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Solovki: From the Orthodox Asceticism… (Part 1)

As soon as the Soviet Union came to an end, and with it the fall of Железный занавес (the Iron Curtain), Russians took it as a fashion to travel in other countries. A fashion that is still very vivid up to now.

Meanwhile in Russia, there are so many amazing places to be visited, from Долина гейзеров на Камчатке (the Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka) to Вулкан Эльбрус (Mount Elbrus), the highest mountain in Europe (5,642 metres), via the могучий Байкал (Mighty Lake Baikal) and Алтайские горы (the Altai Mountains) with their many legends. These are just a few of the treasures that can be found in our country.

The Solovetsky Islands

One of these beautiful, legendary and mysterious places is Соловецкий архипелаг (the Solovetsky archipelago). The six islands that formed the archipelago are famous not only for their extraordinary nature but also for the controversial history that occurred there, history in which the great Orthodox asceticism goes hand in hand with the horrors of Soviet labour camps.

The Solovetsky Monastery

That’s on the main island, the Bolshoy Solovetsky Island, that was founded the Solovetsky Monastery in the second quarter of the 15th century by two monks: Herman and Savvaty. The numerous lakes covering the island have been connected with a network of canals dug by the monks of the Monastery. Nowadays, you can rent a boat and take a fascinating journey through this water labyrinths.

The Monastery soon became a famous place for pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians. The business activities of the monastery included fishing, hunting for the trade of fur, metal work, mica work and pearl work. The monks also took interest in the seafood production and the fishing saltworks.

The early history

In the 16th century, молва о крепком хозяйственнике северных земель была столь громкой, что достигла Москвы (the rumours of the prosperity of Solovetsky Monastery reached Moscow) and the Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The abbot Phillip, who was then the head of the Monastery was summoned to become the Metropolitan of Moscow. Though the Metropolitan Phillip had good relation with the Tsar, he signed his own sentence after refusing to support the brutal policy of the “oprichnina” conducted by Ivan the Terrible.

In the second half of the 17th century, the Solovetsky Monastery became a centre of opposition to the reforms of the Orthodox Church presented by the Metropolitan Nikon which led to the schism of the Church.

Read now the second part of our article about the history of the Solovetsky Islands.

Евгения Плещунова

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