Sretensky monastery is one of the most ancient monasteries in Russia, being founded in 1397 to commemorate the miraculous event of the meeting of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. The monastery is located in the center of Moscow, on the now infamous Bolshaya Lubyanka street.
The history of the Russian state with its wars, revolutions, fervent prayers and furious godlessness is clearly reflected in the history of the monastery.
As chronicles narrate, in the summer of 1395 the watchmen of the Russian steppes reported that the enemy's forces were preparing to intrude into our native land. A terrible conqueror, Khan Timur - Tamerlane the Great, burst into the country,took captive and ravaged Ryazan and Yelets, and set off for Moscow, devastating everything in his way.
As Tamerlane's hordes reached the Don, the townspeople of the capital were seized with terror, acutely aware of the terrible fate awaiting them. In order to comprehend the threat posed to Rus, we must remember who Knan Tamerlane (sometimes also called 'the Iron Lame-man' was. He had won the fame as an invincible commander, having undertaken military campaigns against India, Persia and Trans-Caucasia.
Muslim hordes presented a deadly threat to the whole of the Christian world. In 1371 the Osmanli cavalry had utterly annihilated the troops of Macedonian governors at the Battle of Maritsa. The Muslim army defeated the Serbs in the bloody battle of Kosovo field in 1389. Sultan Murad's son - Bayazid Jildyrym led the battle. The same Bayazid obliterated the Crusader army of Holy Roman Empire Sigizmund's, which consisted of the crack troops of French, German and Hungarian knights. Almost all the knights fell in the battle and the Emperor took to flight.
But Timur-Tamerlane was an outstanding conqueror even among these Eastern despots. He defeated the Khan of the Golden Horde Takhtamysh's army in 1391, and in 1395 utterly routed his troops by the river Terek. Later, in 1402, he annihilated sultan Bayazid Jildyrym's forces - that same one who had beaten the Serbs and crusaders. The legend says that Timur carried with him everywhere the captured sultan Bayazid in cage.
Russian forces, being much less in number, had to face the encounter with such formidable host, led by the infamous commander. Only several years had passed since the battle of Kulikovo, victory in which was comparatively modest, but had decisive importance for the formation of the Russian state. The people hadn't yet recovered from the extreme losses of the recent war. Moscow as a center of unity of Russian lands, as a center of Orthodoxy was exposed to terrible danger. 'It was the question of ruin not only of Moscow, but of the whole of Russia. The news of the descent of this 'new Batyi' filled Russia with terror ', writes N.M. Karamzin.
The Khan's enormous army came up to Muscovy's boundaries by the Oka river, and Grand Duke Vasily hurried towards Kolomna so to face the enemy. Special prayer services asking for deliverance from the invasion were held all over the country. Conscious of the numerical superiority of the enemy, the pious Duke sought the help of the Most High, and together with his devout army fervently prayed for rescue from the fearsome threat. Metropolitan Kiprian, who was the Primate of the Moscow Church at that time, kept uninterrupted vigil in church. He, together with all the people, prayed to God and the Most Holy Mother of God, and called for help to the great Russian saints - Metropolitans Peter, Alexey and Sergy of Radonezh. Grand Duke Vasily ordered to devote the Dormition Fast to zealous repentance. He also ordered the bringing to Moscow from Vladimir the great icon - Intercessor for Russian land, Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
The clergy of the Moscow Dormition Cathedral was sent to Vladimir. After the liturgy and public prayers on the feast of the Dormition the clergy took the icon and started the procession of the cross to Moscow. Standing by both sides of the road, the orthodox people zealously prayed : 'Mother of God, save our Land!'. On 8 September the meeting of the icon took place. Not far from the Kremlin the procession of the cross, led by Hierarch Kiprian, Metropolitan of Moscow, received the miracle-working Holy Image from the Vladimir clergy. The Vladimir Icon was solemnly taken to the Kremlin Dormition cathedral.
The very hour that the citizens of Moscow were meeting by the Icon in the field of Kuchkovo, Tamerlan was dozing in his marquee. Suddenly, as Russian and Tatar chronicles narrate, he saw in his dream a great mountain, from the summit of which descended Saints holding golden crosiers, and above them the Sovereign Lady in brilliant radiance. Sternly she commanded Tamerlane to leave Russian bounds. Waking up in terror, Tamerlan called for his advisors and started questioning them about what this dream could mean. He was told that the Lady he had seen was the Mother of God and great Protector of Christians. Driven by fear the unconquerable khan fled from the Russian land the next day.
Historians still make guesses at causes of this retreat. But Orthodox people perceive this event with gratitude to the Mother of God, zealous Intercessor of Christians.
In memory of the deliverance from the enemy on the place of the meeting of the miracle-working Image of the Mother of God, the Sretensky monastery was founded two years later. Every year on 8th September, the Vladimir Icon was taken there by procession of the cross from the Dormition cathedral. It was the principal holiday of Moscow, the historical feast of the city. During the Patriotic war of 1812 the Icon was continually kept in the monastery. Names of many historical figures are associated with the Sretensky monastery. Ivan the Terrible having captured Kazan visited the monastery on his way back and endowed it with generous donations. The succeeding tsars were the monastery's pilgrims, investors and builders. Mikhail Fyodorovich, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, came to the throne through active involvement of the Sretensky monastery. Almost every pilgrimage of tsars, Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Dukes and common pilgrims started with praying in the Sretensky monastery.
Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) showed special concern for the monastery, and an artist who decorated with frescoes the new stone monastery cathedral in 1707, even depicted him as one of the saints. Eminent figures in Russian Church life - Moscow Metropolitans Platon (Levshin) and Philaret (Drozdov), an outstanding theologian and Church historian Archimandrite Makary (Glukhariev) and many others took an active part in creating the prosperity of the Sretensky monastery. The Prelate's Chair was placed in the Sretensky monastery in the 19th century. In Soviet times, on 4 December 1925, Sergey Izvekov, future Patriarch of Russia Pimen, took his monastic vows here.
After the October revolution in 1917 the Sretensky monastery became one of the centers of the struggle for Orthodoxy against the godless authorities. His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon who had been elected at the Russian Church Counsel in 1917-1918, and whom the Bolsheviks considered as their sworn enemy, quite often served at the monastery. The Patriarch's comrade-in-arms Holy Martyr Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky), who met his death in Stalin's concentration camp, was the last abbot of the monastery before its closure. The outstanding theologian and brilliant preacher Archbishop Hilarion did everything in his power to stand up for merely the existence of the Church under conditions of the unprecedented persecution.
In 1922 the monastery was seized by the 'Renovationists' - pseudo-church figures that had colluded with the Bolsheviks. But through the Archbishop's efforts the monastery was returned to the Orthodox Church and its cathedral was re-consecrated in 1923. The wise and courageous activity of the Archbishop caused his exile, and afterwards 6-year imprisonment in the concentration camp on Solovki.
The Sretensky monastery was closed at the end of 1925. During 1928-1930 most of the churches and edifices of the monastery, including the church of Mary of Egypt, the church of St. Nicholas, the Holy Gates with the belfry and the abbot's cloister were destroyed. Soon the hall of residence of NKVD (the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) commanders was set there. On the territory of the monastery which adjoined the edifices of the central 'Cheka' ('Committee Extraordinary', the predecessor of the KGB)shootings were held. This piece of land is literally soaked through with the blood of thousands of the New Martyrs of the terrible epoch.
In memory of all victims of the godless power, a worshipped cross, consecrated by His Holiness Patriarch Aleksy, was erected at the entrance to the monastery. Before the revolution on the territory of the monastery there was a cemetery, where the participants of the Patriotic war of 1812 had been buried. But in the Soviet time in the place of the holy churchyard, was built a school with, strange as it is, advanced studying of French.
The sole survivor, the cathedral of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God, was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. However, history repeats itself, and for several years the church had been in the hands of the new Renovationists, who advocated the crucial change of the Church life. In 1994 His Holiness the Patriarch decreed that the metokhion (representation) of the Pskovo-Pechersky St.Dormition monastery should be founded there. Then the Renovationists started in open opposition to the Church authorities,using the pet methods of their predecessors: the unbridled campaign in the press, libel, juggling with the facts, pressing through the civil authorities. The first service on the feast of the Meeting of the Lord the monks held in the frost because the doors were shut by the Renovationists. Still the history had repeated itself to the end: the Church Bolsheviks were banished, the Great Order of Reconsecration of the cathedral was held, and monastic life started reviving. In 1995 His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia issued an edict transforming the metokhion into the Sretensky stavropeghial monastery ("stavropeghial" means being under the direct administrative authority of the Patriarch), with Hegumen Tikhon as Father Superior. Now the Sretensky monastery is one of the most important centers of religious life of the whole of Russia.
There are about 40 inhabitants in the monastery, everyday the Divine Service is celebrated in the cathedral. The Sretensky publishing house is one of the biggest in contemporary Russia. It publishes liturgical texts, theological, historical, fiction literature, books concerning all basic fields of religious life. Annually more than 100 titles come out in the Publishing House. The monastery is still being reconstructed, but even now its territory is an oasis of calm and spiritual beauty amidst the noise and bustle of the city center. Encircling the cloister new white stone walls add much to it, having wonderfully blended with surroundings.
The restoration of the cathedral of Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God is almost over. In its iconostasis, painted according to the ancient canons, one can see real masterpieces of contemporary icon-painting, such as the image 'The Opening of the Fifth Seal', or a contemporary copy of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. The main holy possession of the monastery is the relics of the Holy Martyr Hilarion (Troitsky), which were transferred from St.Petersburg in May 1999.
Services are held in a rebuilt side-altar of the Nativity of John the Baptist several times a year, and everyday monk prayer rule is kept there as well. A belfry has been erected, the oldest monastery's edifice, refectory of the 17th century, has been reconstructed. Two new 5-storey blocks to accommodate the monastery's brethren have been built.
The monastery celebrated its 600 anniversary in 1997. Two years before that on 8 September, the Patronal day of the monastery, Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God had been brought for two days from the State Tryetyakov Gallery . More than 30 thousand believers took part in the procession of the cross then in spite of the heavy rain.
In the same 1997 the Moscow Center of the Holy Shroud of Turin was established.
In the autumn of 1999 lessons at Sretensky High Orthodox College began. Students can choose from two specialties: 'Orthodox theology' and 'Apologetics'. Teachers from the Moscow Theological Academy, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University, and the capital's clergy give lectures at the college. The main distinctive feature of this Orthodox Institute compared with other earlier founded establishments (St.Tikhon Institute, Russian Orthodox University etc.) is the participation of the students in the life of the monastery's community. During their studies they live in the monastery, take part in services and fulfill obediences. On the other hand, specific goals connected with some publishing projects of the monastery are set before the students. Finally, the chief aim of the new institute is to prepare well-educated clergy, that will be able to deal not only with theological, but also with modern scientific and cultural problems.
The Sretensky monastery has two sketes (hermitages): one for men and another for women. The first skete in the name of St.Seraphim of Sarov is situated in Ryazan region, in the mansion Krasnoye reconstructed by the monastery. In the skete there are a round stone fortress with cells, a home church, kitchen-gardens and a pond. The brethren cemetery of the Sretensky monastery is located there as well. The second skete in the name of God's Prophet Elijah is in the Moscow region. Every day, six sisters read off statutory services in the home church, manage the monastery's household and carry on their duties in publishing.
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