is the Hour Book (1616-1617). In 1680-90ies, the monk of the Baturyn Krupitskyi Monastery and later one of the saints, Demetrius of Rostov creates Lives of Saints, which is now the favorite reading for the Christians.
Since 1786, Kiev and Galich metropolitans were at the same time priors (archimandrites) of the Caves Lavra. The vicegerent being as a rule hieromonk or hegumen, later archimandrite, was the key person after the prior in the Lavra. All monastery affairs were managed by the Clerical Council headed by the vicegerent. It listed heads of the Lavra divisions.
Rare Rus monarch passed over the Kiev-Caves Lavra: Aleksey Mikhaylovich, Peter the Great, Catherine II, Anne of Russia, Nicholas I and Nicholas II, Alexander I, Alexander II, Alexander III, Pavel, Elizabeth… When visiting the Lavra, the monarchs as well as their subjects took blessing of the prior and put mouth to his hand. The Romanovs presented gifts to the monastery personally or with their envoys, including golden crosses and lampads, covers for the liturgical and prayer books spangled with diamonds, goldwork robes, brocade and cypress sepultures for the venerables in dormition.
There are the names of the great princes among the grantors, including count Sheremetyev and princess Gagarina, count Rumyantsev-Zadunayskyi buried in the Dormition Church, and prince Potyomkin, getman Mazepa, countess Orlova-Chesmenskaya and hundreds of other. Substantial sums for the Lavra maintenance were granted by the noblemen, merchants, manufacturers and foreigners. Even common people in their quite humble station considered donations from their savings to the Lavra the duty of the Christian.
A guest house and a hospital operated at the Caves Monastery. The holy monastery accepted at expense up to eighty thousand of pilgrims annually. Many of them not only lived for free in the Lavra guest house, but also had bread and vegetable soup three, four and more days in a row. And so it lasted during decades!
As other monasteries of the empire, the Lavra provided large amounts for the development of education, maintaining own elementary school, the Theological specialized school, assigned money for the education of the poor from the Kiev eparchy, and even founded five types of scholarships in the theological and educational institutions of Kiev and Kostroma “In memory of the wonderful salvation of the precious life of His Majesty Imperor Alexander II on April, 4, 1866”.
In 1860, the two-grade public school for children of the state servants and citizens of Kiev opened in the Lavra. Later it was named as Lavra Two-Grade Church School. In 1914, the school took up to 130-140 kids as pupils.
The donations from the Lavra and other large monasteries were significant in times of the Russo-Japanese and First World Wars.
As we can see, the Kiev-Caves Monastery has always responded to every kind, Christian and nation’s, church and civil appeal. Charity and love to neighbors created the deserved Kiev-Caves Lavra’s authority. This was witnessed by the generous presents of the monarchic persons with the confirmation documents “…on granting in commemoration of special favor to the Monastery for the efforts and prayers of the brethren of the Lavra in the name of salvation of human souls”.
Many known people wished to be buried after their death on the Lavra graveyard. Such last will was in particular left by general-fieldmarshall Boris Petrovich Sheremetyev. However after the decease of Sheremetyev which followed in Moscow, according to the order of Peter I, the body of the gone was brought to the Aleksander-Nevski Lavra in Saint-Petersburg instead of Kiev. On the Christmas graveyard of the Lavra, in the Large Dormition Church on the territory of the monastery, many outstanding men from Russia and Ukraine rest in peace, and among them there is the daughter of mentioned Sheremetyev Natalia (named Nectaria in monasticism) Dolgorukaya. The challenging fortune of this woman was on everyone’s lips for many years. The digraced princess took the vows of schema in the Flor Monastery in 1757 at the age of 43. Being an active person and educated woman, she took part in reconstruction of the Church of the Tithe and other Kiev churches. Nun Nectaria deceased on June, 3, 1771, and was buried in the Lavra with princess- and hermit-worth honor.
In 1911, the earth of the monastery took the remains of Peter Arkadievich Stolypin, the conspicuous statesman of the Russian Empire.
The unique necropolis was gathered in the Lavra. The first Kiev metropolitan Mikhail, Theodor of Ostrog, Eliseus Pletenetskyi, saint Peter Mohyla, Innocent Gisel and dozens of other outstanding men of the Motherland rest in peace in the earth under the holy monastery, in its churches and caves.
After the October reshuffle, the most hard times in the history of the Lavra came. According to the Decree of the Soviet government “On Separating of the Church and the State and of School and the Church”, all property of church and religious communities was announced property of the people. On September, 29, 1926, the Ukrainian State General Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR passed the regulation on “The Recognition of the Former Kiev-Caves Lavra as the Historical and Cultural State Preserve and on its Transformation into the All-Ukraine Museum Township”. Gradual isolation of the church community, its displacement by the newly created museum ended with total liquidation of the monastery till the beginning of 1930. Part of the brethren was carted away a hundred kilometres from Kiev and shot, and those who remained were imprisoned or exiled. The Lavra suffered devastation and destruction.
An immense damage to the architectural and historical treasures of the Lavra was caused also during the years of the Great Patriotic War. On November, 3, 1941, the Holy Dormition Cathedral was blasted.
In the end of the 50es, under the reinforced pressure of the political party system, the preserve turned into the seedbed of the atheistic propaganda. In those times, according to the instruction of the party’s directory bodies, the ancient water wells of Anthony and Theodosius were whelmed.
In 1961, by the decision of the abovementioned bodies, the acting monastery, which was revived on the territory of the Lower Lavra during the fascist invasion in 1941, rescinded and his inhabitants were outcast.
In June 1988, on the occasion of celebrating the 1000th anniversary of Kievan Rus Baptism and in accordance with the resolution of the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR, the territory of the Far Caves with all its on-ground buildings and caves was transmitted to the newly created caves’ community; and in 1990, the territory of the Near Caves was also transmitted to the community.