Pskov-Caves Monastery

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Walled Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery

The Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos , also known as the Pskov-Caves Monastery and Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, (Russian: Пско́во-Печ́ерский Успе́нский монасты́рь) is a male monastery located next to the town of Perchory about 37 miles (50 kilometers) west of the city of Pskov, Russia near the border with Estonia. The monastery was founded around caves that were used by hermits before the monastery was formally established and that are now the resting place for the relics of reposed monastics, in a manner similar to that at the Kiev Caves Monastery.


Entrance to the Pskov Caves, next to the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos

The caves at Pechersky were used by monks looking for solitude long before St. Jonah (Shesnik) built the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos (церковь Успения Богородицы) into the hillside near the caves. The church was consecrated on August 15, 1473, which is considered the date of the founding of the monastery.

For almost three hundred years the monastery was an important outpost of the Russian nation, defending its western border against attack from the west. The area was involved in almost constant warfare during these centuries. It was attacked by Livonians for years following its founding in the late fifteenth century. In 1581-1582, the monastery was under siege by the Polish king Stefan Batory. During the Time of Troubles, between 1611 and 1616, the monastery was attacked by Polish and Swedish forces. But, after the Tsar Peter I’s wars of 1700 to 1721, the monastery lost its importance and lapsed into relative obscurity.

During the middle of the sixteenth century Pskov-Caves monastery rose to its greatest level of prominence under the leadership of St. Cornelius, abbot of the Pskov Caves. In 1529, the monk Cornelius became an igumen and abbot of the monastery, at the age of twenty-eight. In addition to expanding the intellectual and spiritual efforts of the monastery, that included missionary work, the Pskov chronicles, and books that he wrote, he sponsored many physical changes to the monastery. He enlarged the monastery caves, moved older churches, built the Church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos in 1541, and the Church of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos in 1559. Between 1558 and 1565, St Cornelius had the stone wall built around the monastery including a stone church dedicated to St. Nicholas over the gates of the monastery. He also encourage the preaching of Christianity to the pagans in the occupied cities of the area during the Livonian wars. During his tenure as abbot the monastic population of the monastery increased from 15 to 200, a number that has not been surpassed since.

The “Bloody Path” from St Nicholas Gate of the monastery

Even in his death, St. Cornelius left his mark on the monastery. On February 20, 1570, Tsar Ivan IV (the terrible), arrived at the Pskov Monastery in a raging anger over a false slander. St. Cornelius met him with a cross at the monastery gates, where upon Ivan attacked the sainted abbot, beheading Cornelius with his own hands. Ivan immediately became remorseful and repented his deed. Ivan then picked up Cornelius’ body and carried it down the path from the gates to the Dormition Cathedral, making a pathway scarlet with the Saint’s blood, a pathway that became known as the Bloody Path.

During the peace negotiations after the Bolshevik ascendency after World War I, the drawing of the borderline for Estonia placed the monastery in Estonia. As a result the Pskov-Caves monastery escaped the destruction meted out to the Orthodox monasteries and churches in the Soviet Union before World War II. The area of the monastery became part of the Soviet Union only after the Baltic States, including Estonia, were occupied by the Bolsheviks in 1939.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union the monastery has flourished. The monastery has grown to about ninety monks who through their pastoral labors live the tradition of asceticism and eldership as witnessed recently by the Archimandrites John (Krestiankin) and Adrian (Kirsanov).

One of well-known theologians and spiritual leaders in Russia, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) began his monastic way in Pskov-Caves monastery.