The Only Monastery in Russia Never Closed by Communists - Inspiring Interview with the Abbot (Pskov-Caves)

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In 1973 (or 1974), Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov called me and asked for a meeting. That same day we met in my office and, to my surprise, he began to talk not about the problems of the Writers' Union, as usual, but about religion and the Church. He had never talked to me about these issues before. S.V. Mikhalkov told me that he had been instructed to visit the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery, to get acquainted with the life and the life of this holy monastery, to meet and talk with the monastic leadership, with the monks and elders. In addition, again to my surprise, he added that, according to his information, the leadership of the Central Committee intends to send me on this trip. And indeed, on the same day I was summoned and instructed to go to the Pskov-Pechersk monastery to see with my own eyes how the life of those who had devoted themselves to the service of God was going. At the same time, I was told that Sergei Mikhalkov was going there with the same purpose from the Writers' Union.


Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov


I began to think about why suddenly there was such an interest in the Pskov-Pechersk monastery and remembered some recent events connected with the policy of the Central Committee headed by N.S. Khrushchev towards religion and the Church. It is known that Khrushchev allegedly signed a decree to liquidate the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery and several other religious organizations. A new wave of struggle against religion and the Church began in the country, temples and ancient monasteries were closed and destroyed. For example, when I came to my relatives in Kharkov, instead of a beautiful Orthodox church that stood across the street from our house, I saw an empty place and was shocked. To all my inquiries there was one answer: the church had been blown up by Khrushchev's order so it wouldn't interfere with the traffic. I have heard of many other such barbaric acts of the authorities…


Holy Dormition of the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery


The Pskov-Pechersk Monastery. The Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the bell tower


Abbot of the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery Archimandrite Alipy (Voronov; 1914-1975)


…When Archimandrite Alipy received a document signed by Khrushchev on the liquidation of the monastery, he publicly burned it. And this was quite understandable and justified on the part of the abbot, who had faithfully served the Fatherland all his life and had shown real heroism on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. No Orthodox man could accept the destruction of the monastery, this great shrine. Apparently, the fighters against religion and the church did not give up their struggle and decided to start a new campaign, especially since in those years the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery was notable for its active work both in preserving the age-old traditions of Orthodoxy and in developing and spreading the Orthodox Faith among the masses of the population. This, naturally, did not suit these fighters against religion and the Church, who dreamed of destroying all active centers of the Russian Orthodox Church, and above all such centers as the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery and the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. 


Ivan Voronov, 1940s.


The next day early in the morning S.V. Mikhalkov and I went to the Pskov-Pechersk monastery. When we arrived there, we were met by several people, headed by the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Alipy (Voronov). He drew attention first of all by his appearance: he was a well-formed, well-built, handsome man with a lush beard, attentive, intelligent, with kind eyes and at the same time with a piercing, sharp look that penetrated into the very soul of the man. I have met such a characteristic, extraordinarily, intense, and attentive look with many outstanding artists and sculptors - S.T. Konenkov, N.V. Tomsky, E.A. Kibrik, M.S. Saryan, T.T. Salakhov - a look that expresses the great spiritual content of their personality, their inner world. As for Fr. Alipy, he was, it seemed to me, an artist in spirit, in vocation, and, as I later learned, in education and in his religious and ecclesiastical activities as a restorer and iconographer. 


Archimandrite Alipy (Voronov)


Archimandrite Alipy invited us into the refectory, where we saw the table laid out for the occasion with all kinds of vitals and drinks. I could not resist asking him what the occasion was for such a generous reception. He replied with a smile: we do not often have such guests, and we are very pleased to meet you and introduce you to our monastery and our church life. He smiled so sincerely and kindly that he inadvertently elicited the kindest attitude and sympathy from us.


Monument to Archimandrite Alipy (Voronov)


During our meal, he began to talk about the history of the monastery, the most important events that have taken place throughout its centuries-old history. Then, with great warmth and sincere sympathy and even love, he began to tell us about his predecessors, the abbots of the monastery. He spoke, taking his time, in his soft, velvety voice, putting into each word a special, deep meaning. Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov and I listened to him with exceptional attention, like schoolchildren or students, because much of what he said was a revelation to us. Indeed, I remembered stories of my grandfather about the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, and the Pskov-Pechersk monastery, and other holy places of Orthodoxy, but those were distant childhood memories. And here the real history of the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery from the lips of one of its great abbots came alive for us. And even though Mikhalkov was older than me, we both, as if spellbound, caught his every word and looked at him as at a man, who with his heart and soul brought to life incredible events from the history of the great Orthodox shrine. In short, the meal was not so much a meal as a new discovery of a little-known world of the human spirit and divine grace. It seemed to me that I had never heard or experienced anything like it. I think the same thing happened to S.V. Mikhalkov, because he did not say a single word during this time, even though he was reputed to be one of the great talkers. By the way, before and after the meal, Archimandrite Alipy, as it should be, said appropriate prayers, while we, like inexperienced, confused schoolchildren, either made the sign of the cross, or bowed, or stood still, not knowing how to behave. Since we were both members of the Party and could not essentially be believers, at the same time, but our religious childhood evidently spoke for us, and we involuntarily made the sign of the cross over ourselves.


After the meal, Archimandrite Alipy invited us to talk with him. I knew that Alipy was not only a talented and well-known artist, but that he had participated in the Great Patriotic War, had high military awards and proved himself as a real warrior-hero. Therefore, as an artist, as a warrior, and as a priest, he was universally respected and acknowledged by the people.


He began his talk by asserting that the Soviet regime had caused enormous damage to the Russian Orthodox Church, to the Orthodox faith, and to religion in general. At the same time, he did not shy away from S.V. Mikhalkov as Chairman of the Union of Writers of the RSFSR and deputy to the Supreme Soviet, nor from me as an employee of the Central Committee of the CPSU and director of the publishing house "Art". He said that it would take many years to rectify this damage and that one of the main tasks of the monastery was the full development of Orthodoxy, the Orthodox faith, for only a true and authentic faith can be the source, the basis and guarantee of the development of our people, society and state. He gave vivid examples when the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery, being almost on the brink of death, repelled all attacks and invasions of the enemies of Russia and Orthodoxy. The importance of a truly Orthodox faith for our people cannot be overestimated, and all of us - both the people and the state, not to mention the Orthodox Church itself - must do everything possible to strengthen and develop this faith. We listened again with bated breath to his revelations, and I couldn't help but think during this narration of Alipy's exceptional talent as a man not just of words, but of the Word of God.


The conversation was quite long, Alipy touched on a variety of issues, and all of this for me, and I think for Mikhalkov, was really a revelation, the discovery of a new world that we either did not know, or knew poorly. He specifically talked about Russian religious literature and art, which, in his opinion, were in many ways superior to Western literature and art, and he gave compelling examples: ancient Russian iconography and painting, portraits of Renaissance Madonnas. He showed that the essential difference between them lay not only in the different perspective - Old Russian icons had two-dimensional perspective, while Renaissance paintings had three-dimensional - but also in the fact that Russian icons, more modest in outward appearance, expressed the inner spiritual essence of man much more deeply and universally than Renaissance paintings, rich in vivid colors and vivid imagery. I wanted to listen to him and listen without end, but our time was limited.


After the talk, Archimandrite Alipy began to acquaint us with the monastery, with its ancient masterpieces and above all with the caves where the famous elders and monks rested. Needless to say, what a staggering impression these caves made on us. The bodies of those who rested there were not subject to any deterioration, nor rotting due to the special climate in the caves. During the stories of Alipy we looked attentively: we had not seen anything like that. Alipy took us around the monastery and calmly, without any fatigue and without any feigned optimism led his speech about the life of monks and elders in the holy abode.


It was already getting dark, but Alipy kept guiding us and acquainting us with new and new interesting sides of life and activity of his monastery. And we, in turn, did not feel any fatigue, neither physical nor spiritual, from such a tour by a legendary "guide”. It seemed to me that I had never and nowhere experienced such deep satisfaction and frank pleasure from what Archimandrite Alipy showed us and what he told us about. It would have been a whole book if I had told us everything he told us in detail, and I very much regret that at that time there was no opportunity to write down everything we heard from the lips of Archimandrite Alipy. It would have been a unique book, not only about the Pskov-Pechersk monastery, but about our entire Church and the Orthodox faith.


After such a detailed and instructive introduction to the monastery, Alipy introduced us to his famous monks and elders and then invited us to the evening meal. And when he began to say a prayer, according to the custom, Mikhalkov and I involuntarily began to cross ourselves, as if we had become true believers.


Konstantin Mikhaylovich Dolgov


As a parting gift, he gave us beautiful leather-bound albums with pictures of various places in the monastery and its inhabitants. I still have the album, although many of the photos have disappeared, apparently those to whom I showed the album, they liked it.


When we returned from our business trip, I reported my impressions to the leadership of the Cultural Department of the CPSU Central Committee. In particular I said that the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery is one of the great shrines of the Russian Orthodox Church, which carefully preserves the heroic traditions of defending our Motherland from all kinds of enemies of the Russian land. It is a holy monastery that multiplies and disseminates the highest spiritual values in our people. There is not only nothing negative in the activities of this monastery, but on the contrary, it represents the most positive examples of spiritual revival and development not only of Orthodoxy itself and the Orthodox faith, but of the entire Russian and multinational culture of Russia. In this regard, the activities of the monastery deserve the highest and most positive assessment.


What did Sergei Mikhalkov report to the leadership, I do not know, except his words that he described the activities of the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery as the most positive phenomenon in our life.


Sometime later I learned of the death of Archimandrite Alipy and sincerely regretted it, his activity was not only a great contribution to the development of Orthodox teaching and the Russian Orthodox Church, but also an invaluable contribution to the spiritual development of our people and our Fatherland.

Source: Pokrov (Russian)

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