The Orthodox Crimea
Crimea is a unique place: beautiful nature, the warm sea and the caressing sun provide a good rest. But these are not the only reasons why numerous guests come here. The Crimean Peninsula is famous for its rich historical past. The ancient land of the Taurics has become the home for many different peoples: the warlike Cimmerians and Scythians, the Greeks who are skillful town planners, the enterprising Genoese, the nomadic Tatars. Their cultures and beliefs have interwoven, having mutually enriched one another. There are preserved numerous historical and cultural monuments as well as the places which have become sacred ones for the representatives of different religions: the Moslems, Jews and Christians.
The Christianity — the religion of the unity of the human being with God, the religion of love of Christ and His teaching — appears on the Crimean land in I c. God gave Crimea an important role in the Christianity dissemination: having taken in itself the seeds of belief, having grown them, the sacred land of Taurida gave them further to Rus, and from there to other peoples.
The first one to penetrate Crimea with the Gospel was Apostle Andrew the First Called — Christ’s disciple. The ship took St. Andrew to Bospor (present-day Kerch), and from there he went to preach to Feodosia, “the town populous and educated”, and then along the Southern Coast he went to the Chersonese.
But after the visit of Andrew the First Called the religious situation in Crimea changed a little. For a long time Crimea was the place for the exile of the state criminals of the Roman Empire. In 94 the third bishop of Rome sainted hierarch Clement was exiled to the Chersonese for his evangelical work.
Great difficulties awaited seven bishops — Basil, Ephraem, Capito, Eugenius, Euphereus, Elpideus and Agaphadorus, who were sent to the Chersonese to preach Christ’s learning at the beginning of IV c. All of them excluding Capito were killed by the pagans. But there activities bore fruit, the Christianity more and more spread about the Crimean land attracting both the poor and the rich, and the powerful, and the weak, the martyrs’ sufferings and deeds strengthened the belief of many people. In 314 in the history of the Christianity the revolution happened: it was recognized as an established religion of Byzantium. This circumstance influenced the life of Taurics Christians — now they were not persecuted any more and could freely practice their religion. At the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 the Bospor’s Bishop Cadmus was present, there is his signature under the Council’s resolution. In IV c. in Crimea they established two independent dioceses: the Chersonese and the Bospor ones, which at first were subordinate to the Jerusalem Patriarch, and from V c. — to Constantinople. Later in Crimea they set up the Goth and Sugdeya dioceses (in VIII c.), and in IX c. they establish the Fullskaya diocese.
In VIII c. the iconoclastic movement started in Byzantium, to the emperor’s order they destroyed paintings in the churches and icons, confiscated the lands and property of the monasteries. Monks moved to the outlying districts of the empire, including Crimea, where they founded the monasteries: Kachi-Kalyon, Shuldan, Chelter, Assumption and others. In Crimea there were its leaders in the fight for iconolatry — sainted hierarchs John of Gothia and Stephen of Surozh. The iconolatry was restored in 787 in Nicaea at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
More than one hundred later the Chersonese was to play an important role in the evangelization of Rus: here Prince Vladimir of Kiev accepted the holy baptism. In X c. the Christianity becomes the main religion on the peninsula, spreads along the whole coastal and mountainous Crimea, inhabited by the Alans, Goths and Greeks.
During the Khan Uzbek’s reign (1312–1342) in Crimea they started to disseminate the Islam, recognized after the Turkish invasion in 1475 as an established religion of the Crimean Khanate, and the Khanate itself turned into the vassal of the Sublime Porte. Kafa became the capital, and was renamed into Kefe, here was the residence of the ruler, who was called “pasha”. The Ottomans took the offensive against the Christian belief though at the beginning allowed to restore ruined temples and to build new ones. But the number of the Orthodox churches decreased. In the second half of XVI c. the Polish ambassador Martin Bronevskiy saw in Sudak “many Greek churches, several chapels, still intact, but mainly lying in debris among the ruins”. Many temples were rebuilt into mosques. The Christian Princedom Theodoro was blotted out as a result of the Turkish invasion. The Princedom used to defend the neighbouring monasteries, that is why they closed and went to rack and ruin. From five eparchies on the peninsula one was left — Goth and Kefaiskaya Diocese. The Christian population had to render tribute to the Moslem clergy, to fulfill numerous feudal duties, even in clothes there had to be the details, indicating their religion. The Turkish traveler Evliya Chelebe wrote: “All these infidels wear caps…, the same as the Tatar caps. However, all the Greek and Armenian giaours have on their blue and violet caps the mark from blue cloth…, the Jews sew to their caps a piece of yellow cloth”.
In 1779 the Crimean Christians under the spiritual leader of archbishop Ignatius resettled in the Azov Sea Region and founded the new Town of Mariupol. After the annexation of Crimea to Russia in 1783 there were 80 Orthodox churches, but only 33 were not ruined. Now the inverse process started: to populate the deserted land they started to resettle Russian subjects to the peninsula. But as the number of the Christians was not very big, for a long time Crimea was a part of other eparchies: from 1775 to 1786 it was a part of the Slavic and Kherson Diocese, from 1786 to 1799 it was a part of the Yekaterinoslav and Kherson Diocese, from 1799 to 1803 it was a part of the Novorossiyskaya and Dnepropetrovsk Doicese, from 1803 to 1837 it was a part of the Yekaterinoslav, Kherson and Tavricheskaya Diocese, in 1837 it was a part of the Yekaterinoslav and Taganrog Diocese, from May 9, 1837 it was a part of the Kherson and Tavricheskaya Diocese, from November 16, 1837 it was a part of the Kherson and Odessa Diocese. Taurida became an independent Diocese on November 16, 1859.
To increase the number of the Christians in Crimea and to stimulate the process of church restoration, the Empress Catherine II issued a decree about the establishment of the suffragancy, the center of which was defined the Church of the Presentation in the Temple in Feodosia. The suffragan was to be called the bishop of Feodosia and Mariupol.
The active revival of the Christianity in Crimea started at the middle of XIX c. and is connected with the name of the archbishop of Kherson and Taurida Innocent (Borisov). Having visited Crimea, archbishop Innocent paid a particular attention to the ancient monasteries and sacred places, hallowed by the local residents. At that time the dream to revive the monasteries was born: “Crimea as if is created to be our Russian Athos. If it were possible to revive on the mountains its ruined temples and monasteries and to settle one or two such monks, who are eager for the solitude, which is stricter than the ordinary monastery one. Healthful Crimean air and different prolific trees, growing wildly in the mountains, such as cornel, apple trees, hazelnut, even grapes, also edible vegetables and roots, — all this is extremely convenient for a hermit… Meanwhile, he could become the true benefactor of his neighborhood at this thinly populated country, where communications are so inconvenient. He could acquire some medical information and by means of it become good friends even with the Mahometan part of the population, which later would start little by little to hear his spiritual instructions”.
In 1849 archbishop Innocent addressed the Sacred Cynod with the offer to revive the Assumption Skete in Bakhchisaray, and then other ancient monasteries, which would be subordinate to the Assumption Skete. Due to His Eminence Innocent’s unceasing concerns in Crimea they set up six monasteries and cenobies. For some of them it was him who chose the place in beautiful corners, near the healing springs, covered with church legends. Due to archbishop Innocent’s efforts Crimea turned into the real Russian Athos, many pilgrims and devout people desired to come here to visit the places, connected with the important events in the history of the Christianity, such as Prince Vladimir’s baptism in the Chersonese or the Christian saints’ stay on the local land.
Since 1917 a new period started both in the history of our whole country and church: the period of godlessness, desolation of temples, devastation of human souls and hearts. In 1918 the decree was put into force “About the Separation of the Church from the State and the School from the Church”, according to which they liquidated the system of the church education, all the church lands became the property of the state. The majority of the temples were closed down, the crosses were removed, the bell towers were ruined. All this was done to give the churches “civil image”, for long years they were turned into storehouses, clubs, archives, depositories, many precious relics disappeared forever. On the eve of reforms, begun in our country in 1985, in Crimea there were only 14 parishes left.
The new period started in 90ies of XX c. On June 22, 1994 the order of the President of Ukraine was put into force. The order dealt with returning the cultic property to the religious organizations. It says: “To fulfill Article 17 of the Law of Ukraine “About the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations”: the local authorities of the state executive power shall provide to December 1, 1997 the transfer into the gratuitous use or returning gratis into the ownership of the religious organizations the cultic constructions and the property, which are in the state ownership and are misused”.
The temples were again returned to the Church, many of them were in such bad shape that demanded immediate repairs or reconstruction. The state could not allocate necessary means for their restoration. The restoration of the sacred places was made on the voluntary donations of the parishioners, enterprises and organizations. The decades of the policy of the state atheism have had an effect first and foremost on the human consciousness and souls. We bitterly have admitted, that the religious culture is lost, people, who came to the temple, did not know, how to behave, how to light a candle, how to address priests, who carry on their broad shoulders the concerns not only about the restoration of the Houses of God — temples and cathedrals, but also the concerns about their parishioners’ education.
Today the church is the part and parcel of our life, somebody of us has become a true believer, somebody is only on the way to the Orthodox faith, is looking for his or her way to the temple. And the pilgrim travels set up by the Pilgrimage Department of the Simferopol and Crimea Diocese help many of us to find this way.