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People make pilgrimages to holy places for spiritual reasons. But all the places particularly holy for the Christians seem to be situated far beyond the borders of Ukraine. For people with limited funds and for those who wish to go on foot but do not have enough time for long journeys, such places are hardly accessible. I, being an Orthodox Christian priest and possessing neither enough money nor enough time and yet wishing to go on a pilgrimage of my own, one fine day made up my mind to do it realizing that there were enough holy places in Ukraine.

In fact, Ukraine is not at all inferior in this respect, say, to Greece. And I decided to make a pilgrimage to places connected with the history of Christianity of which there are quite a few in the Crimea. Christianity came to the Crimea, the southern tip of which was once part of the Roman and later of the Byzantine Empire, much earlier than to Kyiv and consequently there are a lot of places a Christian may wish to visit on a pilgrimage of his own.
I did not want to go alone and invited several of my friends and members of my congregation to join. We did not walk all the way - we took a train to get to the Crimea. Probably I am not a hardcore orthodox in my views and I think it is quite acceptable in the present day world to use all the means of transportation available to get to the central place of your pilgrimage. I do not mind it at all when pilgrims travel to Jerusalem by plane or to the Pochayiv Monastery in Ukraine by bus. So we took a train to the Crimea but once there we made it a point to walk all the reasonable distances. The Crimea in late spring and throughout summer and in early fall is an excitingly beautiful place, though a little too hot at times. And if you camp out of doors then mosquitoes can be a nuisance at certain periods of time and at a close proximity to the sea. But we were determined to make our trip as cheap as possible and our determination, combined with a wish to get a spiritual uplift from visiting Christian places in the Crimea, made it quite easy for us to disregard all the little inconveniences that we had to encounter on our journey.

A Bit of History

Before I begin the story of my pilgrimage some readers may find a few facts of history useful. Ancient Ukrainian chronicles say that the first to bring the glad news of Christianity to the Crimea was St. Andrew, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. It must have happened sometime in the midlst century AD. At the end of the same century St. Clement, the first of the Apostolic Fathers, Bishop (Pope) of Rome, disciple of St. Paul and St. Peter, was exiled for preaching Christianity to the Crimea. There he died a death of a martyr for preaching the word of Christ to the local population. A curious but little-known fact: it was in the Crimea that the oldest known representation of the Christian cross was found. At the first Ecumenical Council there were already as many as four Crimean bishops attending! Christianity was the religion of a Greco-Gothic state (with a romantic name of Feodoro) that existed in the Crimea for over a thousand years and fell to the Turks twenty five years later than Constantinople itself. In the 8th century the Crimean Christians supported the Byzantine monks in their struggle against the Iconoclastic movement in Byzantium. Most of the cave monasteries in the Crimea date back to that time when the local monks, fleeing from the persecution of the authorities, established new monasteries in remote places in the mountains where they could freely worship their icons. St. Volodymyr himself, the Kyiv Prince who brought Christianity to Ukraine, was baptized in the town of Korsun-
Chersonesus, and later invited local priests and craftsmen to come to Kyiv.

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Cave Church of Rizdva Khrystovoho (Nativity) in the Heorhyivsky ( St.Gerge) Monastery. This tiny church ( the interior of the church is actually a cave) is the oldest thing in the monastery. The icon of St. George the Vanquisher had been kept in this church for
about a thausand years and in the twentieth century it was moved to Kyiv where it is now exhibited in the National Arts Musem.

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A cross in rock indicating a
church  used to stand
at this spot.


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Arizona-like scenery in Kachi-Kalyon.

It was from Korsun that holy relics and icons were brought to Kyiv as well.
In the past 400 years the Crimea was mostly Muslim and then, under the Soviet regime, atheistic. But I hope that the wonderful Crimea will once again become a predominately Christian land.

Pilgrims' Itinerary

Our journey which I prefer to call "a pilgrimage" started rather prosaically aboard a train that took us right into the heart of the Crimea. It was supposed to be "a fast train" but it seemed to take ages to travel the distance. At last we arrived at the town of Bakhchisarai which was to be our first stop on our itinerary. We were greeted by a host of taxi drivers who shouted their offers to take us "just anywhere" we wanted to go but we declined their kind offers and proceeded on foot to the Svyato-Uspensky (Assumption) Monastery. On the way through the narrow streets of the old part of Bakhchisarai we wondered why the taxi-cab drivers offered to charge us very little for a rather long trip and we arrived at the conclusion that this being a month of June there were not yet too many tourists around and the business was slow. We passed by a palace of the Tartar khans who once ruled the Crimea, saw its "fountain of love and grief." I found it rather impressive but not quite as much as I had expected from reading about it. The local muezzin was crying from the minaret of the mosque calling the Muslim faithful to prayer. The Tartars started returning to the Crimea only a few years ago and by now their numbers are growing.
We had to pass through the Maryam-Dere canyon before we got to the cliff with a cave monastery, the one we were looking for. About 600 years ago the monastery had an icon of Virgin Mary which was said to have miraculous powers but unfortunately in the 18th century it was taken to the newly founded town of Mariupol and in the 20th century, at the time of the Civil War in this country, it disappeared without a trace. In the 15th century the Cave Svyato-Uspensky Monastery became the leading centre of the Orthodox Christianity in the Crimea and it was here that the Metropolitan had his seat. In the 18th century the Czarist government forcibly moved all the Orthodox ethnic Greeks out of the Crimea and had them resettled elsewhere. The Metropolitan of the Crimea in those times was subordinate to the Patriarch of Constantinople but he could not ignore the pressure from the Moscow Patriarch either. In the Soviet times the monastery was closed down and gutted. Now the monks at the monastery are bringing it back to life and thanks to their untiring efforts it has already acquired all the features of a properly run monastery.
As there was no place for us to pitch camp, we, after a prayer, went on and
soon reached the foot of the Chufut-Kale Mountain. It's a Tartar name which in translation means "a Jewish fortress." It reflects the fact that at the time of the Turkish domination the place was inhabited by the Karaites. They were members of one of the Tartar tribes who had been converted to Karaism (Karaism is a Jewish religious doctrine originating in Baghdad in the 8th century that rejects rabbinism and talmudism and bases its tenets on scripture).

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Heorhyivsky ( St.Gerge ) Monastery. It used to sprawl over a wide area turned by monks into a huge garden with grapes, peaches, apples and cherries growing  there. After the Revolution of 1917 the monastery was closed down and barbed wire fences were put up all around but now everything comes back into its own.

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Uspensky Monastery, situated in a secluded and extremely picturesque valley; up to the 18th century the monastery was the seat of the Crimean-Gothic Metropolitan Bishop and after the fall of the atheistic Soviet regime it was one of the first churches to have been restored in the Crimea.

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View of Balacklava from the Genoese Fortress.

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Voskresenska ( Resurrection ) Church in the vicinity of Foros.

It is not known when precisely the cave town of Chufut-Kale came into being but the same can be said about practically all the other cave settlements in the Crimean Mountains which are to be found at the slopes of several plateaux.
I was very much impressed by the rocky scenery.

In fact I can say I have hardly seen a more impressive place in my life. God is a Superb Artist and His creations in what we call Nature cannot be matched by anything that man is capable of creating. We pitched camp there and peacefully spent our first night of the pilgrimage.
Our next destination was the Tepe-Kermen cave monastery. In some of the guide books of the Soviet time the place was described as "a Medieval fortress."

It was a very awkward attempt to hide the truth. There is no well at the place and this alone gives the lie to the idea of it being a fortress. No fortress could do without a well and the monks could! They brought water from other places and could live on a mouthful a day. There are several hundred cells and several churches at the monastery complex to which one gets following a narrow trail. We also saw the ruins of a majestic cathedral, graves of monks in the cliffs.
Next we visited the Kachi-Kalyon mountain ridge in the vicinity of the village of Bashtanivka. There also used to be a big monastery there.

We found several churches cut out of the solid rock. The monastery was famous for a miracleworking spring of St. Anastasia. The young girl Anastasia was martyred in Rome seventeen hundred years ago for being a devout Christian. It is not known why the spring was named after her but there must have been a good reason for doing so.
Our next stop was at Magup, the ancient capital of the Principality of Feodoro, of which one can see only romantic ruins. The population of Feodoro was Christian who fought against the Turkish onslaught in the 15th century. It takes about an hour to climb up to the top of the plateau where the capital city of Mangup once sat, but in 1475 it took the invading Turks six months of siege to capture Mangup. The Turks had big guns and sophisticated (for that time) siege machines and the defenders of the city were armed only with traditional spears, bows and arrows. And their faith. Not a single one of the defenders surrendered, they all died fighting. Among the ruins we could easily identify those of the city walls, of the prince's palace, of a 6th-century church, the biggest of its kind in the mountainous areas of the Crimea, of other churches and monasteries. They were like a prayer for the ancient heroes who had died in battle. Our itinerary took us through the Baidarsky Pass, a palace of a breath-taking beauty. We reached Foros where one finds gorgeous subtropical parks, excellent beaches and quiet bays.
Our itinerary took us through the Baidarsky Pass, a place of a breath-taking beauty. We reached Foros where one finds gorgeous subtropical parks, exellent beaches and quiet bays. It was a temptation to stay there and relax for several days but when we discovered that the temperature of the water had dropped to about seven degrees Celsius (a thing like this does happen once in a while in June at the Crimean coasts) we decided that it was God's way of preventing us from succumbing to temptation. And we moved on.
On our way we stopped at many places, of course, and each had something special which deserved to be appreciated. But it would take a book to describe all of them. Cape Fiolent boasts a monastery which was founded by Greek sailors in the 9th century. The traditional story has it that the sailors were caught in a bad storm and they prayed to St. George to save them and the Saint who paid heed to their prayer restrained the waves. The sailors reached the shore safely and discovered in the cliffs an icon image of the Saint miraculously revealed to them. The monastery they founded was naturally given the name of St. George. Incidentally the icon that the Greek sailors found among the rocks is now exhibited in the National Fine Arts Museum in Kyiv. The monastery itself was closed down and gutted in the times of the former regime and most of its ruins cannot even be seen or approached since they happen to be situated in the territory "occupied by the Ministry of Defence of Russian Federation." That was what the warning signs said. Dismayed at the idiocy of this, later we were happy to learn that at least a cave church had already been renovated and repair work at some parts of the monastery continued.
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Chufut-Kale area.

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Mangup. Andriy Vlasenko in front of the ruins of the Harnizonna Church.

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Byzantine decoration of a portal in the Mangup citadel.

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Tere-Kermen

At last we reached Korsun-Chersonesus, a sacred place for the Eastern Slavs, since it was here that Kyiv Prince Volodymyr, as I have already mentioned earlier, was baptized and turned Christian. We look at the white columns of the ruins of ancient Greek temples, at the newly renovated St. Volodymyr cathedral, at the sparkling sea, and say good bye. I feel that my pilgrimage has achieved its purpose, and the words of St. Volodymyr, said at the time of his baptism, come to mind: "Now I have come to know the true God."

Every piligrimage is a way of coming to know the True God.
Amen.

By the Reverend Andriy VLASENKO
Photos by the author.

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