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Kozelsky Optina Hermitage

249723, Saint Presentation Optina Pustyn monastery the Kaluga region, Kozelsk
+7 (48442) 50-115

Optina Pustyn is extremely significant in the spiritual life of Russia. This monastery is rightfully considered a symbol of spiritual renaissance, which started at the end of the XVIII in Russia.

The Pustyn located near the pine wood, cut from the world by the Zhizdra River, was an excellent place for secluded life. This was a spiritual oasis, which repeated blessed gifts of first ages of monkhood. These gifts fully expressed themselves in a special service – spiritual eldership. Optina elders were inherent of the highest of these gifts – the gift of judiciousness, prophecy, gift of healing and wonderworking.

It is unknown when Optina Pustyn was founded. There is an assumption that it was established by monk-loving Prince Vladimir the Bold, or his close heirs. According to other version, it was established in ancient times by the repented bandit Opta, named Macarius as monk, therefore it was called Pustyn of Macarius. However, the most real assumption is that earlier this monastery was common for monks and nuns, but such monasteries were earlier called Optina. Probably, its founders were unknown hermits, who chose for their deeds a forest recess, away from any habitation, near the border abattis with Poland, a place, which is not convenient for arable farming, which is not necessary and does not belong to anybody. Optina is one of the oldest monasteries.

It is about two kilometres from Kozelsk to Optina Pustyn. The road crosses the Zhizdra River and passes by a beautiful monasterial grove. In 1832 – 1839 a small fence and four corner towers were built around the monastery. The monastery is almost square in the plan. The Cathedral of the Presentation, main temple of the monastery, is located in the centre. Churches around the temple form a cross. Church of Mary of Egypt, which was rebuilt from an old refectory in 1858, is in the north; the Kazan Church, which was built in 1811, is in the south; the Church of Vladimir (restored in 1999) is in the east. The Hermitage is located behind the monasterial grove. There was a cedar grove in the Hermitage. Only monks were allowed to enter it. All the cells and the fence were made of wood.

Many great Russian literary works are related to Optina Pustyn. Father Sergius by Leo Tolstoy is largely based on materials from Optina Pustyn. Fyodor Dostoevsky came to Optina Pustyn immediately after his grievous drama, death of his son in 1877. He made short visits to the Hermitage, however many details in The Brothers Karamazov were created under the influence of these visits. The Elder Ambrose, who lived in the Hermitage of Optina Pustyn that time, became a prototype for the Elder Zosimus.

Tolstoy had a special connection with Optina Pustyn: Maria Tolstaya, his full sister, was an obedient in the nunnery established by Ambrose in Shamordino, Alexandra Osten-Sacken, aunt of the writer, who raised Leo Tolstoy, who became orphan at the age of 9, was buried in the necropolis of Optina Pustyn.

The monastery and the Hermitage had large libraries, which were moved to the Lenin Library in Moscow in 1929. When the monastery was closed, it housed a Recreation House for The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army named after Maxim Gorky, but from 1939 to 1940 – Kozelsk concentration camp for four thousands of Polish officers. From 1952 to 1989 the monastery house an agricultural vocational school. In 1989 the monastery was returned to church, now it is subordinate to the Patriarchy and the Patriarch of all Russia was its senior priest. The monastery was restored.

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