Bishop Theodosius of Seattle on the Tragic Events at Kievan Lavra of the Caves
Bitter and sorrowful are the events taking place in the center of Kievan Rus and in its primary holy site, the Dormition Lavra of the Kievan Caves!
The monastery, founded in the 11th century through the prayerful ascetic labors of SS Anthony and Theodosius, and also many other saints of “Pechersk,” is once again suffering a calamity. If before, the community was subjected to destruction at the hands of Tatar-Mongol invaders, and then by the godless state, now it is schismatics, entering into a shameful union with those in power, who are preparing to desecrate this holy site during the very days of Great Lent. The persecutors are not even brought to their senses by signs from above, which condemn their criminal actions.* May the reader understand. They also do not heed the lessons of history.
For similar to what is happening today was recorded in the chronicle of this holy place. Divine wrath did not tarry then. Many of the perpetrators who desecrated the sanctuary in those days suffered. Apparently, today’s destroyers, too, are hastening to heap upon their heads “coals of fire” (Romans 12:20).
It is difficult to fathom how, as they seized a monastery which belonged to the monks for centuries on a parcel of land set aside for them by Prince Izyaslav in the 11th century, the Soviets renamed it a landmark, the icons--works of art, relics--mummies, incidentally uncovering some of the remains of the dead pious men and placing them during Soviet times into a historical museum established on property confiscated from the monks.
But even during the godless years of the last century, under the Babylonian captivity of our land, when a museum of atheism was established in one of the churches of the monastery, access to the relics of the holy men of Pechersk was open to believers.
Today’s regime decided to go further, closing the Caves during Great Lent and calling the holy relics “museum exhibits.”
Thank God that there are still books existing today written by Metropolitan Hilarion of Kiev (11th century), as well as St Nestor the Chronicler. And the book of the righteous man of God, St Nestor, Tale of Bygone Years, begins with these very words: “Whence came the Russian land? Who became the first prince of Kiev? How did the Russian land originate?” These and other words of the saint, whose relics lie in the Near Caves, are irreplaceable.
The saints, I would think, are observing with sorrow from the other world what can only be called “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15, Daniel 9:27).
I remember the remote year of 1988, the year of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus, when the monastery was handed over to our canonical Church. The first Prior of the Lavra was Abbot Ionafan (Yeletskikh), who took care to restore all the recorded traditions of the monastery and the cycle of monastic liturgical singing. By Divine mercy, being among the first monks I worked on restoring this great holy site, great and dear to every Orthodox Christian heart. Divine services began to be celebrated there daily both in the caves and outside. The churches were in disastrous condition and so even until late in the autumn we could not pray in them. But “it is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63). Despite all the hardships, since there were very few of us, we managed to do only what was in our power.
The Lord, the Mother of God and the saints of Pechersk did not leave us without help. From the holy relics, as before, miraculous healings occurred, relic skulls began to stream myrrh. The elders who once lived in the Lavra before its closing returned to the monastery and became our guides and teachers, while very old, deeply faithful believing Christians brought to the Lavra the holy relics they preserved which were once housed there. Gradually over the years the monastery matured, where over 200 monastics now perform their spiritual labor.
By the efforts of the Prior of the Lavra, Metropolitan Pavel, and also the monastery’s brethren and many Orthodox Christian, the Dormition Cathedral was rebuilt. For after the opening of the archival documents, no one has any doubt who destroyed it. Everything was restored in its splendor, all the churches were re-frescoed and restored, both the ones in the caves and above ground, throughout the territory of the monastery. Sketes were established. The relics of Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) were uncovered, whose day of martyrdom is now considered the feast day of all the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church. The Church of St Agapit of Pechersk was almost entirely reborn and repainted with frescoes, consecrated in 2021, at the heights of the monastery. A great more can be enumerated, regarding the workshops of the Lavra, and of the learning establishments: seminary, academy and other schools.
One can only be amazed at the special prayerful efforts of the present Metropolitan Onouphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, Schema-Archimandrite of Kievan Pechersk Lavra. As Metropolitan of Chernovitsy and Bukovina, he celebrated Divine Liturgy in the presence of the Sovereign Icon of the Mother of God in 2007 together with Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America and the clergy of our diocese in the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” The lofty spiritual level of Vladyka Metropolitan Onouphry--now His Beatitude Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine--shows us all that there are such spiritually-gifted people whom we should emulate and take example from.
It is difficult to comprehend that through one stroke of a pen, trampling both spiritual and civil laws, one could cross out the many centuries of history of the first monastery of Holy Rus. I do not think that the heavens will leave this unpunished. “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).
Those to whom the present godless Ukrainian regime and administrators of the Kievo-Pechersk Landmark want to hand over Kievan Pechersk Lavra are not successors of the canonical structure of the Church. For the entire Christian world who know of what it is that leads to the sin of schism, the words of St John Chrysostom are well known: “The sin of schism is not washed away even by death by martyrdom,” and also the words from the epistle of Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer to the Philadelphians: “Do not be deceived, my brothers! He who follows those who lead to schism will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” (Epistle 4).
All we can do is pray with sorrow to God, His Most-Pure Mother and all the saints of Pechersk, remembering that “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalms 126:5).
One must grieve also for our rulers, because by God’s permission they are placed above us. May God grant them to return to wisdom, so that their souls do not perish for eternity! “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (Psalms 80:3).
Without God a nation is a mob,
United in sin,
Or blind or dumb,
Or what is worse, is cruel.
And yet one ascends the throne,
And speaks high words,
The mob shall yet remain a mob,
Until it turns to God!”
-Hieromonk Roman (Matyushin)
*As materials were prepared for publication, news events regarding the Lavra and Kiev can be followed by the monastery’s official website, which is updated daily.
Translated from Russkaya zhizn’.