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Manyavsky Skyt: a revived monastery
“Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
The road runs past the snowbound gardens and fields; the ice-covered tops of the mountains, pink in the slanting rays of the winter sun, stand boldly against the dark-blue sky. There is a secluded valley, called Horhanska, in which sits a monastery, like a pearl in a shell. The site was chosen purposefully to make the monastery as inconspicuous as possible.
Nataliya Yasynska from Ivano-Frankivsk visits an ancient monastery and reports its revival after many years of neglect.
The Manyavsky Skyt Monastery is surrounded by defensive walls above which rise the pare-shaped domes of a church. The road leading to it climbs high through the dense woods.
The monastery was founded in 1606 by Yov (Job) Knyahynetsky, a Ukrainian from the small town of Tysmenytsya in the land of Prykarpattya (“sub-Carpathian”). Knyahynetsky had spent twenty years at the end of the 16th century in the monastic community of Mount Athos where he had taken monastic vows before he returned to Ukraine with a mission of introducing the monastic rules of Mount Athos into the monasteries of Western Ukraine. And also, he founded a monastery, Manyavsky Skyt (the word “skyt” actually means “a small and secluded monastery”).
There is some evidence though, both archeological and historical, the latter derived from the chronicles, that suggests that there was a skyt in the Horhanska valley dating to as early as the 13th century. It is believed to have been founded by two monks who travelled all the way from the Pechersk Lavra monastery in Kyiv after this city had been captured and ruined by the Mongols in a massive invasion of the Ukrainian lands. The local tradition has it that shortly after these two monks had settled down in the valley close by the tiny river of Baters, the Virgin Mary revealed herself to them and standing on a rock, which since then was called The Blessed Rock, encouraged the monks to go ahead with founding a monastery. When Yov Knyahynetsky came to that place almost four hundred years later, he found no monastery there but the Virgin Mary appeared again and urged him to found a skyt.
The seclusion of the monastery did not prevent it from being raided, pillaged and ruined on several occasions. But each time, as soon as the invaders left, the monks returned and the buildings were rebuilt. Some losses were irretrievable though. There was a big library in the religious school that functioned in the monastery — in fact, it was the third most important religious school in Ukraine after the ones in Kyiv (Kyiv Mohyla Academy) and the one in the town of Ostroh. After one of the raids, all the books disappeared without trace.
It was known that Manyavsky Skyt received rich donations that came from Ukrainian, Moldavian, Rumanian, and Polish noblemen and princes, but it is not known what happened with all these treasures accumulated in the monastery. There is a reason to suspect that the treasures were not plundered but were hidden so well that they had never been found. It is known, for example, that shortly before the monastery was devastated in 1785, many wagonloads of bricks were delivered to the monastery in a space of two weeks, and the monks used them for some purpose. One theory proposes that the bricks went into the construction of underground strongrooms whose location was kept secret. So secret indeed that they have never been found. At the time when the area, where the monastery is situated, came under the Austrian rule, the Austrian authorities confiscated some of the monastery’s possessions but the extant lists of the things confiscated do not show anything of a particularly great value, except for a 27-kilo silver cover of a gospel which was donated to the skyt by the Russian tsar Fedor Ivanovych. Robbers, pillagers and amateur archeologists kept finding crosses, church ritual objects and ancient books in the caches in the walls and elsewhere in the abandoned monastery.
It is believed that Ivan Vyhovsky, Hetman of Ukraine in 1657–1659, is buried in Manyavsky Skyt, though the exact location of the grave remains undiscovered.
Vyhovsky, a Ukrainian of noble birth, was educated at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy in Kyiv, and when in the mid-seventeenth century the war of independence broke out, he joined the forces of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the then Hetman of Ukraine and leader of the independence movement. Vyhovsky, who was promoted to a top diplomatic post, conducted negotiations with Poland, Muscovy, Sweden and the Crimean Khanate. After Khmelnytsky’s death, Vyhovsky was elected hetman. He pursued the policy of independence of Ukraine, skillfully maneuvering and dealing with enemies one at a time. Muscovy’s political pressure soon took the form of a direct military aggression and a 150,000 strong Russian army, led by Prince Trubetskoy, invaded Ukraine. In July 1659, Vyhovsky inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Russians in the vicinity of Konotop. Unfortunately, the hetman could not use the results of his victory because of the internal strife in the Cossack leadership. In the face of stiff opposition to his policies, Vyhovsky resigned and left Ukraine for Poland. In the then Byzantine political situation, full of twists and turns, alliances were forged and broken, and in a matter of days, allies could become enemies, and the other way round. Vyhovsky was made senator and voivoda (governor) of Kyiv. In 1664 he was accused of high treason and executed, without trial, by a firing squad. His wife Olena had him buried in Manyavsky Skyt. She loved her husband greatly and did not live long after his death. She was believed to have been buried in the same monastery, close to her husband.
The Soviet authorities closed down the Manyavsky Skyt Monastery and at one time planned to turn it into a rest home for Soviet cosmonauts, probably because the skyt was known as a place where even a short stay restores health and provides energy for many weeks. A museum was set up instead, which to some extent, prevented the monastery from being vandalized.
There was an attempt by the Soviet authorities to make the monastery a venue of “festivals of political songs.” Several festivals were indeed held there but whenever the choirs began to sing songs about Lenin, the communist party or “the glorious achievements” of the Soviet Union, it began to cloud over and soon the torrential rain would put an end to patriotic singing. And the Soviets left the monastery alone.
After Ukraine regained her independence, the monastery was opened and seven monks and a dozen lay brothers came to live there. One of the monks is an American of Ukrainian descent from Chicago.
It will take a lot of effort and time to get the monastery back on its feet. It used to be a rich monastery, with donations pouring in and with profits gained from the production of salt, flour-grinding, sale of honey, production of bricks and metal. None of these businesses will be revived, of course, and donations are by far not what they used to be. But Manyavsky Skyt does get help, mostly in the form of volunteers who come to rebuild and restore. An acre of land in the immediate vicinity of the monastery which was given by the local authorities, is used for growing vegetables.
In October 2001, one of the walls of the refectory collapsed. The examination of all the other structures in the monastery revealed that there were many dangerous cracks in the walls that needed urgent repairs. Ioasaf, Archbishop of Ivano-Frankivsk and Halychyna of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, turned to the local authorities with a request to provide help and the Prykarpatzhytlobud Company did send construction workers to do what was needed to be done to prevent further deterioration. The president of Ukraine visited Manyavsky Skyt at Christmas and promised to see to it that restoration and rebuilding would continue with the state’s help.
And since then much has already been done, though there still remains even more to be done. The walls have been reinforced, the Church of Vozdvyzhennya Chesnoho Khresta (Elevation of the Holy Cross) has been rebuilt. The iconostasis from the original church which had been dismantled, was, after the Austrians closed down the monastery, taken first to Vienna, then to Warsaw. In the nineteen-twenties it was brought to Lviv where it can be seen now in the National Art Museum, but it is displayed as an iconostasis from Bohorodchany rather than from Manyavsky Skyt, probably because it was kept for some time in that village. The church has new bells; the original, seventeenth-century ones were smashed to pieces and melted, and the metal was used for some everyday purpose. They say that the tolling of the old bells could be heard miles away.
The slope of a nearby hill, denuded of trees, is gradually sliding ever close to the monastery walls and something must be done about it.
The Blessed Rock that had had water seeping from it, went dry for some time, giving water only on the Feast Day of John the Baptist, but after the revival of the monastery had began, it started giving water again. The monks believe it to be a sign of God’s Grace. The water is like tears of joy — the sure sign that the monastery is coming back to life. The monks collect three to four litres of this water daily. They say that the water usually appears when the services are held in the monastery church.
Manyavsky Skyt boasts another remarkable historical object — a tombstone with the names of the founder of the monastery, Job, and of the first father superior, Feodosiy. During the centuries of the monastery’s troubled history not only valuables were robbed or confiscated — even the dead were disturbed and thrown out of their graves. There are no remains under the tombstone but in 2001, on the day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the tombstone began to exude chrism. Several months later, during Lent, the tombstone again shed tears of pure anointing oil, and since then it happens regularly.
The Virgin Mary is believed to have visited the skyt again in 2000 but She appeared only on the photographic film — a Japanese tourist discovered Her image in one of the pictures he had taken at the site.
During my visit to the skyt I did experience the presence of spiritual, cleansing energies. It is well known that the sites, at which the famous monasteries and churches stand, possess their own special energy which is enhanced manifold by the spirit of sacredness which is present in the relics and in churches. When I prayed, standing in front of the main church of the skyt, I felt a cleansing force enter my heart and soul, taking away all the worries and giving me a great warmth of hope.
Pilgrimage to Manyavsky Skyt has resumed — a sure sign the monastery lives on.
The author would like to express her gratitude to Ioasaf, Archbishop of Ivano-Frankivsk and Halychyna of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, and to the monks of the Khrystovozdvyzhensky Velykoskytsky Manyavsky Monastery for help they so kindly provided.