Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra
Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, also (In Russian: Троице-Сергиева Лавра (Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra)) is among the most renowned of the Orthodox monasteries in Russia. Situated next to the town of Sergiyev Posad, about 65 kilometers (44 miles) north east of Moscow, it was founded by St. Sergius of Radonezh the patron saint of Russia in 1340.
The monastery was founded as Holy Trinity Monastery by Sergius of Radonezh when he, with his brother Stephen, established a cell and a simple chapel to begin lives of ascetic seclusion in the forest wilderness at the Makovets Hill north of Moscow, Russia. They dedicated the chapel to the Holy Trinity. As people learned about him, many came to his isolated cell for guidance. Among these people were other ascetics who built cells near by. In time the number grew to twelve monks and the beginnings of a hermitage was established. In 1355, Sergius produced a charter for the monastery that formed a model for organization of Holy Trinity and was used also by his many disciples who were to found over 400 monastic communities. The charter formed the plan for growth of the monastery that included adding a refectory, kitchen, and bakery.
With the growth and increased fame of Holy Trinity, the influence of Sergius increased as he supported the princes of Moscow. A highlight of this support was Sergius’ blessing of Grand Prince Dmitri Donskoy and his forces as Dmitri left to meet and defeat the Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, a battle in which two of Sergius’s monks, Peresvet and Oslyabya, accompanied Dmitri into battle.
Sergius died in 1392 just before the Tatars returned and devastated the monastery later in the year. Again in 1408 the monastery was attacked and burned during the campaign of the Tatar Khan Edigei against Moscow. The Abbot Nikon found the relics of Sergius miraculously preserved in the ruins of the monastery when he began rebuilding. Abbot Nikon built a wooden church in which the relics of Sergius were placed.
After each attack Abbot Nikon led the rebuilding of the monastery. In 1422, the same year that Sergius was declared the patron saint of the Moscovite Russian state, construction, in the Suzdal-Vladimir style, of a cathedral in stone began. The builders were a team of Serbian monks who had taken refuge in Holy Trinity after the Battle of Kosovo in Serbia. The cathedral, which replaced the Church of St. Sergius over which it was built, was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The relics of St. Sergius are kept in this cathedral. Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny, the great iconographers of the day, took part in decorating Holy Trinity Cathedral with frescos.
In time, the tradition arose for the Moscow royalty to be baptized in the cathedral as well as holding thanksgiving services. With donations from the nobles, the monastery became very rich, even to maintaining an army of 20,000. It owned about one hundred estates that were worked by over 106,000 serfs. However, the right to own such property was taken from the monastery in 1764.
The Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Dukhovsky) was commissioned by Ivan III in 1476. This church, built by artisans from Pskov, is one of the remaining examples in Russia of a church with a belltower on top of it. The Church of St. Nikon, commissioned by Basil III, was completed in 1548, a year after Nikon was canonized. At the western wall of the Nikon church a chapel called Serapion’s Tent was built over the tomb of St. Serapion, the archbishop of Novgorod.
As the sixteenth century progressed a major cathedral, modeled after the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, was commissioned in 1559 by Ivan IV, commonly labeled “The Terrible�?. Construction of the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral took twenty-six years. It was built to commemorate the conquests of Kazan and Astrakhan. The interior, including the iconostasis, was the work of a number of artists: notably Simon Ushakov whose masterpiece icon of the Last Supper adorns the iconostatsis and the violet and blue frescos of the interior walls done by Yaroslav masters in 1684.
The wooden walls around the monastery were replaced during the middle of the sixteenth century by thick stone walls. The walls that stretched for 1.5 kilometers were dotted by twelve towers. The strong walls were instrumental in the defense of the monastery during the siege by Polish forces from 1608 to 1610. Again in 1618, Wladyslaw IV besieged Holy Trinity unsuccessfully. Throughout the remainder of the century construction of more structures took placed. These included a royal palace ordered by Peter I for his father, Tsar Alexei, that now houses the Theological Academy. In 1686, a refectory/church dedicated to St. Sergius was added that for a while was the largest hall in Russia. The Church of John the Baptist’s Nativity was added in the last decade of the seventeenth century. This church was commissioned by the Stroganov family and was built over one of the gates to the monastery. Also the century witnessed the building of monks’ cells, a hospital in 1635, and a chapel over the St. Sergius Well that was discovered in 1644 and from which the faithful draw holy water.
The monastery was favored by Elizabeth, and she commissioned the Church of the Virgin of Smolensk and an 98 meter tall belltower, built between 1741 and 1769 by the architects Ivan Michurin and Dmitri Ukhtomsky. This was then the tallest structure in Russia.
In 1742, a seminary was founded at the monastery. In 1814, the seminary was replaced by the Moscow Academy that was transferred from Moscow to the monastery. Additionally, the monastery supported a number of sketes in Sergiyev Posad.
Following the assumption of power by the Bolsheviks in late 1917, the Lavra was closed in 1920 by the new Soviet government, with its buildings being assigned to various governmental institutions. Not withstanding rescue efforts by Pavel Florensky and his followers, many of the sacramental valuables of the Lavra were lost or transferred to other places during these years. The monastery bells were destroyed in 1930, including the 65 ton Tsar-Bell.
In 1945, the Bolsheviks returned the Holy Trinity Lavra to the remnants of the Orthodox Church that existed within Russia. The return was part of the legalization of the Church in recognition of its efforts in defense of the country during the Nazi invasion of World War II (The Great Patriotic War). The first liturgy at the monastery was conducted on April 16, 1946 in the Dormition Cathedral. The monastery remained the seat for the Patriarch until the Patriarchate was allowed the use of Danilov Monastery in Moscow in 1983.
From the times of St. Sergius, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius has been the center of Russian piety and nationalism. With Sergius’ blessing, in 1380, of Grand Prince Dmitri Donskoy and his forces as they left for the victorious battle at Kulikovo, the monastery remained the center of devotion for the Moscow royalty which provided continuing financial support for the monastery. The veneration of Sergius as a saint came early and in 1422 he was canonized and honored as the patron saint of Russia. Ivan IV, in particular, venerated the memory of Sergius. The association of St. Sergius with Holy Trinity Monastery had been so great that his name has become part of the name of monastery.
Since the formative years of the Muscovite state Holy Trinity was often associated with events in Russian history. From the monastery missionary monks, beginning in the time of Sergius, traveled throughout central and northern Russian spreading the gospel of Christ and the presences of Russia. Some 400 monasteries were established by these monks, including monasteries such as Solovets on the White Sea.
During the Times of Trouble of the early 1600s, Holy Trinity monastery was the center of Russian spirit as the 1,500 defenders in the monastery fortress withstood major Polish attacks for sixteen months during the years 1602 to 1608, and then again 1618. It was at the monastery that Kosma Minin and Prince Dmitri Pozharsky and their forces received blessings on the way to ejecting the Polish army from Moscow.
The monastery was the refuge for the tsarevich Peter in both 1681 and 1689 from the Strel’tsi uprisings fomented by his half-sister, Sophia. With the ascendency of Peter I as tsar the monastery received much attention from Peter and his successors, the empresses Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine II. Elizabeth particularly favored the monastery. In 1744, Elizabeth dignified the monastery as a Lavra, with the metropolitan of Moscow designated as the Archimandrite of the Lavra, in recognition of its place in Russian life.
The monastery died after the Bolshevik assumption of power as the new government seriously suppressed the Orthodox Church. But, after its return to the Church at the end of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ the monastery again assumed a prime position in the restoration of Orthodox Christianity in Russia.