The 7 Biggest and Grandest Male Monasteries in Russia (Photo Essay)

An informative directory of the largest men’s monasteries in Russia was written by a female novice and provides not only a summary of the monasteries’ histories but also some stunning images as well. Translated below for your benefit, we highly recommend if you are in the area to visit some of these wonderous sights. As it is machine translated, we apologize in advance for any errors.

 

Image: Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery Vologda, Russia

 


By the novice Tatiana Kladieva

 

Monasteries have always been strongholds of Orthodoxy, bastions of spirituality. People from all over the country flocked here for advice from experienced elders, with a request for prayer and material aid.

 

Orthodox shrines have gone through a lot of trials during the long years of their existence. Nowadays the monasteries of Russia are being revived or erected in new places. Now in Russia there are 537 monasteries and hermitages and two lavras.

 

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

 

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery is a male monastery in the Vologda diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is the largest monastery not only in Russia, but also in all Europe. It is also called the "Great Sovereign's fortress" because in the Middle Ages it really was the largest fortress on the northwestern borders of the Russian state and the center of spiritual life of the Russian North. Strong walls of the monastery, built in the XVI-XVII centuries, surround an area of 12 hectares, on which 11 large and small churches are located.

 


 



The monastery was founded in 1387 by St. Cyril, a follower of St. Sergius of Radonezh, by order of the Mother of God, who wrote to him in a vision. The monastery is located on the shore of Lake Siversky in the town of Kirillov, which grew out of a settlement attached to the monastery. Until Peter the Great time the monastery had an extensive trade, especially in salt and fish. Besides this the monastery was one of the most important book centers of Russia. By the beginning of the 18th century the monastery was a major landowner, the owner of 21 thousand peasants living in 16 counties.

 





In 1924 the monastery became a historical, architectural and art museum-reserve. Nowadays the monastery coexists with a museum, of the churches that in operate Sergievsky (only in summer) and Kirillovsky (all year round).

 





Since 2000 the monastery has been under UNESCO protection. The reason to include it into the list of World Heritage sites was the perfectly preserved frescos of the Moscow icon painter Dionysius, a disciple of Andrei Rublev.

 


The Resurrection New Jerusalem Monastery

 

The Resurrection New Jerusalem Monastery is among the most grandiose and majestic monasteries of Holy Russia. It was built by His Holiness Patriarch Nikon in accordance with his plan to create a Russian Palestine near Moscow in order to give the Russian people an opportunity to contemplate the places of the salvation and resurrection of Christ without having to make the costly and dangerous journey to the Middle East. The main sanctuary of the monastery was the Church of the Resurrection, built on the model of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, with copies of all the memorable places associated with the atoning feat of Christ the Savior.

 





The New Jerusalem was built from 1656 to 1685, during which time "heavenly beauty" was created. Jordan, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Zion, the Hill of Olives, the Hill of Tabor, Bethany, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Samaria, Sidon, Capernaum, and Galilee are all represennted there. The New Jerusalem Monastery was especially richly decorated and was a visible testimony to the glory and power of the Russian Orthodox Church and the glory and power of Holy Russia, which by that time had become a unified state. The number of the inhabitants at one point reached 500.






In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the monastery was one of the most popular centers of pilgrimage. In 1913 it was visited by about 35 thousand people.

 

In 1919, the monastery was closed and given to the State Art and History Museum.

 

In 1994 the stauropegial (subordinate directly to the patriarch) Resurrection New Jerusalem Monastery resumed its activity.

 





The entire monastic complex of New Jerusalem, which includes more than 30 sites, was completely and in all its glory restored by 2015. In 2017, more than 150 thousand people visited the monastery.

 

Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra

 

Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra is the largest male monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church with centuries of history. It is located in the center of Sergiev Posad, Moscow region. It has the status of stauropegial.

 





The settlement of St. Sergius of Radonezh on the Makovets Hill (70 kilometres north-east of Moscow) in 1337 is considered to be the date of foundation of Holy Trinity Hermitage. After several years of solitary ascetic life of the monk, new inhabitants came to Makovets, and the hermitage was transformed into a monastery. In the Middle Ages, the monastery played an important role in the political life of Russia and was a support for the authorities and the people. It took part in the struggle against the Tatar-Mongol yoke, withstood the Polish-Lithuanian armies during the Time of Troubles and supported Peter the Great in his fight for power. Local councils of the Russian Orthodox Church were held at the Lavra.

 




Numerous architectural structures of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra were built by the best architects of the country in the XV-XIX centuries. The ensemble of the monastery includes more than 50 buildings of different purposes, of which more than ten are churches. The relics of the monastery's founder, St. Sergius of Radonezh, are in the Lavra's Holy Trinity Cathedral.

 





From the day of its founding to the present day, the lavra has been a major center of spiritual enlightenment (the Moscow Theological Academy is located here) and Russian culture.

 

The brethren of the Lavra have about 200 monks.

 

Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery in Valaam

 

The Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior is a stauropegial monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church, located on the islands of the Valaam archipelago in the northern part of Lake Ladoga in the Republic of Karelia. It is called the Northern Athos. According to legend, the Apostle Andrew, preaching the Gospel, set up a stone cross on the Valaam Mountains. 900 years later, two monks, Sergius and Hermann, founded a monastic brotherhood on one of the islands. By the beginning of the 16th century, about 600 monks lived on the islands, but frequent attacks of the Swedes led to the desolation of the fertile islands. The Valaam Monastery began to be restored in 1715 after Peter the Great's victories over the Swedes. The greatest prosperity of the monastery came in the 19th century, when for 42 years he was Abbot Damaskin.



 



The Valaam ascetics wished to turn their monastery into the New Jerusalem, so that at the beginning of the twentieth century, names referring to New Testament times appeared on the island: Kedron, Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, the Resurrection Skete.

 





By the beginning of World War I about 1000 monks lived on the island.

 

The rebirth of the monastery began at the end of 1989. On St. Andrew's Memorial Day, December 13, six monks came here - in 2018 there were already about 200.

 





More than 100 thousand people come to the Valaam Monastery every year, of which about 90 thousand are tourists.

 

Dormition Pskov-Pechersk Monastery

 

Uspensky Pskov-Pecherskiy Monastery has a centuries-old history. The name of the monastery is connected with the caves in it, called "God Made" (that is created by God). According to legend, the caves became known to local residents in 1392. The monks of the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, who had fled from the Crimean Tatar raids to the Pskov land, resided there. In 1473 the cave church of Dormition of the Mother of God, dug out by Venerable Jonah in the sandstone hill, was consecrated here. That year is considered to be the year of the monastery's foundation.

 





The uplift of monastic life and the flourishing of the monastery belonged to the XVI Century, when the Abbot was the Monk-martyr Kornilii, murdered by John the Terrible in the year 1570. Under Abbot Kornilii stone walls were erected around the monastery, and the monastery became a strong fortress that withstood sieges of Poles and Swedes.

 





The complex of the God-Made Caves consists of caves nearly 15 meters long, and the distant seven underground galleries – underground streets with a cave church of the Resurrection. Here is the monastery cemetery, where ten thousand people are buried. In the caves is a constant temperature of +5 ° C.

 





The monastery has never been closed during its history.

 

Solovetsky Monastery

 

Solovetsky Monastery is a stauropegial monastery, located in the village of Solovetsky in Primorsky district of Arkhangelsk region on Solovetsky Island in the White Sea. There is about 60 km between the island and the coast of Karelia. The distance to Arkhangelsk is about 300 km. The average annual temperature on the Solovki +1.1 ° C.

 





The monastery was founded in 1420-1430 and soon became one of the most famous. The monastery did much to educate pagans on the far outskirts of Russia. Deeply revered are the names of the founders of the monastery - the Venerable Zosima, Savvatiya and German, the Anzersky wonderworkers Eleazar and Job. The monastery was rebuilt in stone by St. Philip, metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia. He lived almost 30 years in the Solovetsky monastery, 18 of them as a prior. Saint Philip boldly spoke out against the misdeeds of the oprichnina of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and accepted a martyr's death.

 


 



The Solovetsky monastery combined its monastic exploits with its civic duty: from the end of the 16th century it became a defender of Russia's northern frontiers. In 1854, during the Crimean War, when British ships shelled the monastery for nine hours, the brethren and all the inhabitants, led by the abbot, Archimandrite Alexander (Pavlovich), with great courage and heroism, defended the monastery.

 





By the beginning of XX century the monastery had ten hermitages and sketes, 17 churches (31 altars), about 30 chapels. It was "the Solovetsky man's kingdom, an earthly paradise, where all work for the glory of God."

 



On October 5, 1990 the Holy Synod blessed the rebirth of the Spaso-Preobrazhensky stauropegial monastery.

 

Optina hermitage

 

The Optina Hermitage is the hottest candle lit by the Russian people before God and the brightest lamp of Orthodox Russia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

 





According to legend, the monastery was founded at the end of the 14th century by a penitent robber named Opta, later monk Makarii. The first written evidence of the Makarievskaya Optina Hermitage dates back to the reign of Boris Godunov. During the Time of Troubles it was devastated by Lithuanians. In the early 18th century, Peter I levied an unbearable tribute, and only 12 people remained in the monastery.

 


 



The real revival of the monastery began at the end of the XVIII century with the appointment of Hieromonk Abraham of the monastery as rector. With him began the great eldership of the monastery. The renowned God-loving Optina elders became the main sanctuary of the monastery. The Optina hermitage, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was a school for Russian monasticism and one of the spiritual centers of Russia.

 





The Optina Hermitage was closed in January 1918 and reopened in the fall of 1988. The monastery is currently experiencing its heyday, with about 200 monks asceticizing there.