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The Stunning Structure of Optina Pustyn, Religious Retreat of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky

This text is from a collection by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Research at Tulane College, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s main historian of Russian structure.  He makes frequent journeys to Russia, typically to her distant areas, and information essentially the most uncommon examples of surviving structure with detailed, skilled pictures.  

A cornerstone of Russian tradition and non secular heritage

His most up-to-date e book is an actual treasure, Structure At The Finish Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This actually stunning e book was made potential by the help of a US philanthropist, and its true price is 3 occasions its retail worth, and we won’t suggest it extremely sufficient.  Right here is our 2015 evaluation of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work potential, and offering such an awesome platform for his stunning pictures.  We suggest visiting the RBTH web page, which has a slide present for every article with many extra footage than we are able to slot in right here.

Do not imagine in miracles?  Nicely, we are able to guarantee you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly simply that.  Yow will discover a whole listing of his articles on RI right here.


Positioned within the Kaluga Area simply south of Moscow, Optina Pustyn is among the many most honored and beloved of Russian monasteries. A part of the attraction is its favored pure setting in an imposing pine forest overlooking the small Zhizdra River.

Widespread legend says that the title derives from Opta, a brigand who renounced his mayhem, accepted the monastic title of Makary and fashioned a forest hermitage within the late 14th century. “Pustyn” is said to the phrase for “wilderness” and is usually used for small monastic communities in forests.

Within the fifteenth century, the retreat accepted each women and men who lived in separate areas, however have been led by a standard non secular father. This observe was banned by the Russian Orthodox Church Council of 1503, and the Optina group was reconstituted for males solely because the Holy Presentation Optina Pustyn Monastery. Tenuously surviving within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the monastery was destitute by the early 18th century and briefly closed within the mid 1720s.

For hundreds of years the monastery consisted of log buildings. Work started in 1750 on a brand new foremost church devoted to the Presentation of the Virgin, but the monastery continued on the point of destitution, exacerbated in 1764 by Catherine the Nice’s secularization of monastery holdings.

By the top of the 18th century, nonetheless, the monastery and its enticing location gained the eye of a church hierarch, Platon, the Metropolitan of Moscow and Kaluga. His help led to a revival, together with the development in 1802-1806 of a big bell tower and flanking cloisters.

All through the nineteenth century there adopted different church buildings, chapels and monastery buildings, together with a big refectory with imposing murals and ceiling work which have survived.

Of particular significance was the monastery’s hermitage, or skete (retreat), dedicated to a extra strict type of non secular observance. Devoted to John the Baptist, the skete at Optina Pustyn was established in 1821 at its personal compound a brief distance to the east of the principle monastery partitions.

The middle of the skete stays the Church of the Nativity John the Baptist, in-built 1822. Surfaced with purple plank siding, the enticing wood construction is accented with a white neoclassical portico.

Different buildings on the skete embrace small residences and a library housed in a swish construction that served as a museum throughout the late Soviet interval.          

Throughout the nineteenth century the hermitage turned extensively identified for its sages who achieved the designation starets, or “elder”. Though the idea of starchestvo was dropped at the monastery by the church hierarchy within the 1820s, the starets designation got here primarily via standard respect for sure monks who led an ascetic existence on the hermitage and in whom charisma merged with deep non secular knowledge. The church venerates all 14 monks referred to as “starets” at Optina Pustyn.

The Optina Pustyn Monastery attracted all ranges of society, together with Russia’s mental and inventive elite. Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the brothers Ivan and Konstantin Aksakov, Konstantin Leontiev – these are however a couple of of the most important artists and thinkers who visited Optina Pustyn. However the monastery is finest identified for its encounters with Fedor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy – encounters that in every case concerned a extreme private disaster.

The occasions resulting in Dostoevsky’s go to occurred throughout a very annoying time in his life. In Spring 1878, he had begun work on The Brothers Karamazov – his remaining, triumphant masterpiece. In mid-Might, nonetheless, his beloved youthful son, Alyosha, all of the sudden turned ailing and died from a seizure on the age of two years and 9 months.

Seeing her husband’s unfading anguish, Anna Grigorevna Dostoevskaya turned to their pal, Vladimir Solovyov, himself a profound author and mystic thinker. She famous that Dostoevsky had lengthy considered going to Optina Pustyn, and the important second had come. Solovyov agreed to take Dostoevsky with him to the monastery in late June.

Dostoevsky hoped to reach on June 24, which was the feastday of the Nativity of John the Baptist in addition to the fortieth day because the demise of Alyosha. (The Orthodox church locations particular emphasis on remembering the deceased at that time.) They arrived, nonetheless, on the twenty fifth, and Dostoevsky requested a memorial service (panikhida) for his son on the twenty sixth.

Dostoevsky remained at Optina Pustyn via the twenty seventh, and through that point he sought comfort from the venerable starets Amvrosii (Ambrose), identified for his compassion and penetrating intelligence. Dostoevsky subsequently conveyed these qualities within the determine of Father Zosima, the starets who seems in The Brothers Karamazov.

Father Zosima’s comfort of the girl who had misplaced her son (within the chapter “The Believing Girls”) possible derived from Dostoevky’s encounters with starets Amvrosii – specifically, their personal dialog at his modest cottage close to the doorway to the skete. Anna Dostoevskaya famous that her husband returned from Optina Pustyn a unique particular person, at peace and now not crushed by grief. He resumed his work on The Brothers Karamazov with a brand new non secular power.

Leo Tolstoy’s encounters with Optina Pustyn have been extra frequent, however in the end with out non secular decision. After visits in 1877 and 1881, he returned for a gathering with starets Amvrosii in 1890, the yr earlier than Amvrosii’s demise. The assembly was evidently tense and tough for the aged monk, who was wearied by Tolstoy’s satisfaction.

By this level Tolstoy had publicly damaged with the Orthodox Church and had attacked fundamental tenets of Christian dogma. Nonetheless, he returned to Optina Pustyn in 1896 on the urging of his sister Maria, who in 1891 had entered the close by Shamordino Convent. Throughout that go to he met with starets Joseph, whose calm generosity of spirit introduced a brief measure of peace to his existence.

However Tolstoy’s turbulent non secular quest wouldn’t be eased. His remaining existential disaster led him to flee his dwelling within the early hours of October twenty eighth, 1910. Accompanied by his doctor, Dushan Makovitsky, Tolstoy arrived at Optina Pustyn towards the top of the day.

Throughout the tough journey he requested ceaselessly concerning the elders at Optina Pustyn. Regardless of his refusal to reconcile with the church, his anguish apparently led him to hunt the knowledge and solace that they may present.

After spending the evening on the monastery, Tolstoy approached the hermitage on the morning of the twenty ninth. At this vital second he was beset with doubt and the concern that he wouldn’t be acquired. As a substitute, he made his solution to his sister Maria on the Shamordina Convent and even mused about staying close by for a time period.

However the arrival of his daughter Alexandra (Sasha) on the thirtieth once more roused him to flight. Along with Makovitsky, they made their means on the thirty first to Astapovo Station, the place Tolstoy died per week later.

In a remaining flip of the tragedy, Tolstoy’s retreat from the hermitage rapidly turned identified at Optina Pustyn, which acquired the information with dismay. Starets Varsonofy journeyed to Astapovo however was not allowed within the presence of Tolstoy regardless of repeated requests. Tolstoy’s closest associates had little interest in such a gathering.

Within the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Optina Pustyn was closed in January 1918. Dispersal, executions and exile ensued. Throughout the Soviet interval, a lot of the non secular paintings was misplaced or destroyed. In 1931, the skete turned a relaxation dwelling, and the monastery housed numerous enterprises.

The darkest web page within the monastery’s historical past occurred within the fall of 1939, when some 5,000 captured Polish officers have been sequestered there in what was referred to as focus camp Kozelsk-1. Walled monasteries have been ceaselessly used as prisons throughout this era. In 1940 this group was despatched to Katyn and shot in a mass execution.

Following a quick interval as a army hospital, the monastery was utilized in 1944-1945 as an NKVD “filtration camp” for Soviet officers repatriated from German camps. In later years the territory served as an agricultural college.  

The Presentation Optina Pustyn Monastery was lastly returned to the Orthodox Church in 1987 and companies resumed in 1988. In 1990 the John the Baptist Skete was additionally returned to the monastery.

Thus started a strategy of restoration whose outcomes are so impressively seen at the moment. Like the Solovetsky Monastery within the Russian North, which additionally witnessed tragic occasions throughout the Soviet period, Optina Pustyn has skilled a revival that every yr attracts hundreds of pilgrims and guests.

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