Holy Dormition Monastery in Bakhchisarai. Orthodox faith works miracles. It is passed down from generation to generation and serves as a guiding star for a person: it helps to overcome any adversity, makes us lead a pious way of life according to the commandments of God, and after the completion of the earthly path leads to the kingdom of heaven.
From time immemorial, holy places that have powerful energetic power – chapels, temples, churches, cathedrals, monasteries – have served as conductors of faith on earth. In them, believers can kneel before miraculous icons and ask for help from God and the saints, find peace of mind, receive healing from incurable diseases, radically change their lives for the better, become cleaner and kinder.
One of these primordially holy places is the Holy Dormition Monastery in Crimea, which is also called the Crimean Lavra or Russian Athos. It is located two kilometers from Bakhchisarai in the gorge of St. Mary, the so-called Maryam-Dere, on Mariampol street, 1. The shrine is surrounded by imposing sheer cliffs, whose height reaches 140 meters, and extraordinarily beautiful landscapes created by nature itself with the blessing of God.
Holy Dormition Monastery in Bakhchisarai. Legends associated with the acquisition of the shrine
According to legend, the shepherd Michael, who was grazing a flock in the gorge, discovered an unusual glow on the rock. The place from which the light was pouring was deserted and impassable, so he decided to climb the mountain and find out what it might be. It turned out that the light was emitted by a lighted candle, but this was not what confused the shepherd. On the ledge of the rock next to the candle was the miraculous icon of the Most Holy Theotokos “Panagia”. The surprised shepherd decided that this was a sign from above and took the icon home. The next morning he did not find the icon.
Embarrassed by the incident, Mikhail again led the herd into the mountains. In the gorge, he again saw the light of a candle and went up for the icon a second time. But this time too, the icon disappeared from his house. Then the shepherd told his master about the miracle that had happened to him. Taking the people with him, the owner went to the place indicated by the shepherd. “Panagia” was carefully removed from the cliff and transferred to the master’s mansion. The result was not long in coming the next morning: the icon returned to the rock.
Then people realized that this was a sign that the Mother of God was sending them from above, and they decided to carve an Orthodox church on the spot where the shrine was found. Numerous steps were taken to the temple, and “Panagia” was installed in the most prominent place. And since the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos first appeared to the shepherd on August 15, on the patronal feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, they decided to name the temple in honor of this day – the Assumption. And the gorge, in which the Assumption Monastery is located, was named the Gorge of St. Mary.
The second legend of finding the shrine, less common, says that in ancient times a terrible serpent appeared in the gorge, killing people and livestock. People could not cope with the serpent and in despair began to pray to the Mother of God to save them. Once, after long and tearful prayers, they noticed that a burning candle appeared on the rock. They decided to cut steps in the mountain and go upstairs. Next to the candle, they found Panagia and a dead serpent lying beside it. Happy people, in gratitude for their salvation, decided to found a cave Orthodox church on the site where the shrine was found.
Well, the third legend is more prosaic: it is believed that the icon was transferred to the rocks from the Byzantine monastery by Orthodox monks.
Historical past of the Crimean Lavra
The Crimean Lavra was founded, presumably, by monks from Byzantium in the 8th century. Fleeing from the persecutions of the Byzantine emperors from the Isaurian dynasty, destroying churches and confiscating monastic lands and wealth, the monks fled to the Crimea. They decided to build temples in inaccessible places, that is, on rocks, in order to avoid further attacks from the authorities.
This is how the cave monasteries of Kachi-Kalion, Chelter, Shuldan, and the Holy Dormition Monastery itself appeared in the mountains. At first it was just the Assumption Church, but several centuries later monks from Chufut-Kale moved to the temple and the temple turned first into a skete, and then into a monastery. It is not known for certain what happened to the monastery until the 13th century, but in the 13th-14th centuries the monastery did not function. Its revival began in the XIV century. In the 15th century, after the invasion of the Crimea by the Ottoman Empire and the destruction by the Turks of the city of Mangupa, which housed the cathedra of the Gotf Metropolis, the monastery managed to survive and replace the pulpit, becoming the center of the Orthodox faith in Crimea.
After the capture of Crimea by the Turks, numerous mosques began to be built on the peninsula. Islam became the main religion, and Muslims became the privileged estates. Christians were allowed to profess Orthodoxy, but for their faith they had to pay huge taxes, up to a tax “in blood”, when boys from Christian families were forcibly converted to Islam and sent to the service of the Sultan. Orthodox monasteries and temples were imposed with an exorbitant tribute. The Crimean Lavra found itself in a dire financial situation, monks and believers worked tirelessly, brought themselves to exhaustion, but were unable to pay taxes. Therefore, over the next three centuries, the Gotf metropolitans, whose residence after the death of Mangup became the Assumption Monastery, were forced to ask for help from the Russian grand dukes and tsars.
This could not go on for long. Orthodox believers are exhausted and exhausted. The last point in the history of monstrous taxes was put by Metropolitan Ignatius of Gotf, who arrived at the Dormition Monastery in 1771 from Greece. By that time, many Christians who could not stand the test had converted to Islam, and many believers began to forget their native language, gradually adopting the Tatar language from Muslims. Therefore, Ignatius was forced to preach in Tatar. In 1778, the Metropolitan wrote a letter to Empress Catherine II with a request to allow him and the Crimean Christians to move to the territory of the Russian Empire. Catherine not only gave her permission, but subsequently retained for the metropolitan his dignity, the ancient title and all the privileges accompanying his ruling position.
On April 23, 1778, on the Easter holiday, Ignatius informed the believers about the impending resettlement. Preparations for it went on for a year, but none of the Christians informed the Muslim authorities about the impending large-scale “escape”. On the contrary, rare non-prosperous Muslims, having learned about the resettlement and benefits that Catherine II promised to believers, urgently adopted Christianity and prepared for resettlement together with everyone.
To help the settlers, the great Russian commander Alexander Suvorov was sent to Crimea, who was appointed head of the operation. At the end of 1779, 31,000 Orthodox believers left the Crimea and moved to the Azov region, laying the foundation for the city of Mariupol, named after the last refuge of the Gottf Metropolitanate in the gorge of St. Mary.
Before leaving for the Russian Empire, Ignatius and the Orthodox believers came to say goodbye to the Assumption Monastery for the last time. They took the miraculous icon “Panagia” with them, but in the Soviet years the shrine disappeared without a trace.
Meanwhile, many Orthodox Christians remained in Crimea who did not leave with the main group of immigrants. And the Crimean Khan Shagin-Girey, in order to prevent unrest, had no choice but to urgently seek a replacement for Ignatius. In 1781, the Greek priest Konstantinos Spirandi visited Crimea, and Shagin-Girey invited him to lead services at the Assumption Monastery. In place of the main monastery shrine, taken to Mariupol, the monks placed the icon of the Assumption of the Virgin.
The year 1783 liberated the Orthodox people of Crimea from the oppression of the Crimean Tatars and Turks. Crimea fell to the Russian Empire, but the Assumption Monastery, instead of finding a new life, fell into desolation for a good half century, although it continued to function. Christians were afraid of the persecution that the new khan, appointed by the Russian empress, could arrange, and therefore tried to attend services less often. However, on August 15, 1850, the Crimean Lavra found a second wind. On this day, Saint Innocent appointed an abbot to the monastery, Archimandrite Polycarp, and the holy place was officially proclaimed open. In March 1856, a copy of the Panagia icon of the Most Holy Theotokos appeared in the monastery, which was taken away by Ignatius to the Azov region.
By the end of the reign of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II, the monastery was in charge of several fraternal buildings, cells, a bell tower, houses of pilgrims, the abbot’s house, the Church of St. Innocent of Irkutsk and churches: the Assumption, Saints Constantine and Helena, the Evangelist Mark, George the Victorious. In addition, an orchard was laid out at the monastery, a Gethsemane chapel was built and a spring was built in honor of the Life-Giving Spring icon of the Mother of God.
A new disaster struck the Crimean Lavra in 1921 after the seizure of Crimea by the Soviet authorities. The Bolsheviks did not spare anyone: they shot all the monks of the holy monastery and, having plundered the church property, closed the monastery.
In the postwar years, the monastery became a neuropsychiatric dispensary. And only in 1993, the monastery was returned to its former status and restoration work began on the destroyed shrines. Archimandrite Silouan, who heads the monastery to this day, became the abbot of the monastery.
August 28, 1998 became a memorable day for the Crimean Lavra. A copy of the miraculous Panagia icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, which had been lost under Soviet rule, has returned to the monastery.
In 2015, the Holy Dormition Monastery was officially recognized as a cultural heritage site of federal significance.
Distinguished guests of the Crimean Lavra
Empress Catherine II, Emperor Alexander I, Emperor Alexander II, royal passion-bearers, Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna – all these members of the crowned Romanov family visited the Assumption Monastery and worshiped the holy miraculous icons.
The most prominent believers of the Romanov family were Alexander I and Nicholas II. There is an opinion that Alexander faked his death in order to free himself from the burden of power and leave to serve God, and this opinion is confirmed by the testimonies of people who knew a certain elder Fyodor Kuzmich, who was not only a highly educated person, but also resembled the emperor in appearance, height and manners. … But this is just an unconfirmed version, although Alexander really valued the Orthodox religion above all else.
The last Russian emperor was also a man of true faith. The Orthodox faith helped him steadfastly endure the terrible moments of turmoil and continue to love the people who betrayed him. Under Nicholas II, a record number of churches and monasteries were built, the number of which exceeded thousands; Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Anna Kashinskaya, Hieromartyr Hermogen and many other Orthodox saints were canonized. Nicholas dreamed of becoming a patriarch, but his hopes were not destined to come true. He was the emperor, the anointed of God, and had to carry his martyr’s Orthodox cross to the end. Nicholas visited the Dormition Monastery several times, the last time he visited the Lavra on his last visit to the Crimea in 1913.
In addition to the emperors, many of the great dukes of the Romanov dynasty visited the Assumption Monastery.
How to get to the monastery and what to see
From the railway station of Bakhchisarai in the direction of the monastery there is a bus number 2. You need to get off at the stop “Staroselye”, then the path will run along the picturesque gorge of Maryam-Dere. The rocky road will go up. To the left of them, tourists will see the cliff of the gorge, to the right – huge sheer cliffs with bizarre outlines and caves carved into them. After passing half a kilometer, people will see the snow-white Assumption Church, cut high in the rock, and the majestic stone staircase leading to it.
At the entrance to the temple, tourists will be greeted by a mosaic icon of St. Ignatius. The wall along the staircase that follows the icon is decorated with relief images of temples and monasteries brought by brethren from all over the world. Inside each image there is a small reliquary that contains the holy land from the holy places. This is followed by a single-tiered monastery bell tower made of limestone, covered with a gilded roof. After the arched gate with the archangels depicted on them, the courtyard begins.
From the courtyard you can clearly see the place where the divine appearance of the Panagia icon took place. High in the rock rises a carved balcony and majestic rock paintings of the Divine Child, the Mother of God and the 7 Chersonesus martyrs, who surrounded the icon of the Mother of God on both sides and froze in righteous prayer.
A stone staircase leads on. The confessional is left behind, in which sins are forgiven. At the entrance to the cave church of the Assumption of the Mother of God, travelers are greeted by an angel of light and love, who occupies the highest office with God – a six-winged seraphim. The monks say that he appeared by the providence of God. The master was going to make a carved column at the entrance to the temple, but accidentally knocked off the wrong stones and found on the rock the image of the messenger of heaven. Since then, the six-winged seraphim has welcomed everyone entering the temple.
All festive and Sunday services are held in the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin, and everyday services are held in the Church of the Evangelist Mark, which is located slightly below the Church of the Assumption. The temple is carved into the rock, there are no windows, but thanks to the wooden decoration, it looks warm and welcoming.
Household monastic buildings are located on the other side of the gorge. They represent one large barn in which the monks raise geese, chickens, turkeys and store vegetables and grains. The most interesting thing is that the roof and the floor of the barn are protruding blocks of rocks, to which the monks simply attached a wall.
“Life-giving source” in honor of the icon of the Mother of God and the chapel are located on the main square of the monastery.
Useful information for pilgrims
Pilgrimages and excursions to the monastery are organized only with the personal blessing of Archimandrite Silouan or his substitutes. Pilgrims staying overnight are usually accommodated in the cave temple of the Evangelist Mark, since the monastery inn is most often occupied by workers. If the hotel is vacant, the maximum stay is 3 days. Those who wish to stay in it for a longer time should receive the personal blessing of the archimandrite. At the same time, pilgrims must follow the daily routine and adhere to the rules that exist in the monastery. Clothing, as it should be in all monasteries and temples, should be strict and closed, women should wear long skirts and hats.
Accommodation and meals in the Lavra are free. But pilgrims can help the monastery if they make any possible donations for the restoration of the Church of St. George the Victorious and the bell tower.
Workers wishing to come to the Holy Dormition Monastery in order to work for the glory of God need to receive the blessing of Father Silouan, take their passport, work clothes and shoes with them. They will not need anything else in the monastery.
Excursions to the monastery are held strictly at a certain time, since the monastery is closed and lives according to its own schedule. Therefore, before arriving, it is advisable to agree on the time of the tour with the missionary department of the monastery. Photo and video filming of the monastery is allowed only with the personal blessing of the abbot.