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Uspensky Cathedral of the Pochayiv Lavra. 1771-1782.
The word "laura" is a borrowing from Greek and means, according to the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary "a monastery of an Eastern church." In Ukrainian, there is a si-milarword: "lavra" and it means not just any monastery but a big monastery of a special significance. There are only two "lavras" in Ukraine - Kyiv Pechersk ("of the Caves") Lavra and Pochayiv Lavra, which is more than an Orthodox Christian country usually has. Both these lavras are very ancient monasteries. In the Russian Empire, of which Ukraine was a part, there were five monasteries in the rank of lavra, and the Pochayiv Lavra was added to the list as late as in 1833 by tsarist decree. In fact, it is the second oldest among all the five lavras: it is older than the Troitsko-Sergiyevska Lavra near Moscow by a hundred years, older than Pskovsko-Pechorska by two hundred years, and older than a Alexandre-Nevsky Lavra in St Petersburg by 500 years.

According to tradition, the Pochayiv monastery was founded by several monks who came to Pochayiv from Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, fleeing from the Mongol invasion that destroyed Kyiv in 1240.

The first monks to settle at the Pochayiv Mount were reclusive anchorites who "lived in the wilderness", that is in great seclusion, away from the people.

Probably that is why no written record of the earliest years of the monastery has been preserved. But in the local tradition there lives a story that has it that at the time of the Mongol invasion, Blessed Virgin Mary showed Herself to two monks and to a shepherd, Ivan the Barefoot, in the form of a fiery column. There is even an imprint of Her foot in the rock where Virgin Mary stood, and in this footprint a sacred water spring opened up, and the water in it has curative, medicinal properties. Probably it was after this revelation that the monks built a church in honour of the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God at the foot of the Mount.

We find mention of "a monastery of the Greek rite at the Pochayiv Mount," (that is, Orthodox Christian) as "being very old and famous" unofficial documents of the Polish kings Sigismund I and Sigismund II Augustus (16th century). Fame came to the Pochayiv monastery in 1559 when a highborn noblewoman, Anna Hoiska, brought to the monastery her "miracle-working icon of Virgin Mary" to be kept there for good. The icon was later called "Pochayivska Bohomatir" (icon of Most Holy Mother of God from Pochayiv) and since then it has been considered the most sacred object of the Pochayiv Lavra, greatly revered by the Ukrainian people.

The icon had been brought to Ukraine by the Greek Metropolitan named Neophyte who had come to Ukraine in order to collect donations for the Constantinople Patriarchate, which found itself in dire straits being under constant pressure from the Turks. The metropolitan stayed at the castle of the Hoiska family (in the town of Orel in the land of Volyn) for some time, received a rich offering for the needs of his church from the widowed Anna, and before he left he gave her a blessing in the form of an icon.

As it turned out the icon possessed healing properties and several miraculous healings occurred. The icon was kept in the chapel of Anna's castle for thirty years, but when her blind brother had his eyesight restored to him after praying to the icon, Anna was so impressed with this miracle that she thought she did not have the right to be the sole owner of such an icon and handed it to the Pochayiv Monastery, which was situated in the neighborhood of the castle. At the same time she donated some land and money to the monastery.It has not been ascertained to which school of painting the icon belongs; it could be either Byzantine or Bulgarian, executed not later than the 16th century.

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Relics of Saint Job Pochayivsky.
  

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Venerable Joob's cell.

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Interior of the Uspensky Cathedral.
At the end of 16th century, a man arrived at the Pochayiv Monastery who contributed to its fame no less than the miracle-working icon.

It was the venerable Job, whose name before he had taken monastic vows had been Ivan Zalizo. He was an extraordinary person. He is often compared to Feodosiy Pechersky ("of the Caves"), an eleventh-century monk, and the founder of Kyiv Lavra. In the 16th century the venerable Job served well the Orthodox Christianity and thus his native land (these two notions were not separated then in the minds of the people). He was of noble extraction, but it did not prevent him when he was a ten-year old boy (from the land of Halychyna) from leaving the family house and entering a monastery. He took monastic vows at an early age and at the age of thirty he was elevated, in accordance with the Orthodox regulations, to the rank of "iyeromonakh" ("hieromonk," "father," a monk of high rank.) His piety was talked about throughout the land and the all-powerful ruler of the land of Volyn, Prince Kostyantyn.

Ostrozky invited Job to come over to the Chesnokhresny monastery in Dubno, in which he stayed as Father Superior for twenty years.

It was under the auspices of the Prince Kostyantyn that the first full bible in translation into Old Church Slavnikwas published and printed in 1581.

After the death of the prince, father Job "wishing to escape from the pressures of mundane fame and desiring to acquire fame solely of the one who aspires to achieve cryptic knowledge of God," (as it was written in a contemporary chronicle), secretly left Dubno and went to the Pochayiv Mount.
But he failed to run away from fame. He was too well known by then and soon after his arrival in the Pochayiv monastery he was elected Father Superior. Zealous as ever, he reformed the Pochayiv monastery from the eremitic type of a religious recluse community (with monks living separately in their cells and occasionally meeting only at big religious services in church) to a cenobitic type, based on the rule of the famous Greek monastery of Stoudios in Constantinople.
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Lavra's bell tower.
Strict discipline and daily routine were introduced so that every monk was obliged to do a certain amount of manual work in addition to things that had to be done at the monastery church. There were some changes introduced into religious service itself, which became more ceremonial and festive on big religious holidays. In 1649, under the Father Superior Job's supervision and with the money donated mostly by the noble family of the Domashevskys, a big church, Troyitska (Holy Trinity Church) was built in the Ukrainian Baroque style.

For more than forty years, the venerable Job was upholding the fame of the Pochayiv monastery by his unceasing prayers, efforts and daily spiritual and manual work. Under him the monastery became the most important cenobitic community in Western Ukraine. He had to deal with a stiff opposition and even open hostility from some of the local nobles. Particularly hard was his lawsuit with the nobleman Andriy Firley, the grandson of the Lavra benefactress Anna Hoiska. Andriy Firley was converted from Orthodox to Protestantism and decided to take back everything that had been donated to the monastery by his grandmother.

Firley used not only legal ways through court of law, but recurred to direct physical threats and violence. He formed a band of armed servants who raided the cloister, robbed and beat the monks. The miracle-working icon he took away and brought it to his Kozin Castle. These outrages went on and off for twenty five years, but in the end, the wisdom, perseverance, and tactful behavior of the Father Superior overcame all the adversities. Firley lost his case in court in favour of the monastery and was forced to sign a reconciliation document. He even returned the icon to the monastery, which since then has always stayed there.

The venerable Job has gone down in history of Orthodox Christianity as a perfect exemplar of Christian asceticism combined with devotion to a communal cause. On the one hand he quite often used to retire to a cave in the mountain which had been turned into a cell and for days on end, and sometimes weeks, he devoted himself to prayer for the redemption of "the world that lies in sin." While staying in the cave-cell he would eat almost nothing, "having for meals his own tears"  (incidentally, this cave with a very narrow passage leading to it, is still being used by monks and pilgrims for solitary prayer).

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Troyitsky Cathedral. 1906-1912.
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General view ofthe Pochaiv Lavra.
On the other hand his fiery anti-Uniate and anti-Protestant sermons, his active participation in the wok of the councils of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which at that time was independent from the Moscow Patriarchate) made him a widely respected figure even among the circles hostile towards Ukraine and Ukrainian orthodoxy.

The great Father Superior Job passed away at the age of a hundred, on October 28, 1651. Just a few years later (which in such matters is very soon) the venerable Job was canonized (that is declared a saint). His imperishable relics are now to be found resting peacefully near the cave-cell, where pilgrims can see them.

Another colourful event occurred in the life of the monastery in the year 1675 when in the course of a war (known as "Zbaraz'ka"), a considerable detachment of Turks and Tartars laid siege to the monastery. The invaders heard the rumours "about the enormous riches" accumulated at the cloister and thought they could easily get them. The monks fought back, but the enemy force was numerous and well armed, and then one day, according to tradition, the Virgin Herself came to the monk's rescue. She appeared in the air, accompanied by Saint Job, above the cloister, striking fear into the hearts of the infidels who beat a hasty retreat and ignomin-iously ran away.

Feofan Prokopovych, an ambivalent, extremely complex and outstanding figure in the Ukrainian and Russian history and culture of the late 17th-early 18th century, was also connected with the Pochayiv Lavra. This brilliant theologian and philosopher (though lacking in high principles), who encouraged Peter the Great, the Russian Emperor, to introduce sweeping reforms, had taken monastic vows in his youth in the Pochayiv Lavra. It should be mentioned here that Peter was known for his fierce anti-Ukrainian feelings and policies, but Feofan, in spite of his own Ukrainian background, was loyal to the Tsar. In 1712, the Tsar and his advisor paid a visit to the Pochayiv Lavra and this visit (for some of his policies, Peter was widely called "Anti-Christ," and Feofan was known for lack of piety in religious matters) turned out to have been detrimental to the monastery. In 1720 the Lavra was turned to the Uniates. The new monks were of the Greek Catholic rite. The monastery lived on but did not thrive.

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Western portal of the Troyitsky Cathedral.
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Wall painting on the southern portal of the Treoyitsky Cathedral.
It was the Count Mykola Pototcki (from a family of the distinguished nobles) who made a worthy contribution to the development of the Lavra. His special attitude to the Pochayiv Lavra is said to have been caused by an accident. Once, when Pototcki was travelling in a carriage, the horses bolted for some reason and the carriage was overturned.
The injured duke thought that the coachman was to blame among them a new cathedral. Unfortunately, a regrettable thing happened during the renovation. In order to build the biggest and most majestic Uniate church in Ukraine, a wide space had to be cleared up, and the wonderful church that had been standing there for centuries was pulled down. The architect Gotfried Hoffman who was commissioned to design a new church, in contrast to his great German namesakes (August Hoffmann, poet and philologist, and Ernst Hoffmann, composer, writer and illustrator, author of fairy tales), was a down-to-earth man, with little imagination, and he borrowed most of his architectural ideas from the Central European late Baroque style (several cathedrals in that style had already been built in Austria and in Germany). The Graeko-Catholic clerics, ceding to the demands of the architect, even agreed to ignore the traditional Orthodox cannon of orienting the main axis of the cathedral strictly along the east-west line and accepted a different orientation which differed from the traditional by as much as 90 degrees. The interior of the cathedral also looked very much in Catholic style and it took a long time for the local Orthodox congregation to get used to it. In 1831 the Lavra was turned back to the Orthodox Christians and a iconostasis was installed in the cathedral.
The interior of the cathedral was decorated with wall paintings done by the Ukrainian painter Luka Dolynsky. Later, the well-known painters from St Petersburg Vasylyev and Nesterov enhanced the interior with their religious works. The Count Potocki lived long enough to see the consecration of the cathedral (the first one; there were to be two more) and died two years later in 1782. In addition to the construction of the cathedral, he also had a dormitory building for the brethren built, and paid for the icon of Mother of God to be crowned with gold diadems, that had been sent by the Roman Pope Clement XIY, which meant the miracle-working properties of the icon were recognized by the Catholic world.

As time passed, the monastery grew in size and its fame spread ever wider. Several more buildings, including 65-meter (about 200 feet) tall bell tower, were added to the existing ones. The most important architectural addition to the Lavra dates to the early twentieth century. It is theTroitsky (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, designed by, and built under the supervision of the prominent Russian architect Alexander Shushsev. It so happened that all the finest ecclesiastical buildings in the Russian Art Nouveau (usually called "Russian Modern") style Shchusev designed and built in Ukraine. The Troitsky Cathedral (erected in 1906-1912), standing to the east of the Uspensky church, is a true architectural masterpiece. Shchusev borrowed some of the architectural motifs for his design from the medieval Pskov and Novgorod school of architecture. Two large mosaics adorn the walls of the cathedral above the southern portal (executed to the design, created by Nikolai Rerikh) and above the western portal (the design was provided by Shchusev himself). The interior of the cathedral was stylized to look like the one of a 13th-14th-century church, with stylized frescoes (by V. Shcherbatov), the iconostasis carved from oak wood, copper chandelier. The icon of the Virgin has stayed in the monastery ever since the 17th century, surviving the most turbulent times of revolutions, devastating wars and atheistic persecutions of religion. Now, when the oppression of the Orthodox Church has stopped in Ukraine, pilgrims keep coming from many parts of the Christian world to the Pochayiv Lavra in ever  growing numbers.

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Mosaics on the southern portal, designed by M. Rerikh.

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Detail of the southern portal mosaics.

There are only a handful of places in the world at which the Virgin has shown Herself to the people: Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Pochayiv in Ukraine. That's about all, and since Ukraine is the only Orthodox country on this short list, the importance of the Pochayiv Lavra becomes all the more evident.True religiousness and sanctity avoid vanity, hustle and bustle. That is probably why Pochayiv has only one "one-star" hotel, which looks like a poorhouse or a dormitory rather than a modern hotel Pochayiv, unlike Lourdes, is not going to turn itself into a commercial tourist centre with five-star hotels. In Pochayiv they still abide by the words of the Saviour: "You cannot serve God and the Mammon at the same time." And mind you it's not a forbiddance. it's just a statement.

By Andriy VLASENKO
Opthodox priest
Photos by Yuri BUSLENKO

Illustrated to article.

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