Patriarch hopes Valaam Monastery will revive, bring Orthodoxy to people

VALAAM, July 9 (Itar-Tass) —— Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia expressed hope that the Valaam Monastery would revive and bring Orthodoxy to people.

“The Valaam Monastery has everything necessary to generate deep inside itself spiritual and intellectual life that can fertilise not only monks but also pilgrims and through them the whole world,” the patriarch said on Saturday, July 9, after a prayer at the monastery’s main shrine – relics of St. Sergius and Herman of Valaam in the lower church of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour.

According to Kirill, Valaam has “everything necessary for forging the spiritual strength of monks capable of protecting the Church and spiritually assume a blow from the enemy”.

The Valaam Monastery is reviving as “a real spiritual stronghold for the life of our people”, and its external grandeur and beauty “are visible signs that reflect the strength of our righteous ancestors”.

Kirill stated that the reconstruction is nearing completion, but pointed out that still “a long and thorny road has to be travelled to revive not only the grandeur and beauty of the buildings, but also to fill the whole Valaam Archipelago with revitalising life that was created by our righteous ancestors”.

“Monasticism in the Church is the stronghold, inner strength and some kind of vanguard that should be the first to take the blows,” the patriarch said.

He believes that the point where good meets with evil, “where God fights the Devil is the place where the monks, the vanguard of the Church should be in order to take the blows and protect the Church with a prayer and spiritual strength”.

Monks should not change “the strategic dimension of life” and they should “see the historical vista for mankind, sense the danger with their hearts and pray in order to avoid God’s wrath so that the Church could gain through prayer the strength and ability to chasten people”, the patriarch said.

Kirill held a memorial service for late monks, visited the Gethsemane hermitage, which will mark its centenary this year and “looks even better after restoration than originally.

The patriarch visited the Resurrection hermitage and stressed that pilgrim itineraries at Valaam begin at this hermitage “as a symbol indicating the resurrection is the highest value of human being and any pilgrimage, be it be Valaam, churches, monasteries or a lifelong one, should be directed towards resurrection”.

Mount Athos of the North, the worthy and great Laura’ – this is how this ancient monastic dwelling, which was founded by Saints Sergius and Herman, the Valaam Miracle Workers, was referred to. More than once did the Valaam Monastery see destruction and devastation, more than once did its monks die from swords, and more than once were its holy churches engulfed in flames. But every time, the monastery recovered from its wounds, rose and flourished again, according to the monastery’s website.

The Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour, more popularly known as the Valaam Monastery, is a monastery in Karelia in the north-west of Russia on the island of Valaam in Lake Ladoga. The monastery was an outpost of evangelism in the north of Russia. In the 1790s the monastery sent a group of eight missionaries to Alaska to evangelise the natives for Orthodox Christianity. This group included St. Herman and St. Juvenaly.

The origins of the Valaam Monastery are not clear. Located on the outer frontier of civilisation, the monastery was often attacked and burned as both Russians and Swedes controlled the area. Since the monastery is not mentioned in documents before the 16th century, different dates – from the 10th to 15th centuries – have been suggested as it its founding date. The Church tradition attributes the founding of the Valaam Monastery to Saints Sergius and Herman who were among the first missionaries to the city of Novgorod in the 10th century and created a monastery on Valaam Island in Lake Ladoga, north of Novgorod.

In the 16th century, Karelia became the battleground between Swedish and Russian forces as the Swedes pushed their borders eastward. Situated in Lake Ladoga, the Valaam Monastery happened to be in the midst of these battles. In 1578, monks and novices were beaten to death by the (then) Lutheran Swedes. After another attack, the monastery was depopulated between 1611 and 1715. The buildings were burnt to the ground, and the Karelian border between Russia and Sweden was drawn through the lake. The monastery came back to life in the 18th century: its buildings were restored and new ones built as the monastery prospered. By the early 20th century the monastery had become quite wealthy with about twenty smaller hermitages under its control.

In 1793, the abbot of the Valaam Monastery, Nazarius, was tasked by Tsarina Catherine II with recruiting missionaries for the Russian colony in Alaska. A group of eight monks was assembled and sent from Valaam on December 25, 1793 to Alaska.

In 1809, Sweden ceded Finland to Russia, which became an autonomous Grand Duchy. Since the monastery was located in the Grand Duchy of Finland, when Finland gained its independence in 1917, Valaam became part of the Church of Finland. The Finnish Church became autonomous under the Church of Constantinople. During the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1940, the monks from the monastery were evacuated to Heinavesi, Finland. With the end of the war the border was moved westward so that all of Lake Ladoga happened to be within the Soviet Union. Having lost their former home, the monks who had moved to Finland formed the New Valaam Monastery at Heinavesi. It is the only monastery in the Finnish Church.

With the loss of its monastic community and the inclusion of Lake Ladoga in the Soviet Union the buildings of the original monastery on Valaam Island remained unused as a secular population moved on to the island. Over time the island became a Soviet military base. As restrictions on the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union eased during the 1980s, the original monastery was reactivated in 1989 and the facilities restored over the years.

In the late 1990s, the Valaam Monastery gained significant legal power over the island under the Patriarch Alexy II. In an effort to return to a state of spiritual seclusion and enticed by the prospect of monopolising the vast tourism industry on the island, the monastery forced many long-time residents to move out to the mainland. After years of fruitless legal proceedings, many residents of the island chose to leave rather than continue the fight, though a few still stay, according to the Orthodox Encyclopaedia.

The Valaam Monastery has a unique tradition of singing, called the Valaam chant, that combines some features of Byzantine and Znamenny chants. Thus, as in Byzantine chant, the singing is always 2-parts, comprising a melody and an ison, but, as in Znamenny chant, the scale structure is always diatonic, the ornamentation is simplified in comparison with Byzantine chant, and the melodies are more similar to that of ancient Znamenny Chant, at the edge of being considered a local variety of this tradition. This relative simplicity became one of the reasons for the experimental introduction of Valaam chanting in various parishes across Russia by the end of 20th century.

The monastery has a professional five-strong male-voice choir which tours the world to raise money for the on-going restoration of the buildings. Some of its music can be heard at the monastery’s website


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