|Discovering Your Ukrainian Roots
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF UN VETERANS ORGANIZATION
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In one of the most desolate locations in Crimea (and all Ukraine), you will find the
Uspensky monastery, located outside the town of Bakhchisarai and set within tall
limestone cliffs up to 150 meters high. It resembles a similar type of cliff monastery in
Israel called Giorgia Hosevita, near Jerusalem, a place that is equally desolate and
wild. The earliest trace of monasticism started around the 8th century by Byzantine
mystics. At that time, there was a thick forest covering the area.
In past centuries, this area was occupied by the Greeks. Before the 16th century,
there was a village created by this new population named Marianople (marinim), after
an icon of the Mother of God—Panagiya. These were Greek Orthodox Christians,
some of whom were ascetics participating in monastic brotherhood. Since they
constantly struggled with the local Tatars, they developed infinite patience. Instead of
retaliating, they would retreat to the solitude of the forests and caves to practice their
monasticism. Unfortunately, instead of finding solace, they drew attention to
themselves. The neighboring Tartars would come and burn the Greek Orthodox holy
books and destroy the dwellings and churches of these monks. As soon as the
monasteries were resurrected by the monks, they were destroyed by rivals who did
not allow crosses to be shown.
These were difficult times of persecution and adversity. Christianity was on the brink
of extinction in the area and nothing was left but hopelessness. During this most
distressing time, an icon of the Mother of God Panagiya appeared on a nearby
inaccessible cliff. The appearance of this icon and subsequent founding of Uspensky
Church in the cliff took place in the late 15th century. The appearance of this icon
protected them, renewed their hope and restored their faith. Since then, a few more
churches were built.
Soon, other Christians started to come to dwell in this area below the cliffs. The
monastery’s main service was to support and protect the spiritual energy of the
faithful amidst the ongoing struggle with the Muslims. Nonetheless, this area became
a center for spiritual life, even receiving a metropolitan. Probably, this small
community of cave churches would have attained Lavra status if it weren’t for the
constant Tartar warfare.
Unfortunately, nothing is left from the Greek era. As trials persisted, the Greek
community looked to Russia for refuge in the 1700s. The Russian Orthodox Church
was empathetic to the situation and was willing to provide a safe haven for these
monks. Because of this, the monastery was abolished temporarily.
Soon there was an unexpected arrival of Greek priest from Antiochia, who was asked
to stay by the remaining Christians. When the Bakhchisarai area was finally occupied
by Russian soldiers, the need for a priest was even greater, so this priest stayed and
many more miracles happened. Monastic life was renewed and a large church in the
center was built. In 1850, the monastery which exists today was opened, including the
holy fountain and the miracle-working icon Panagiya.
How to get to the Uspensky Monastery
From the Simferopil train station, take a local bus or marshrutka to the western bus
station (Zapadniy Avtovokzal) on the edge of the city. From there, catch a bus to
Bakchisarai, which come around about every half hour. From Bakchisarai, take local
bus #1 or #2 and go to the end of the line, where you’ll have to get off and walk a trail
for the remainder 500 meters (about 25 minutes) to the base of the monastery.
Where to stay
Meraba: 70 hryven per person, centrally located
Address: Ul. Rechnaya 125b,
Tel: +38 (067) 731.52.35, +38 (050) 647.71.88
Where to eat
Mustafir is perched on the left hillside as you enter the old city, before reaching the
Khan’s Palace. It is the only place serving delicious baklava (instead of pahlava) and
variety of little coffees and Turkish foods.
Alea offers outside dining under an aqua-colored roof, located across from the Sultan’
s store, also serving Turkish food and coffees at reasonable prices.
Thanks to Sophia Sokolik, a Peace Corps Volunteer (Group 31) for this contribution.