Michael Prokurat, Alexander Golitzin, Michael D. Peterson
The A to Z of the Orthodox Church



MONASTERIES. Since the appearance of monasticism (q.v.) in the 4th c., monasteries have punctuated the landscape and informed the life of local Orthodox Churches. Beginning with Egypt (q.v.), each country or region of the Orthodox oikoumene has seen the rise and continuing influence of one or more important monastic centers. The Coptic monasteries of St. Antony near the Red Sea and of SS. Macarius and Bishoy at Scete have continued to shape the life of the Egyptian Church since the 300s.

From Egypt monasticism spread throughout the Empire. In Palestine the foundations of St. Sabas (monastery of Mar Saba) in the 5th c. and St. Catherine’s at Sinai in the 6th c. were established and remain active today. Both have had singularly important roles in the shaping of the Orthodox liturgy (q.v.) and in the transmission of the spiritual wealth of the Middle East to Byzantium (q.v.). Georgia, too, had its monasteries, as did ancient Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor (qq.v.). In Constantinople (q.v.) the monastic life was dominated from the 9th c. by the great monastery of St. Joh n at Studion through the influence of its renowned abbot, Theodore (q.v.), and a succession of able abbots afterward. St. Mamas was another important center in the capital under the abbacy of Symeon the New Theologian (q.v.) from 986 to 1005.

Far and away the most significant concentration of monastic life from the latter Byzantine era (q.v.) to the present has been the peninsula of Mt. Athos (q.v.) with its twenty monasteries and numerous local communities. Elsewhere in modern Greece one may find the extraordinary monasteries of Meteora in Thessaly, perched on towering sandstone pillars and dating from the 14th c., together with the Byzantine foundation of Daphni near Athens (qq.v.), and the monastery of the Great Cave (Mega Spilaion) in the Peloponnesus. Serbia looks in particular to the monastery of Hilandar on Athos, and Bulgaria to the monasteries of St. Joh n of Rila near Sofia and Bachka in the east of the country. Romania’s monasteries are, save in Transylvania, all pervasive, though the great houses of Niamets and Sihastria in Moldavia (q.v.) have had the most significant impact over the past two hundred years.

In Kievan Rus’ (q.v.) the newly baptized nation saw its first monastic foundation in the 11th c. Lavra of the Caves (Pecherskaya Lavra), which has served for most of its existence-particularly since the 16th c.-as the center of Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Western Ukraine looks to the monastery of Pochaev in particular. The center of Muscovite tradition (q.v.) since the late 14th c. has been the monastery of the Holy Trinity, called also by its founder’s name, Sergius of Radonezh (q.v.). The Russian monastic colonization of the north in the 14th c. and 15th c. created such enduring landmarks as Solovetsky in the White Sea (currently under restoration), and the enormous monastic complex of Valaam (built on islands in Lake Ladoga). Renewed in the 18th c. by a disciple of Paisii Velichkovsky (q.v.) and powerfully influential in the 19th c. and early 20th c., the Optina Pustyn, an ascetic community near the monastery of Optina in central Russia, served as the center for a series of spiritual elders (startzi) whose influence on Russian writers and thinkers in the later 19th c. and early 20th c. has been noted by many sources, e.g., Dostoevsky’s (q.v.) Elder Zossima in Brothers Karamazov.

Monasteries have been slow to appear in North America. St. Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania (founded 1905) and Holy Trinity in upstate New York (1930) have played important roles in the Russian community. Transfiguration in Boston (1960) among the Greeks, and the Romanian houses of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania (1962), and Holy Dormition, Rives Junction, Michigan (1987), have provided essential opportunities for women’s monasticism in recent years.