Metropolitan Nestor: “Where did the Pochayiv Lavra come from and who built it?”
The author discusses the history of the Pochayiv Lavra monastery in Ukraine, which was Orthodox for most of its history before becoming Greek Catholic for 110 years and then returning to the Russian Orthodox Church. The author highlights the monastery’s importance to both Orthodox and Greek Catholic traditions and argues against the idea that any one group or individual was solely responsible for the monastery’s success. The author encourages unity and spiritual growth for all Ukrainians.
The article also includes a note from the author urging readers to avoid conflicts based on religious differences and recommending a book by Metropolitan Ilarion (Ohienko) for further information about the monastery’s history.
Pochaiv Lavra: A History of Shifting Religious Affiliations and Shared Cultural Heritage
Metropolitan Nestor (Pysyk) of the Ternopil and Kremenetsky PCU has noticed attempts to distort history and fuel animosity between Ukrainian Orthodox and Greek Catholics in the discussion of the future of the Pochayiv Lavra. In his article, the bishop briefly outlines the stages of the development of the Pochayiv Lavra and the role played by Orthodox and Greek Catholics, specifically the Basilian monks.
Metropolitan Nestor’s Word on the Pochayiv Lavra
Today we live in a time when everyone is very interested in the Pochayiv Lavra. About it – every other post on social media. And most of these posts are about the fact that the Pochayiv Lavra should be handed over to the UGCC, because they founded it. And if they didn’t found it, then they built it. And if they didn’t build it, then they rebuilt it. And from all the posts, it looks like before the Lavra fell under the Union, there was nothing on the Pochayiv Mountain. Or almost nothing. Or there was something, but nothing valuable. I do not judge the initiators of this noise, but since people only have access to part of the information and cannot/will not/consider it necessary to verify this information, I will just list a series of facts from the history of the Pochayiv Monastery that provocateurs have forgotten (or deliberately omitted) to kindle hostility between the UGCC and the PCU for the benefit of Moscow. What to do with these facts – let everyone decide for themselves, but this is historical reality that cannot be denied, even despite attempts to distort history. So let’s start.
Meet Mefodiy Pochayivskyi, an uncanonized saint and the founder of monastic life on Pochayivska Mountain (by the way, his name is distorted in Latin style in the Wikipedia article as Metodiy). He arrived on Pochayivska Mountain from Mount Athos around 1213. Learning that the Holy Mother had appeared several times to a pious man named Turkul on this site, he commanded that a monastery be built here. And he returned to Mount Athos. Turkul followed him and convinced Father Mefodiy to return to Volyn. They returned in 1219 and built a monastery and a temple (!) on Pochayivska Mountain in the name of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This monastery was of the skete type, meaning that the monks lived as hermits, gathering only for worship. The venerable Mefodiy died in 1228. After him, the monastery existed as a skete until the end of the 16th century, until Venerable Iov.
In 1240 (according to other sources, 1261), there was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Pochayiv Mountain, witnessed not only by local monks but also by shepherds from a neighboring village (one of whom was named Ivan the Barefoot, according to the legend). After this apparition, a visible sign remained – the footprint of the Virgin Mary, from which flowed healing water for various illnesses, according to witnesses from different centuries. Soon after this apparition, a small church was built at the foot of the mountain in honor of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in the 17th century, another church was built around the footprint, which will be mentioned a little later.
Meet Hanna Hostska (more commonly known in the Polonized form as Anna Hoyska). She was the widow of the judge of the Lutsk district court and owned the town of Pochayiv and the surrounding villages. She had a castle in the village of Orlya (now a hamlet in the Kremenets district), which no longer exists today. It was there that the Greek Metropolitan Neofit visited her and gave her an icon, from which her blind brother, Filip Kozynsky, was miraculously healed in 1597 (by the way, there is now a church and monastery of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine on the site where the castle chapel stood, and where this miracle apparently took place). After this, the icon, which we now know as the Pochayiv Icon (I won’t post its image, I think it is well known to everyone), was moved to the Pochayiv Monastery and became its main shrine. But Hostska’s generosity did not stop there. She established a fund, according to which she donated land and financial aid to the monastery, and also stipulated that “the Hegumen must be a man of the Eastern Christian Faith, the Holy Rules of our Greek Confession… Any disputes in the monastery should be judged not by a bishop of a different Confession, but only by a Greek of the Eastern Church”. It was thanks to her efforts that the first Hegumen appeared on the Pochayiv Mountain, whom we will now get to know.
Meet Reverend Job of Pochayiv, the first igumen of the Pochayiv Monastery (from 1604 to 1651) who introduced communal living instead of the previously practiced solitary cell lifestyle. Through his efforts, seven (!) churches were built within the monastery grounds, along with a wall featuring five towers. He stood firmly in the Orthodox faith, constantly defending it against its enemies, inspiring the monastery’s brethren and the local populace to do the same. This was despite the fact that the local authorities had effectively stripped Orthodox citizens of all their civil rights in Poland. Many people know that Andriy Firley, the successor of Hoshko, terrorized the monastery for years, and in 1623, he and his haidamakas attacked and plundered it, stealing the Pochayiv icon among other things. But few people know that the monastery’s lawsuit against Firley took 25 years to be resolved before the court ruled to return the stolen property. God’s judgment was much swifter, and Firley’s wife fell seriously ill until her husband returned the icon to the monastery (though he did not return most of the other stolen items).
Meet Fedir and Eva Domashevsky, a noble Orthodox family who many pilgrims to the Lavra may not know about. They are holding a portrait of the Trinity Cathedral of the Pochayiv Monastery, which was built in Renaissance style and consecrated in 1649 using their donations. The cathedral was constructed so that the footprint of the Holy Mother of God would be inside the temple.
By the way, this same cathedral can be seen in the painting “The Appearance of the Virgin on the Pochayiv Mountains in 1675” (which is in the Lavra, it is from 1800, but it is a copy of an earlier painting, the author of which painted the Trinity Cathedral from the original). This magnificent cathedral, a true architectural monument, was destroyed in 1773 by the Basilian monks in order to build the current Dormition Cathedral in its place and erase the memory of the Orthodox past of the monastery (which, to some extent, they succeeded in doing).
Meet Mykola Vasyl Potocki, the starosta of Bohuslav, Kaniv and Korosten. He was the greatest patron and donor of the Pochayiv Monastery during its period in the Union. He loved the Pochayiv Monastery very much, and even wanted to become a simple monk there. He gave the monastery 2,244,000 zlotys (a fantastic sum for that time) for the construction of a new cathedral and a building from 1761-1765, and for many years he urged the monks to start building with this money, even threatening them with divine judgment and that he would take the money back (all these correspondence are preserved in the archives). Instead, the monastery’s hegumen Bilinsky wrote that there is a threat that Orthodox believers may return to the monastery, so he requested an act stating that these funds were transferred specifically to the monks who are in the Union. And if the Pochayiv Monastery were to return to the “schismatics,” then these funds would be transferred to other Uniate monasteries. Potocki did not provide such an act, instead he moved from Buchach to Pochayiv and in 1771 began building a new Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the European Rococo style at the site of the ruined Renaissance Trinity Cathedral of the Domashevsky family using his own funds (those 2 million remained with the Basilian monks). Interestingly, the threat that the fruits of his work would fall into the hands of Orthodox believers did not scare Potocki; he even repeatedly appealed to Hegumen Bilinsky to plead with Rome to canonize the deeply respected St. Job of Pochayiv, who was highly esteemed by Potocki. The hegumen replied that he had appealed to the Pope on this matter, but received no response (although, knowing the attitude of the monastery’s inhabitants at that time towards St. Job, one can be confident that there were no appeals). Perhaps in reality, Potocki was more inclined towards Orthodoxy in his soul, but he simply did not have time to see Orthodox worship in the Pochayiv Monastery during his lifetime?
I do not want to touch upon the period when the Pochayiv Monastery was a part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, in order not to provoke new conflicts, disputes, and animosity between the faithful of different Churches. I only want to say that after the Basilian monks of the Pochayiv Monastery supported the Polish uprising (as they always leaned more towards Poland than Ukraine), in 1831 the monastery was transferred to the Orthodox Russian Church. Ukrainians settled in the monastery again, and local residents flocked to it. A separate dark chapter in the history of the Pochayiv Monastery was the residence of Russian Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Volyn there, who built the new Troitsky Cathedral in a purely Russian Novgorod style from 1906-1912. His collaborator in the Russification of the Lavra was Archimandrite Vitaliy (Maxymenko), who ran the Lavra printing house and printed pro-Russian Black Hundreds publications. Then the Lavra suffered under the rule of Poland in the 1920s and 1930s, under German occupation in the 1940s, and under atheistic Soviet rule in the 1940s to the 1980s. In the late 1980s, there was a great rise of patriotism among the Ukrainian brethren of the monastery, which was initiated by the then hegumen, Archimandrite Yakiv (Panchuk). However, the Ukrainian monks were quickly dispersed to various monasteries, replaced by representatives of other nations, and Fr. Yakiv was expelled (he later became a bishop of the Kyiv Patriarchate). Thus, the Pochayiv Lavra came to be a stronghold of “Russian world” in Ternopil region. We pray and hope that the situation will change soon.
Most of its history, the Pochayiv Monastery was Orthodox:
1219-1721 – for 502 years it was Orthodox, initially part of the Kyiv Metropolis of the Constantinople Patriarchate, and the last 34 years (1687-1721) as part of the Russian Church.
1721-1831 – 110 years as part of the UGCC
1831 – present – for 192 years under the jurisdiction of the Russian Church
The Greek Catholics did not receive an empty monastery in 1721, but rather a powerful monastery with seven churches, one of which was a magnificent cathedral, many buildings and walls.
According to the Orthodox history of the monastery, we have a long list of miracles, the miraculous Pochayiv icon, two saints revered throughout the Orthodox world, and the love of the local people expressed in songs, chants and other works. It was not a “run-down provincial monastery” that the Basilian monks made magnificent.
It was not the Basilian monks who built the Pochayiv Monastery, but rather the nobleman Mykola Potocki, who worked not for the sake of the Basilian monks, but for the sake of the monastery itself.
So, draw your own conclusions about who contributed the most and who really built and made the Pochayiv Lavra famous. Each era contributed its own share to the construction of the shrine, and it is not expedient to argue now about who owes what to whom. Who knows what the monastery would look like now if it had not become Greek Catholic in 1721 or Orthodox in 1831. It is the result of the work of many generations of residents and many donors. Therefore, if we start measuring the contribution, who knows who will win. Therefore, we should not look for reasons to argue, but unite for the spiritual good of the Ukrainian people, which I wish for all of us.
The Pochayiv Monastery has a long and complex history, having been Orthodox for the majority of its existence, with brief periods of belonging to the UGCC and the Russian Church. The monastery has a rich history of miracles and is revered by both Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians. The monastery was not built by the Basilian monks but by the nobleman Mykola Potocki, who worked for the monastery itself. Instead of arguing about who contributed the most, it is important to unite for the spiritual good of the Ukrainian people.
Author: Nestor (Pysyk), Metropolitan of Ternopil and Kremenets