Monks in Kiev, Ukraine dug the first monastery caves
These caves are known as Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra and were dug in 1051 by Anthony and Theodosius. These caves were dug to pray to God in solitude. Kiev dates back to 482. Scandinavian traders (Varangians), also called "Rus", originally founded Kiev. It was being used as a trading post. Oleg of Novgorod had captured Kiev in 882 and founded the state of Kievan Rus. The Golden Age of Kiev took place during the reigns of Vladimir Svyatoslavich the Great (980 -1015) and his son Yaroslov I the Wise (1019 -1054).
In 983 Slavic Paganism was still prominent. Vladimir had numerous wives and several concubines. He had pagan statues erected and built shrines for the gods. Human sacrifice was also taking place in Kiev during this period of time. Vladimir in 987 sent servants to neighboring nations to study the different religions. When the servants came back their report was not favorable to most of the religions that they had studied. The servants were impressed with the Byzantine Church in Constantinople and had described to Vladimir the Divine Liturgy in the Hagia Sophia, which was Orthodox religion at that time.
In 988 Vladimir after taking the town of Chersonesos in Crimea, negotiated with the emperor Basil II to marry his sister Anna Porphyrogeneta, who was a 27-year-old princess. Vladimir was baptized prior to the wedding in Chersonesos and took the Christian name of Basil out of respect to his imperial brother-in-law. After the baptism the Greek princess married Vladimir.
When Vladimir returned to Kiev he baptized his 12 sons and some of his boyars. Afterwards he had all to the Slavic pagan statues burnt or destroyed. He urged all of the residents of his capital, rich or poor, to meet at the Dnieper River to be baptized. Orthodox priests came from Chersonesos for the event and a large number of people came to be baptized. Vladimir also established many churches such as the Church of the Tithes (989) and the monasteries on Mt. Athos.
Moscow was founded in 1147 and became the capital of Russia after the Mongols invaded the capital Kievan Rus in 1240 A.D. During the Mongol-Tatar period many cities along with their churches were being destroyed and more cave started to be built throughout Russia and the Ukraine. In the 14th century monastery caves were being dug in the village of Kholki in the Chernianka Region in the territory of Belgorod Russia. The techniques used to dig the Kievo-Pecherskaya caves were being used to dig the Kholki monastery caves. In 1620 monk Gelasii was the first to write about the Kholki's caves.
In 1635 the Tsar Michael Fedorovich was given authority of the monastery.
The first temples built on the land were built out of wood. They were the Nikolay Chudotvortsa temple and the Kazan Virgin temple. The monastery also had a watermill, a workshop for blacksmith and river transportation. Even in the 17th century the Mongol-Tatars were regularly attacking the monastery. The monastery had two cannons for such attacks.
In 1666 on the highest hill nearby to the monastery a fort had been built to aid the monastery. In 1764 Tsarina Catherine II closed the monastery. The opening of the cave was filled in and all the structures where destroyed. Tsarina Ekaterina gave the monastery land away as gifts.
The monastery cave remained closed for about 150 years and the opening to the cave had been lost. In 1917 one of the openings to the cave had been found. In the monastery descriptions of the cave there were 12 monastic cell, a cave temple and other premises were mentioned. After the revolution in 1917 atheists came to the monastery to destroy everything that would remind people of God. Shortly after that the government wanted to blow-up the caves, but it was not possible.
In 1990 the first public worship took place and in 1996 the monastery restoration began. The cave was partially restored and opened to the public. Today it is only possible to visit the temple in the cave and 6 cells. The archbishop of Belgorod Oskolsky Ioann had blessed the first stones on a site of three temples that were to be built - the Temple of Saint Antonija and Feodosiya by Kievo-Pecherskih (entrance to the monastery cave), the Vladimir chapel on top of a hill and the Temple of the Don icon of Divine Mother.
In December of 1999 the Russian Orthodox Church blessed the opening of the Kholki men's monastery. The temple of Saint Antonija & Feodosiya from Kievo-Pechersky Lavra is the entrance to the Kholki caves.In 2008 two unique ceramic iconostasis where installed. One was installed in the entrance temple and the other was installed in the cave temple. These unique ceramic iconostasis where made in the suburbs of Moscow.
The temperature in caves remains constant year round between + 40 to 46 F. The temperature in the caves preserves food, live plants, and flowers without water, all remain in good condition for about two months. The caves have a simplistic ventilation system and the slope of the tunnel and the size of the opening play a roll in the ventilation of the caves.
Scientist studied the air and the chemical properties of chalk and found the monastery caves to have high concentration of ozone, iodine and oxygen. Chalk is used in medical treatment of stomach ulcer, an ulcer of a duodenal gut and to treat wounds. The monastery is surrounded by forest, fields and wildlife and is situated above the Oskol riverbank.
About the Author
Paul Hechtman is currently a resident of Belgorod, Russia and a former resident of Northern California. During the winter months he spends time writing about Russian religion and culture. When the weather gets warmer he spends time building his home in Russia.
Visit my photo gallery at www.paulinrussia.com and watch the slideshow to see photographs of the monk monastery.