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Russian Sacred Places: Optina Monastery - a Spiritual Oasis
July 29, 2011 15:30

I called at Optina Hermitage and will rememeber it forever.
I guess, it is even better than Mount Athos. God's grace must be there."

N.V. Gogol'

Optina Hermitage ( rus.Pustin) is located in the Region of Kaluga, at a distance of only several kilometers
from Kozelsk. Located beside the forest border of pine forest, separated from the world with the river Zhizdra, it is a perfect place for anchoretic contemplative life.

Brief History 

  • There is no exact information about the monastery foundation. Only certain versions or legends exist. According to one of these, the Hermitage was founded by a repentant robber named Opta, from whom it received its name. This former robber deicided to settle in the remote,inaccessible place amidst , willing to atone for his sins in prayer. Another tradition exists, according to which the monastery was founded by Prince Vladimir the Brave. All these versions prove that Optina Hermitage is one of Russia's ancient monasteries.
  • By 1603 a wooden church had already been built , there were six cells around it, and the monastery was headed by Hieromonk Theodore.The monastery was granted land for gardens and orchards by Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich,and also a mill not far from Kozelsk. It is known that already in 1689 a stone church in honor of the Entry Into the Temple was built in the monastery by the Shepelev boyars.With the reforms of Peter the Great  started a period of devastation and many precious objects were taken away.
  •  In 1795, Platon, the Metropolitan of Moscow, was traveling around and visited Optina. The site and the natural surroundings impressed him, and he decided to restore the monastery. For this purpose, Abraamius, a monk from one of the monasteries near Moscow, was appointed, and he brought with him twelve monks from his monastery.So, the restoration work started.
  • The flowering of Optina Hermitage is related with the name of the superior Moses Putilov, who directed the monastery for 37 years, from 1826 to 1862. He is one of the most outstanding personalities in the history of the Russian Church of the 19th century.  Optina Monastery became well-known. People came from all over the immense land of Russia and that's how the glory of Optina Hermitage spread throughout the whole Orthodox world.
  •  The Revolution of 1917 brought an end to the second period of Optina Hermitage.The buildings of the Monastery were used as orphan houses or rest homes.
  •  In 1988, Optina Hermitage was returned to the Moscow Patriarchate and restoration works started immediately. So, as one can see, the third period of Optina's history has begun.

Main Churches and Cathedrals

  • Vvedenskiy Cathedral
  • the Church of Mary Egyptian
  • Kazan Church
  • Vladimir Church


The plan of the monastery has a square form. In the centre of it the main cathedral is located.Vvedensky Cathedral is the most ancient building. At first, there was a wooden church, which construction started in the 16th century. The construction of the stone one bagen in 1689. The cathedralhas the form of the cross, it makes an impression of severity and calmness. Its architectural simplicity only mark its essence. The most important of the church is a prayer, which lasts day and night behind the stone walls. 

Kazan Church was built in 1805 and now it is the biggest temple of Optina Hermitage. This is the place where Sunday and holiday divine services take place. There are also sepulchres of the monastery superiors here. The Church of Mary Egyptian was rebuilt in the 19th century from the old refectory.

Many great Russain people came here to slake the spiritual thirst. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Gogol', Lev Tolstoy, Anna Akhmatova and many others. This place gave them a real creative impulse. Dostoevsky came to the monastery in 1877. The outskirts, conversations with the elders and the atmosphere of love and hospitality induced him to wriye his famous novel " The Brothers Karamazov".

Another great Russian writer Nikolai Gogol' said that people in this place are close to bliss, that the monks seem to talk to heaven, that everything breathes divine fragrance.

The heart of Optina Pustin is a Hermitage of John the Baptist. This is the place where the guidance of the monastery elders appeared. It is a small red bell-tower, located above the gates.There are small outhouses on both sides of the gates, which are used for conversations with the elders.It is a marvellous garden, which always keeps silence, but invariably attracts more and more people.

How To Get There

By bus

There are daily buses from Moscow to Kozelsk. Buses depart from the metro station "Teplii Stan".

By train

You need to take the train to Kaluga from Kievsky railway station. The trip will take about 2,5 hours. 

The service is held every day, from 5.30 a.m. to 17.00 p.m. There is a daily evening Cross Proseccion around the monastery. One can also collect holy water.

There is a speacial hotel for piligrims. There are rooms for eight persons with the bathroom and tea-room, whch cost 200 rubles ( 5 euros, 7 dollars) per day. For piligrims, wishing to stay in more comfortable conditions, are guest houses for five persons, which cost 1000 rubles ( 25 euros, 36 dollars) per day. 


Tags: Optina Monastery russian churches Optina Pustin Russian sacred places  

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