Valaam Monastery

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The Valaam Monastery, (also written Valamo) is an Orthodox monastery in Karelia, a territory formerly claimed by both the Soviet Union and Finland.

It is not clear when the monastery was founded on Valaam, the largest island in Lake Ladoga, itself being the largest lake in Europe. As the cloister is not mentioned in documents before the 16th century, different dates - from the 10th to 15th centuries - have been proposed. Whatever the truth may be, the Valaam monastery was a western outpost of Eastern Orthodoxy against the heathens and, later, against the Catholic Christianity of Tavastia, Savonia, and (Swedish) Karelia.

The power struggle between Russians and Swedes pushed the border eastwards in the 16th century; in 1578, monks and novices were beaten to death by the (then) Lutheran Swedes. After another attack, the monastery was desolate between 1611 and 1715, the buildings being burnt to the ground and the Karelian border between Russia and Sweden being drawn through the lake. In the 18th century the monastery was magnificently restored, and in 1812 it came under the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland.

In 1917 Finland became independent, and the Finnish Orthodox Church became autonomous under the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, as previously it had been a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Valaam was the most important monastery of the Finnish Orthodox Church. The liturgical language was changed from Church Slavonic to Finnish, and the liturgical calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. These changes led to bitter decade-long disputes in the monastic community of Valaam.

The monastery was again evacuated in 1940, due to the Winter War, but it was able to resume its normal life at its present site in Heinävesi (New Valaam) in Finland later the same year. From 1941 to 1944, during the Continuation War, an attempt was made to restore the buildings. In 1989 monastic life on the Old Valaam was resumed.

In the late 1990s, the Valaam Monastery, having gained significant legal power over the island under the Patriarch Alexey II, in a push to return to a state of spiritual seclusion and enticed by the prospect of monopolized profits from the vast tourism industry on the Valaam island, has forced many longtime residents to move out to the mainland, often employing illegal actions in the process, ranging from denying residents vital services to forcible eviction from their homes. After years of fruitless legal proceedings, many residents of the island chose to leave rather than continue the fight, though a few still remain.


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