XI – XIV
For many centuries, on Dnipro hills overlooks an architectural ensemble of one of the most remarkable sacred places of the Orthodox world, the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
The Cathedral of the Dormition Bell Tower inevitably tends upward, the churches’ tops glisten in the sun, the ancient temples and monastic buildings thrill the soul. And deep underground, there are mysterious Lavra Caves, lit up with glory and holiness of Lavra ascetics.
The rise of Kyiv-Pechersk monastery relates to political, social, and cultural effects of Christianisation of Kyiv Rus in 988-989. According to the “The Russian Primary Chronicle” written by Nestor the Chronicler, the monk of the Pechersk abode, in 1051, the ascetic Anthony found a monastery in the cave. When Anthony returned from the Holy Athos to Kyiv, for a long time he wandered along the monasteries of his motherland and did not find a right place for his soul, so he decided to seclude in the old cave not far from the prince village of Berestove. Nestor the Chronicle accounts, “He finally came to the hill, and liked this site, he took up his abode there, praying to God.”
Venerable Anthony’s ascetic way of life made him famous across the territory of Rus. Likeminded people started to surround him and he tonsured them. Anthony became their pastor, their confessor, but he did not proclaim himself the Father Superior.
When the brethren numbered 12 persons, Venerable Anthony appointed Barlaam the Father Superior, and in 1062 he himself moved to the neighbouring hill and dug a new cell there. In such a way Caves appeared, later they were called the Near Caves and the Far Caves.
Soon after, a well-knit religious community formed around the first ascetics. When the brethren turned one hundred in number, prince Iziaslav, at the request of Venerable Anthony, presented the monks with a mountain above the Caves, where the first wooden church was constructed. New cells were built around it, and nearly the entire brethren moved there. In fact, a new monastery was being built there, and the Caves became the burial place. A few monks stayed in the Caves for burial ceremonies and daily liturgies. As monks used to live in the “Pechery” (Ukrainian for the “Caves”), the monastery got the name of “Pechersk”.
A remarkable event for further development of monastery tradition of Kyiv Rus was adoption of the Studite rule by monk Theodosius, known by his detailed prescription of church service and quite rigid regulations for monastic practice. The Studite rule regulated monastery life in the abode. With time, all Kyiv Rus monasteries adopted it; therefore, Venerable Theodosius is considered a forefather of monkery in Rus-Ukraine.
The life of founders of Kyiv-Pechersk monastery, who took up the first challenges, was seen as a moral labour. Monks’ refraining from secular temptations and their ascetism commanded respect among the faithful not just to tenants of the Caves, but also to Christianity in general. This influenced the authorities’ favourable treatment of monasteries. Princes and boyars supported monks, presented them with gold, silver, land plots with governed peasants, and various lands.
Pechersk monastery made a great contribution to development of the national culture. This was due to a notable cluster of educated people in the monastery. Yet in XI century, chronicle writing started here. The first known chronicler was Hilarion (ascetic name – Nicon), the monk of Kyiv-Pechersk monastery (1077-1088). Within the walls of the Pechersk abode, the first-ever historian of our country, Nestor the Chronicle, lived and worked. In 1113, he finished “The Russian Chronicle” – the first systematized chronicle of the history of our Motherland.
A talented church writer was Venerable Theodosius with his famous epistles, lessons, and letters.
In the first half of XIII century, Pechersk monks Nestor, Polikarp, and Simon created “The Pecherskyi Paterikon” that glorified Holy Fathers Anthony, Theodosius, Nicon, Nikolas Sviatosha, and other ascetics, artists, doctors, and others. Apart from this, the “Paterikon” contained many records on the history of the monastery, spiritual life and household life of monks, and the construction of the abode. This is a unique historical and ethnographic source that covers the period of XI-XIII centuries. It was printed in 1661 in the printing workshop of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
According to the Studite rule, each monk had to read hand-written books that he got from the monastery library. Yet in that time, the monastery had a substantive book collection that was later enriched with a great number of personal books of Nikolas Sviatosha, the prince and the monk, as well.
In XI century, visual arts also developed in the monastery. The monk Alipius was its prominent representative. He became the first iconographer of Kyiv Rus, having learnt this wisdom from the Greeks.
The Pechersk abode is also considered a medicine centre of Kyiv Rus. The most known healer of the monastery was Agapitus. Also, there are records of famous healers Alipius, Damian, Gregory, and others. Even great princes addressed the monastery for medical help. In the beginning of XII century, the first Kyiv Rus hospital was founded here at the expense of Chernihiv prince Sviatoslav Davydovych, the great-grandson of Yaroslav the Wise. Later, based on this hospital, the Mykilskyi Hospital monastery appeared with churches, a hospital and a pharmacy, that was a part of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The monastery medicine grew based on folk medicine and the use of medical achievements of foreign countries.
Caring for church affairs and prosperity of Pechersk monastery, monk Theodosius paid a lot of attention to its appearance and tenants’ household. As the number of monks increased, the territory of the monastery was significantly enlarged, new cells were built, the abode was fenced. In 1073, in solemn atmosphere, a foundation of the stone Dormition Cathedral was laid. By the end of eighties in XI century, when the Cathedral building was completed, the reputation of the monastery was quite recognised. Spiritual influence of the monastery spread far beyond Kyiv. Pechersk monastery also turned into a training centre for Orthodox clerics. Many Pechersk monks became missionaries and left to preach Christ to paynim countries. Around 50 bishops from the monastery brethren were appointed to different regions of Kyiv Rus by beginning of XIII century.
In spite of the damages, caused during the Polovtsians’ attack of Kyiv under khan Boniak’s leadership, the abode continued to develop. In 1106-1108, the Trinity Church above the Gates was built. In 1108, the stone refectory construction finished. In the end of XII century, the monastery enclosed with a stone fence. In the beginning of XII century, near the monastery, in the country seat of prince Volodymyr, in the village of Berestove, Saviour’s Church was built.
In the middle of XII century, Kyiv-Pechersk monastery achieved independence of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1159, the son of the great Kyiv prince Yurii Dolhorukyi, Andrii Boholiubskyi, gave the monastery a title of “Lavra”, the status of great princely archmandricy and stauropegion.
In 1230, the monastery buildings suffered from an earthquake.
In 1240, the City of Kyiv was ruined and plundered by hordes of nomad tribes. Churches and monasteries, like the whole Kyiv Rus, suffered a lot from the invaders. Still, the church was released from paying a regular tribute to the Golden Horde. Church and monastery estates were declared sacred. These benefits were legally established by special labels of Horde khans. However, the general favourable treatment did not guarantee the church any protection from violence and destruction of religious buildings. Stone church building faded, icon painting was over, many craft traditions decayed.
In the second half of XIV century, Ukrainian lands fell under control of the Lithuanian Principality, and then, the one of the noble Poland. In XVI century, after the Union of Liublin (1569) and the Union of Brest (1596), Poland attempted to crown its authority over the Ukrainians through converting them to Catholicism. With activities of archimandrites, support of the Cossacks, burgers, peasants, and a significant part of Ukrainian orthodox nobility, Kyiv-Pechersk monastery, stauropegion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, preserved its own religion.