Tserkovshchyna, a 23-hectare tract of hilly land in the Holosiyivsky district in southern Kyiv, belongs to the Interior Ministry. A hospital and a monastery occupy the land.
The area does have a rich history. Scientists have found a large pre-Slavic burial ground attributed to the Zarubinetska culture. For six centuries, from the 3rd century B.C. until the 3rd century A.D., there were Trypillian settlements in the area. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Orthodox monks settled there, building the Glinetsky monastery.
Feodosy of Pechersk is believed to have built the Tserkovshchyna caves in the 11th century. Feodosy, an Orthodox saint, was also a founder of the Pechersk Lavra monastery, which predates Tserkovshchyna by 60 years. There are similarities between the Lavra and Tserkovshchyna. Both are about the same size, built on hills and oriented from south to north.
Nowadays, it is working Monastery of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the territory of which there are unique caves and Church of St. Nikolas.
We entered the Church to ask the Father Superior to organize a small tour. Waiting for our guide, we were looking around. There are plenty of icons and reliquaries with the remains in the Church. We learned that the Church has remains of great martyr St. George the Victorious, Mary Magdalene, martyr Tryphon and other Pechersk saints.
After some time we were approached by father Gavriil, who brought us to the caves. Showing the way with candles, we went down the dark maze listening to the monk's story. "Feodosy of Pechersk founded these caves. Feodosy used to have made an annual trip to Tserkovshchyna from the Lavra during Lent to fast in a self-excavated cave. As other monks joined him, the caves developed into a monastery."
It's pretty cold and absolute darkness without candles inside. Teeny-tiny cell have only benches, carved from stone, and sometimes tables.
Apart from living area, there is storage, including root cellars and grain pits. According to father Gavriil, storages were destroyed in Lavra, but here remained till nowadays. Then he showed us ossuaries of Athos style, where there are monks' skulls and bones still preserved.
The caves have four levels, but only one is open for public. Others are under restoration. The look of caves has been preserved unchanged since the beginning of XI century. The total length of the open caves is about 380 meters.
The ancient caves were repeatedly raided. After the revolution, the track was used as a colony for minors, and when Kyiv was taken over by Germans, the place was used as a concentration camp and a hospital for wounded Nazis. During soviet times, the place suffered from local vandals, who were carving inscriptions on ancient walls and burning fires. Before 1990ies the track was popular among Kyiv diggers. The only fully preserved parts of the caves are those, buried under landslides.
After the cave tour, we entered the Church, which had been reopened for services. Over the altar there is a unique tetrastyle earthen ciborium.
Father Gavriil also told us that icons and relics "come" in the Church by themselves. "For example, this icon, the father pointed to the image of Holy Mother, embroidered with beads. - It was brought by a woman. When the woman was a little girl, she used to come here and scatter around the honourable heads of departed monks. Then she was injured in an accident and now can walk with crutches only. She brought this icon to ask the God for forgiveness."
In response to the question whether the authorities help in restoration of the caves, the father kept silence, though he mentioned that the museum of folk architecture and culture (Pirogovo) and head of the Kyiv history museum department of "Underground Kyiv" Vladyslav Dyatlov sometimes render assistance in the works.
Near the Church there is a baptismal font for monks.
Not far from the font, there are Virgin's Mary spring and the grave of Dr. Volodymyr Dobronravov, who left all his capital to the monastery.
Within a walking distance towards Interior Ministry's resort, there is a Cross, carved in stone. There used to be a temple on this place, but it was destroyed during Tatar invasion. In soviet times they made a ground for therapeutic exercise, but for reasons undefined the trainings have never been held - there is only a couple of benches and a statue of Muse.
Monks have their own small fruit and vegetable garden. With all the green around the whole place is covered from the sight.
In the course of our tour around nearby territories, we found out that not only monks prefer solitude. Having seen people with a big camera, former Interior Ministry officers immediately informed the local authorities. We were approached twice - with menace in voice and the same question - who we were and doing what. Having showed the documents, we peacefully explained we were interested only in the Cross on the place of destroyed temple and left the suspicious grandpas in shorts without incident.
Anastasia Pika, photos by Maxim Trebukhov
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