TO THE HOLY PLACES OF CRIMEA


In July 2005,  at the invitation of the Metropolitan of Simferopol and Crimea LAZAR,  I visited Crimea. But before describing the restored Monasteries,  Convents,  Churches and Cathedrals,  one should say a few words about this magnificent peninsula called Crimea.Paraphrasing an old saying one can say that all roads lead to Crimea. This is really so.  A lot of people from Russia and Ukraine try to spend their vacations in Crimea,  to lie on the beaches in the sun, to swim in the warm waters of the Black Sea.  But the sun,  the beaches and the sea are not the only attractions of the Crimea which astonishes visitors with the infinite contrasts of its landscape.  Steppes in the north and central part gradually turn into green pastures and vineyards and these turn into forests,  valleys,  canyons and caves,  culminating in mountain ridges,  some as high as 1,200 metres, which drop to the parks and gardens of the Black Sea coast in the south. The whole of the south coast of Crimea is a strip of land from 2 to 10 kms wide.  Here are the famous resorts and luxurious residences of Russian& Ukrainian elite.   But this land of Crimea,  above all,   treasures many of the Orthodox Holy Places,  going back to the first centuries of Christianity in the land, Monasteries,  and Churches,  many of historical values,   named after many saints of this and other regions of old mother Russia.I flew to Crimea from London via Kiev.  The flight  takes just over 3 hours.   I stopped in Kiev  to see the city and to make a pilgrimage to KIEVO-PECHERSKAYA LAVRA.  I liked Kiev,  with its wide,  shady avenues, orderly traffic,  many parks and squares with national and religious monuments.  The city is divided into two by the river DNIEPR which is a few kilometres wide in that area.  The LAVRA,  oldest Monastery on the land of Russia,  was founded in the 11th century.  It was built partly on hills, dropping to the bank of the Dniepr. The golden domes of its Cathedrals and Churches can be seen from far away.  In order to see the whole of Lavra's complex    took me almost the whole day - the Upper Lavra,  the "near" and "distant" caves - with only a short break for lunch in one of Lavra's refectories.The flight from Kiev to Simferopol,  the principal city of Crimea, took one and half hours.  I was accommodated there in Holy Trinity Convent where I was given a two-room apartment with all the amenities. This was no inferior to any 4-star hotel as we know them in Europe and the Americas.  During my first day in the Diocese of Crimea,  I was able to appreciate what enormous work is done there to restore Cathedrals,  Churches.   Monasteries,  Convents and other religious sites.  One can only wonder at the untiring energy of Metropolitan Lazar,  now 65,  the same extremely active person as he was in South America some 20 and more years ago. Many and varied are his achievements during the 13 years that he is the Head of Crimean Diocese.  The number of priests,  monks and nuns rose from 30 to 250. Number of parishes - from 50 to just under 500.  Eight Monasteries were opened during this period.  Old Peoples'  Home is being built,  four-storied hotel was completed last year,  attached to the Holy Trinity Convent,  where I was accommodated during my eight days in Crimea. A hospital is under construction,  a rest home for children has been opened on the Black Sea coast,  exhibitions of sacred art and concerts of church music are being organized.  Orthodox Youth Society has been created Pilgrimage traditions are being revived. These have a beneficial effect on people.  Even those who join pilgrimage groups out of curiosity,  subsequently begin to look in a different way on orthodoxy......on the church.According  to my programme the next  day was devoted  to the sights of Simferopol which is the administrative,  economic and cultural centre of Crimea and where Metropolitan Lazar's Cathedral and Diocesan Administration are. There are eight churches and a convent in this city which has some 250 thousand population.  Two museums were visited and the sight of the construction which is in progress of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Main streets of the new part of the city are wide and shady.  There are several monuments of history and architecture.On the following day I was taken to Chersonese which is the cradle of Orthodoxy.  It was here that Prince Vladimir was baptized in 988.  On that place St Vladimir's Cathedral now stands.  In 1996 Chersonese was declared World Heritage by UNESCO. We then proceeded to Sevastopol,  the hero city and a museum city.  Ancient and modern history are intertwined here and every epoch left its unique monuments: medieval Inkerman,  and Balaklava fortresses,  Panorama of the 1854/5 defense of Sevastopol,  Monument of the Sunken Ships, Malakhov Mound,  Historical and Seaside Boulevards and Counts' Pier.The next day I visited the Monastery of St Stephen of Sourozh.  On that day we left Simferopol before 6 a.m.  in order to attend Liturgy in the city of Sudak,  about one and half hours'  drive.  After the Liturgy, accompanied by the Prior and the Abbot of the Monastery we were taken into the mountains to the Monastery itself.  Beautiful sceneries on the way through forests, mountain brooks similar to fhe way to Kosmas and Damian Monastery    This region is kijown as"Crimean Switzerland".  A spring of the purest water is just outside the Monastery compound.My travels in Crimea started on the following day.  All the trips began and ended in Simferopol,which remained my base,and took between 8 and 10 hours.  Our first stop was Yalta which is the most popular resort in the Ukraine. At the same time it is a huge museum in the open air. We visited the old part of Yalta on a hill and its oldest Church of St John Chrysostom. We strolled along the embankment,  we ascended the upper district of Yalta by cable car to see several architectural monuments. The Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky is ohe of the landmarks of Yalta. We also saw the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara.  We then drove to Massandra Palace.  It stands in a splendid park which turns into a forest. Mythological statues enhance its artistic image.  The Great Livadia Palace,  the former summer residence of the last Imperial Family is a major sight of Yalta.  Its complex comprises The Great Palace,  the suite building,  a smaller palace for the Minister of the Court,   the Palace Church and the Florentine Courtyard. Of special interest is the White Hall of the main Palace where,in 1945,  the Crimean Conference of the heads of Great Britain, USA and USSR was held.  There is a splendid old park around the Palace going back some 150 years in time.  Swallow's Nest further down the coast is an architectural monument that has become a symbol of the Southern Coast of Crimea.  A fanciful structure,  resembling a medieval castle,perches at the very edge of the 40 metre cliff.The next day I accompanied Metropolitan Lazar on a visit to the Monastery of St Kosmas and Damian in the mountains where he was celebrating Liturgy on the day of the Annual Feast. There were some 20 priests concelebrating the Liturgy in the open air and it took some 4 hours including the Thanksgiving Service afterwards and the procession which went around the Monastery through the forest. There were some 4 thousand people present at this Feast of Faith. There is also a water spring here from which thousands of litres of purest water emanate.According  to my programme the next  day was devoted  to the sights of Simferopol which is the administrative,  economic and cultural centre of Crimea and where Metropolitan Lazar's Cathedral and Diocesan Administration are. There are eight churches and a convent in this city which has some 250 thousand population.  Two museums were visited and the sight of the construction which is in progress of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Main streets of the new part of the city are wide and shady.  There are several monuments of history and architecture.On the following day I was taken to Chersonese which is the cradle of Orthodoxy.  It was here that Prince Vladimir was baptized in 988.  On that place St Vladimir's Cathedral now stands.  In 1996 Chersonese was declared World Heritage by UNESCO. We then proceeded to Sevastopol,  the hero city and a museum city.  Ancient and modern history are intertwined here and every epoch left its unique monuments: medieval Inkerman,  and Balaklava fortresses,  Panorama of the 1854/5 defense of Sevastopol,  Monument of the Sunken Ships, Malakhov Mound,  Historical and Seaside Boulevards and Counts' Pier.The next day I visited the Monastery of St Stephen of Sourozh.  On that day we left Simferopol before 6 a.m.  in order to attend Liturgy in the city of Sudak,  about one and half hours'  drive.  After the Liturgy, accompanied by the Prior and the Abbot of the Monastery we were taken into the mountains to the Monastery itself.  Beautiful sceneries on the way through forests, mountain brooks similar to fhe way to Kosmas and Damian Monastery    This region is kijown as"Crimean Switzerland".  A spring of the purest water is just outside the Monastery compound.There are so many other places both for pilgrims and for ordinary tourists which this wonderful land of Crimea offers.  In the rather limited time that I had,  I could not visit them all,  particularly the religious sites,  cave churches and monastic cells dug out in the rocks, ancient monasteries,  some established by the Greeks centuries before Christianity came to this land.  Religious monuments and hundreds of martyrs of this unusual land remind us that the world is not only our day to day search for personal comforts.  There is something else which the grandeur of these places conveys to us and leads us to ETERNAL TRUTH
A well-known Russian writer said at the end of the 19th century:
" In our sick times, when our societies are dominated by laziness,  boredom of life and unbelief, when everywhere,  in a strange combination reigns the dislike of life and,  at the same time,  fear of death,  when even the best people are inert and do nothing,  justifying their laziness and their    perversion    with lack of defined purpose in life,  ascetics,  hermits and those who lead unsullied life are needed as air. They stimulate,  console and ennoble us.  Their example are living proofs that, in addition to people who argue about optimism and pessimism,  in addition to sceptics, mystics,  liberals and conservatives,  there are different type of people,   people of deep faith,   heroic religious  deeds,   people with clearly defined objectives"
These words were true at the end of 19th century. They remain true in the beginning of our 21st century.

Alexander Kirilloff
September 2005
Rio de Janeiro,  Brazil