Monastery History

History of the Monastery

A convent in honor of St. Mary Magdalene was established in the mid 19th century on land belonging to the Black Sea Cossack forces between the villages of Timashevskaya and Rogovskaya (in what is now the Krasnodar region) with the approval of the Russian Tsar, His Imperial Majesty Nicholas I.

The initiative for this holy deed came from a nun named Mitrophania (from the old family of Zolotarevskii).

On 22 July 1846, the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, Mother Mitrophania was leading a delegation of women to the Cossack 'Appointed Ataman' of the Black Sea Cossack Army, Gregori Antonovich Rashpil, to request him to open a women's monastery in the Black Sea area. Tearful Cossack women were talking about the poor Cossack widows who lost their husbands and sons at war and who were looking for the last consolation of prayer to God, about the orphaned girls and, finally, saying that sacrifice to a monastic life is pleasing to God.

" Let there be a monastery!" - Such was the response of the Cossack Ataman to the pious petitioners. They immediately chose to name the monastery in honor of St. Mary Magdalene after whom was named Her August Majesty Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of the Noble Ataman of the Cossack troops Grand Prince Alexander Nikolayevich.

The Cossacks loved this young beauty of the House Of Gessinsky for her true christian piety and seriousness. She had organized many girls schools and religious colleges in Russia, and she tirelessly undertook works of charity. One of the maids of honour of the Court, A. Tyutcheva, wrote that the soul of the Grand Duchess Maria "was one of those that belonged in the monastery. It was easy to imagine her shrouded in a nun's hood, genuflecting.... embraced in silence, exhausted by fasting, long contemplative vigils and long church services. "

The naming of the monastery in honour of the heavenly patroness, the namesake of the pious Princess Most August, future Russian Empress, was to further strengthen the loyalty of the Cossacks to the ruling Romanov dynasty. And not only the naming, but the whole of the establishing of Mary Magdalene convent was conducted in the high spirit of service to the czar. Above all, this spirit came from the competent and energetic Cossack Ataman Rashpil, who came to the leadership of the Black Sea Cossack Army after 25 years of service in the Guard of St. Petersburg. The General Ataman constantly reminded the Cossacks that their main mission from God was the protection of the Russian monarchy and the Orthodox Fatherland. Ridiculing attachment to settled life amongst the Cossacks the Ataman jokingly attacked those so attached: "It is not enough, gentlemen, to be lordly; one should be an officer." And very soon afterwards, the "steppe lubbers" demonstrated miracles of valor in service of their beloved leader. But the Ataman also understood that the Cossack warrior needed a pious wife who could bear on her gentle shoulders the care of family and household during the absence of her military man. G.A. Rashpil dreamed of bringing to life in a holy monastery the words of the Emperor, that Russia needs "prudently educated ladies, houswives and, in particular mothers, who, being the first mentors of children, would be sowing in young hearts a sense of Christian humility and reverence to the will of the Lord, sincere attachment to the Orthodox Church and unlimited devotion to the throne, and who would teach their daughters housekeeping, handicraft and order". It seemed to the Ataman possible and pleasing to God to establish under it's shadow female educational institutions suitable to the "everyday life of military people" where will be brought up not lazy "idle-hands" but companions worthy to Cossack life. He made this task a separate paragraph in the project of the monastery, which he personally drafted.

Another well-known personality who was involved in the establishment of the Mary Magdalene Convent was Reverend Jeremiah, the first bishop of the Caucasus. He also was a man with a fervent faith in God and was a true patriot of the Russian Fatherland. The Reverend Bishop treated the development of the monastery with warmth and pastoral care, blessing all the good works of the Ataman. From Bishop Jeremiah the future Abbess Mitrophania received as a blessing the icon of St.Mary Magdalene and igumen's staff when she was greeted and graciously met by him in Stavropol. In a letter to Ataman Grigory Antonovich, Mother Mitrophania wrote with wonder and joy of this treatment, and with an especially holy delight with how Bishop Jeremiah was doing everything for the monastery "(Stavropol, 1846).

Mother Mitrophania came from the Ukrainian Monastery of Ladin, Poltava. There she served before being called to establish the convent back in her homeland near the Black Sea coast. Abbess Maria of the Ladin Monastery praised and valued her zealous nun Mitrophania, who served as provost of that monastery. She wrote to the wife of G.A. Rashpil, Carolina Adamovna, blessing her spiritual daughter Mitrophania for the task, saying that she definitely "would justify her new election for the glorious establishment, according to the will of God and royal assent, of the monastery in the name of St. Mary Magdalene."

The noble and exalted mood of Mitrophania, the first abbess of St Mary's Chernomorsky ( Black Sea) Convent, was clearly expressed in her constant feeling of faithful love for the Royal Family. And that spirit reigned in the cloister she established. The Historian P.N. Kryzhanovsky wrote that "the happiest time the сonvent experienced was in the days they received holy books and religious items gifted by the royalty."

When Tzar Nicholas II, later to be martyred for the sake of Russia, was born, Abbess Mitrophania warmly congratulated the Empress on the birth of the Royal Grandson with the following words: "The Black Sea Convent of Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Mary Magdalene, spiritually rejoicing today for it's own Holy day and the name-day celebration of Your Imperial Majesty, dares to bring to you at this occasion the icon of Prelate Miracle-Worker St. Nicholas, built and handpainted by the nuns of this monastery. August Empress! Vouchsafe to accept this fervent tribute to the blessings of your newborn grandson, His Imperial Highness the Sovereign Grand Duke Nicholay Alexandrovich: let the grace of God rest upon him by the prayers of the great saint of the Lord, St. Nicholas. Your Imperial Majesty's loyal subject Abbess Mitrophania." (July 22, 1868).

History of the building of the convent

Abbess Mitrophania's selfless activity in the Black Sea region began with the erection of a church in honor of the Intercession of Theotokos. " So that the daughters of this cloister, entrusted to me, be not completely devoid of Christian consolation and may hear the divine service.", she wrote in the Report of July 19 1849 to Bishop Jeremiah V, shortly after her arrival, asking for his pastoral blessing for this difficult undertaking.

The church was intended to be built on an empty peninsula in a bend of the river Kirpili, a picturesque location between the villages Timashevskaya and Rogowskaya. The nuns were temporarily housed in Rogowskaya, and their well-being was entrusted to the Rogowski Cossacks. At the request of Ataman Rashpil the army allocated some funds, but most of the construction of the monastery was supposed to be funded by the willing private donations of the cossack population. The Holy Monastery was built by the faith of ordinary people.

A truly spiritual celebration was the laying of the foundation of the monastery's first church on the peninsula, which had been scheduled for Sept. 22, 1849. This Holy Day, at the same time, became the day of the FOUNDATION OF THE MONASTERY.

The date was not chosen by chance. It is the Commemoration Day of St. Demetrius of Rostov, who was greatly revered by the Cossacks. St. Demetrius of Rostov came from a simple Cossack family. His father, having cheerfully completed the burden of military service and having attained the rank of lieutenant, dedicated the rest of his life to serving the church in the position of churchwarden in Kirillov monastery in Kiev. His son, the future saint, took his monastic vows in the same monastery. After the death of St. Demetrius, his relics remained incorruptible, and produced a lot of miracles and healings. And Empress Catherine II herself , "The Mother Queen " as the Black Sea Cossacks of old called her, went on foot from Moscow to Rostov after her royal wedding to venerate the relics of the miracle-working Saint, and to move them into a silver casket which she herself, together with the bishops, bore in solemn proccession around the church.

Reverend Jeremiah expressed his approval to the Mother Abbess for choosing a date so memorable for the Cossacks. From the archbishop's reply to the Igumen's report : "Your reverence has issued a fine and foresighted order by assigning the foundation day of the monastery to the holy memorial day of St. Demetrius of Rostov. It is advisable that you, in memory of the events of this day, erect an icon of St. Demetrius, and in time have a church dedicated to him in the monastery." The bishop's blessing was brought to life when there in the monastery was built the three chapeled Ascension Cathedral, consecrated in 1834, one of the sacrariums of which was in the name of St. Demetrius of Rostov.

Of course, the participants of this first spiritual celebration in 1849 could not have anticipated what meaning the monastery would have for the inhabitants of the Black Sea and Kuban regions in the near future and the spiritual blossoming awaiting it.

The celebration of the foundation of the monastery was of a very modest nature. Of the clergy there were present: the Abbot of the Ekaterinsky hermitage of Swan Island, Archimandrite Dionysios, the Mother Abbess and her nuns, several priests of the military hierarchy and the Cossack Army Ataman. After the Divine Liturgy, served in the church of St.Nicholas in Rogowskaya parish, the solemn Cross Procession went towards the empty peninsula between the villages of Timashevskaya and Rogowskaya, where there were prepared a board and a cross to erect on the site proposed for the construction of the Ascension Cathedral. This procession with prayers and spiritual songs under the open sky marked the beginning of the Cross Path - the spiritual ascent - of the convent. There on the peninsula was a dilapidated and vacant army stable which was given to the sisters for housing and into which they then moved.

In early 1850 Reverend Bishop Jeremiah was transferred to Nizhny Novgorod to head one of the leading Russian clerical departments. He touchingly farewelled those for whom he, as Bishop of the Caucasus, cared and worried. The bishop's letter to Abbess Mitrophania breathes genuine spiritual love: "Peace be upon you and blessings from our Lord Jesus Christ ... My pastoral heart is very glad to know from your writings that in the young monastery, entrusted to you by the Providence of God, all is going well, and that it grows and thrives. I pray to God and to The Mother of the Lord, that all visitors to your cloister, and all those loving it, and all who care for it's splendour and prosperity be blessed by all heavenly and earthly blessings. Pray for me to safely finish my journey so that after my arrival I may remember you in my prayers. Your diligent servant the devout Jeremiah, Bishop of Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas." ( January 12, 1850.)

Abbess Mitrophania reported to the new bishop, Ioanniky, the completion of construction of the cathedral in honor of the Intercession of the Theotokos, asking him to give antimension and to sanctify the altar. The Consecration of the altar was held on April 9, 1850, the fifth Sunday of Lent, and there was an unusually elevated feeling. The concourse of people being so numerous testified to the increased prestige of the monastery, to the reverence of the Cossacks for the monks and to their religious faith in the power of monastic prayer. A striking example of the widespread supportive attitude towards the monastery is the following letter, drafted by one of the ordinary Cossack soldiers at camp and addressed to the Mother Abbess: "Greatly respected humble mother Mitrophania. Obliging to the request of the authorities and moved by the brutal actions of our neighbors and inveterate enemies, the residents across the Kuban River, who have repeatedly infiltrated the cordon under my guard, and so ruthlessly and bloodily mocked Christianity, I , on the 23 of last September, with brave determination and a small patrol, appeared under the mountains on the very ground of the enemy, where, having called on the help of Almighty God, have charged at the enemy, and, fortunately, very quickly and gloriously managed to punish the highlanders ...Feeling that only Almighty Providence could have saved me and the squad in the land of barbarians, I thank God every hour for His great intercession. And for my prayers and gratitude to the Almighty to be better heard, diligently and submissively I beg you, pious mother, do not forget us, but in your holy cloister pray to God for me, the sinner, and for all the brethren who strove in said battle. I am sending herewith one pair of oxen with a cart. Accept from us this little offering in favor of the sacred monastery: these oxen are from the gains from the said raid."

Thanks to such gifts freely given by the Black Sea Cossacks the monastery was being built very quickly. The cloister cells and the fence around the monastery were under construction, the farm was being established and handcraft skills were being learnt. The task of female education was being addressed with especial care, as required by Ataman Rashpil in the project of the Mary Magdalene Monastery. Under the care of Mother Superior Mitrophania, that is in the earliest days of the monastery, there were admitted to the monastery teenage girls who, while not committing to stay in the monastery for good, were educated there in handcrafts, church singing and reading. Formally, it was called a "religious college".

Ataman N.A. Ivanov, visiting the monastery in autumn 1861 and admiring the upbringing of "female youth" there, wrote: "This facility is...and is already achieving highly in regards to "the woman as the mother". However, with some worldly sadness, he noted the fact that most of the girls educated in the convent became accustomed to the beauty of the monastic life and were therefore unwilling to leave the monastery and forever devoted their lives to God as nuns. This prompted the regional governor to endeavour to create religious schools outside of the monastery, alike to the one in the monastery, which was beneficial for the region.

During the whole of it's existence there took place at Mary of Magdalene Monastery an industrious church building activity. In 1861 the second cathedral of the monastery was consecrated in honor of the heavenly patroness of the convent - St Mary Magdalene, along with the adjoining abbacy. In 1867 the abbess Mitrophania petitioned for permission to build a church in honor of the Mandylion in memory of the deliverance from peril of Emperor Alexander II on April 4, 1866, but the request was rejected due to a lack of funds. And another good initiative belongs to the Abbess Mitrophania in this area - a petition in 1865 to erect the monastery's three-chapeled Ascension Cathedral with sacrariums, in honor of St. Michael the Archangel of God and St. Demetrius of Rostov, whose memory day, as has been said above, was considered the day of foundation of the St. Mary's Black Sea Convent. Abbess Mitrofania however, did not see the completion of this huge and beautiful cathedral, intended to beautify the whole cloister setting. Having farewelled this world in which she was not looking for ordinary consolation but constantly working, first in the Ladin monastery in the Ukraine, and then in the Mary of Magdalene monastery which she herself set up, all to the glory of God and the benefit of those seeking in holy prayer comfort and peace of the soul, Abbess Mitrophania departed to the other world: "where there is no pain, no sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting."

Abbess Mitrophania was succeeded by her former provost Olympiada, who came from the nobility of the Kuban Cossack Army, and who, taking over as abbess in 1869, followed in the footsteps of her spiritual predecessor. She finished the Ascension Cathedral, displaying remarkable zeal for God. When at the beginning of construction of the cathedral the diocesan authorities proposed to reduce it's size bearing in mind the lack of resources in the monastery, Abbess Olympiada managed to convince His Grace the Archbishop of it's future success and to insist on the construction of the huge cathedral. Also to the merit of Abbess Olympiada is that she established at the monastery a college for the daughters of clergy and church workers accommodating 30, with the provision by the monastery of 12 scholarships for orphans, complete with clothing and food.

Abbess Olympiada clearly demonstrated her monarchist beliefs in her dream to build in Ekaterinodar a chapel-monument "to the glorification of the Name of God and the eternal memory among the people of the Kuban region of the miraculous deliverance of the precious life of Emperor Alexander II from the hands of evildoers on 2 April and 19 January 1879." Olympics Abbess wrote about this to V.S.Klimov, the governor of Ekaterinodar, in 1880. She also addressed the city administration with the same issue.

The flourishing of the monastery

Up until the revolution of 1917 in Russia Mary Magdalene Monastery did not change its Charter, serving as a pillar of the Russian Autocrat, God's Anointed. Therefore the Lord richly blessed the nun's labours. At that time in the monastery there were about 850 hectares of land with grain fields, pasture meadows, orchards and vegetable gardens.There was an apiary and a pond with fish. It's own brick factory was working, built by Abbess Olympiada in order to construct the Cathedral of the Ascension with their own cheap materials. The monastery had a few windmills, a large bakery and many workshops, famous for their handmade items - icon painting, gold embroidery, leather work. There were also shops; a bookshop and a grocery. There were two hotels for pilgrims and a hospital with a pharmacy.

The process of spiritual, moral, cultural and economic development in the monastery never stopped. It was a miracle-cloister that enlightened the previously uncultured Kuban region. The village women appealed for help to the monastery, and it was considered a great blessing to have in the cloister one's own confessor from whom to receive spiritual guidance for daily life. For the first time in the region missionary ANTI SECTARIAN courses were given In Mary Magdalene monastery. In 1910 there was founded a penitentiary orphanage for children. The Holy Monastery had become the spiritual center of the Kuban region.

Destruction ...

After the foul murder of the faithful Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, everything turned upside down. Churches and monasteries were being demolished, clerics killed and the holy and pious customs of the old life were being destroyed. Amongst them the Cossack monastery in honor of St. Mary Magdalene was subjected to barbaric devastation. In fact it was wiped out. Nothing else could be expected from these barbarians, "the new owners", who did not have any high ideas in life, no love for Russia, no inner nobility, but only hatred and envy of the riches of Russia.

Arranging on the site of St. Mary Magdalene Convent a commune called "World Friendship" communists drove out all the sisters, about 500 altogether. They said: " Take what you can carry ". Residents of the villages remember how the the poor mothers left, having laden themselves with icons and books. Many sisters were exiled to Astrakhan to work in fisheries. The monastery farm was brought completely to ruin. The communists did not want to work, villagers said about them: "They arrived to everything already there, put together by the labour of the nuns, and drove those out, the hard-working bees! Themselves lazy quitters and atheists! " (from "Sketch of the past years"). Mostly, they were not local Cossacks. Work they could not, but to kill and destroy they were always ready. In 1918, the communists wickedly dealt with the monastic priest Gregory. They seized him during the Divine Liturgy, pulled him to the river, and saying with a laugh: "Communion to servant of God ...", shot him in the mouth. And in the same year, on September 12, over the river at the monastery appeared the Mother of God with the assembly of saints: God's Archangel Michael, martyr Saint George and Saint Mary Magdalene. Standing on a cloud was the Queen of Heaven with a royal crown and mantle and the bishops' embroidered tablets, holding in her hands a charter on which there were clearly seen the words: "NO ONE COMING TO ME SHALL DEPART SHAMED" . This vision was given to ailing nun Eupraxia who took the vows of schema, and with the blessing of Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev it was portrayed on an icon by a nun named Joasapha. This vision appeared in those days to strengthen the faithful of the Orthodox Church before the sorrowful events that were to happen in our Fatherland.

After that the plunder of the monastery continued. Initially, the Dimitrov collective farm was ordered to destroy the church in honor of the Intercession of the Theotokos. Then the huge Ascension Cathedral that adorned the convent was blown up and out of it's bricks the collective farm workers were building a "new" and terrible world without God.

The Great Patriotic War sobered the Russian people. They began to repent and talk about reviving the defiled churches and monasteries.The only one who managed to stay in the monastery, a nun named Macrina, strove to revive the Mary Magdalene monastery. "I shall die, but will not go away", she said the communists. The villagers still remember that, miraculously, she was not touched.

During the Second World War, Mother Macrina rescued the villagers from death. It happened when the Germans, enraged by the partizan's actions and wanting to punish the civilian population of the elderly, women and children, gathered them for execution. When they were already about to shoot, a woman in black came forward . "You are Christians, and we are Christians ..", said the mother to them. As her fervent Christian sermon on the future of God's Judgement for saints and sinners, on the Resurrection and Eternal Life sounded out the preacher herself knew that at any moment her words could be interrupted by a shot. She saw the brutal soldiers' faces. But no! She was not seeing the murderers, but Christ who has sacrificed Himself, who embraced the whole world with his Love. And so she felt sorry for us all: those who have been brought before the firing squad, and those who stood there with arms, destroying their own souls. The fascists felt it and ... dropped their weapons.

This was the power of the word given to the Black Sea Cossack women, nuns of Mary Magdalene monastery. First, it had prompted the ataman to construct the holy monastery on an empty peninsula, elating the Cossacks towards monarchism. And now it had stopped the murderers...

After the war, as has been said, Mother Macrina petitioned for the revival of the monastery in honor of St. Mary Magdalene, urging the authorities not to hinder God's work. "You just allow it. And we ourselves will find the means and build." Many people did not understand it and suspected that she knew where the treasures of the monastery were hidden. "No", said the nun, "the treasure is us, the people. It is our faith in God."

But the cup of evil, apparently, was to be filled to the brim. The local people had little faith and were afraid to donate and sacrifice for God's sake, justifying it by the post-war devastation and famine. That is why they did not revive the monastery.

In the 1960s, in search of the treasure about which legends did not stop, the monastery cemetery and the last monastery church in honor of the heavenly patroness of the monastery, St Mary Magdalene, were blasphemously destroyed ...


(To be continued ..)