VALAAM

Ancient history of a monastery


Ancient wooden cross on a Svyatoy island.

Having adopted Christianity in X century, Russia maintained the monastic traditions both Egyptian and Byzantine. As Valaam legend has it, at that time lived the Saints Sergius and German who founded the monastery. They came to the wild rocky island from the 'eastern lands', supposedly from Greece, after fleeing from Kiev where the Christian community was persecuted. According to other sources, St. German was a local dweller, a Karelian. After St. Sergius's death he led the monastic community. According to the Life of St. Avraamy, who preached in Rostov the Great and took the vows in Valaam, the Valaam monastery headed by a Abbot was established soon after the adoption of Christianity in Russia. The Life of St. Sergius and St. German did not reach us. All attempts of later Valaam Priors, especially Abbot Damaskin, to find it with the help of well known historians were fruitless. The reason is the age of the monastery and its hard fate. Located on the border of Novgorod-the-Great lands and Sweden, it was ravaged by the Swedes several times.

Pine on rocks of Valaam.
 
Thus, in 1163 the monks expecting an invasion opened the tomb of the Saints and took their relics to Novgorod to worship them there. According to some sources, it was the fourth moving of the relics, another evidence of the age of the cloister. After the danger had passed, on September 11, 1180 (this day is still celebrated as the day of memory of the Saints, along with June 28, the old style), the monks brought the relics back to Valaam. To keep the relics from defilement, the monks cut a deep tomb in the rock and burried the relics there. There they still are. Numerous miracles performed with the relics were recorded in monastery chronicles up to the day of the cloister's closing. Prayers addressed to them helped to save people drowning and freezing in the lake, healed nervous, mental, and infectious diseases, as well as alcoholism. Since 1819, St. Sergius and St. German are worshipped all over Russia, a special service was designed for them, icons and cathedrals were dedicated to them.


Valaam in the last century.

In XV-XVI the monastery was calles 'the great Larva', and it abounded in both spiritual and material wealth. Among its belongings were 12 sketes on the northern shore of Ladoga, 1919 homesteads, saltworks, apiaries, fisheries, and other property However, by God's will, the time of trouble came again. On February 20, 1578, the Swedes attacked the cloister, killed 18 elders and 16 novices. Three years after that, eighty-four people were taken by pestilence. Soon, after one of the attacks, the monastery was burnt. Thanks to the help of tsars Feodor loannovich and Boris Godunov the cloister was rebuilt, but not for long. In 1611 the Swedes, having ravaged Korela (Keksholm, present Priozersk), alighted at Valaam and gave everything to fire and sword. Hegu-men Macary and some of the brethren were martyred. Others went to Novgorod monasteries, especially the Tikhvin ones, and later settled in the Vasilijevsky cloister on the Volhov river. The island became deserted, and according to the Stolbovsky peace agreement of 1617, together with other lands was given to Sweden. The relics of St. Sergius and St. German remained on the island and served as a guarantee of the cloister's revival. The invaders tried to profane the sacred relics but were punished by God. By the time of the Northern War between Russia and Sweden, there were four peasant homesteads on the island and a certain chapel over the Saints' tomb built by the Swedes brought to their senses.


The cell of hermit.
 

The cloister became famous for its hermits, spiritual successors of St. Sergius and St. German, who may be justly called the Synod of Valaam Saints, among them: St. Avraamy, monk Genady, one of the founders of the monastery on the Sheksna, and St. Kornily Paleostrovsky, the founder of a cloister at lake Onega. The story of St. Ephrem from Novgorod, the founder of the Perekomsky monastery, refers to him as an associate of St. Sergius Valaamsky.


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VALAAM