|Discovering Your Ukrainian Roots
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF UN VETERANS ORGANIZATION
Pochayiv: One of Ukraine's holiest Orthodox sites
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Located about two hours north of Ternopil, you will find the quaint town of Pochayiv,
where the sacred Pochayiv Lavra sparkles from a hill in the distance. The fame of this
holy Orthodox site stretches far beyond Ukraine. Its history began in the 13th century,
when the monks from Kyiv’s renowned Pechersk lavra fled west after the Tatar
invasion of Batu Khan in 1240 A.D. After finding refuge in the thick forests and strong
walls of castle Bona in Kremenets, the ascetic monks found the nearby hilly slopes to
have dry caves perfect for a reclusive lifestyle. They immediately acquired an affinity
to the land in the area called Pochayiv, in honor of the river Pochayne, where in 988
A.D., holy Rus’ was baptized by the Kyivan Rus Prince Vladimir.
Although they left behind a devastated city, the monks still maintained spiritual ties
with Kyiv, bringing with them a strict ascetic spirit and lifestyle. Thus the legend of an
underground cave system between Kyiv and Pochayiv developed. They say that if a
rabbit is let loose in the Pochayiv caves, it will hop all the way into Kyiv.
Considered one of Ukraine’s holiest sites, the Pochayiv Lavra is especially precious
to Orthodox Christians. Ever since the first miracle in 1240 A.D., when the Mother of
God appeared in a halo of fire to all the monks and shepherds in neighboring
villages, spontaneous healing and miracles experienced in Pochayiv have not
ceased. After a prayer vigil, the monks emerged from their caves and saw the vision
of Virgin Mary atop Pochayiv’s hill, with her head crowned, and holding a scepter. In a
single moment, her footprint engraved itself onto a rock, and a healing spring started
to flow from the spot. Since this miraculous event, the Pochayiv Lavra was named in
honor of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition.
The mid 16th century brought about some significant events, including Abbot Job’s
management of the monastery. Ivan Zelezho (St. Job) had left his hometown near
Kolomiya at age 10 and moved away to the Ugornitskiy Monastery. He took his
monastic vows at age 12 and was given the name Job. Job’s ascetic feats, which
acquired virtue and kindness, became well known. As a result, the Prince of Ostrog
asked Job to become Abbot of a monastery in Dubno. Within 20 years, Job greatly
strengthened the monastic brotherhood and realized it was time to live in silence in
order to pray, so he moved to the Pochayiv Lavra for solitude. However, the
brotherhood of Pochayiv instantly felt Job’s considerable spiritual strength, and made
him their Abbot. Abbot Job’s guidance and deep spirituality intrinsically raised the
brotherhood’s level of spirituality. Before retiring, Saint Job blessed the efforts of the
local Domashevskiy family to build the Holy Trinity rock church over the sacred
footprint of the Mother of God. Due to Abbot Job’s efforts, the Pochayiv Lavra
preserved and protected its Orthodoxy at the time, even though Uniate influence was
increasing. At 100 years old, the elder passed away. His body lay for eight years
before it was uncovered and found to be intact. Following his canonization, Saint Job’
s relics were put in the cave church, where they still lie to this day.
In the end of the 16th century, a local woman gave the Pochayiv Lavra a miracle-
working icon of the Theotokos. A personal gift from a Greek Metropolitan, for 30
years it stood in the home of Anna Goyska before starting to shine and heal ailments.
Since such a wonder needed to be shared, she gave the miracle-working icon to the
In the beginning of the 18th century, the monastery was taken over by the Uniates,
also called Greek Catholics. During this time, a new cathedral was built in the late
Baroque style, called the Uspensky Sobor. Greek Catholicism emerged as a
compromise to recognize papal authority and still retain the Orthodox Christian
tradition. The schism officially occurred in 1596, and as Polish rule spread across the
Volyn region, eventually the Pochayiv monastery was affected — but not for long.
Western Ukraine was united with the Russian Empire in 1795, and the monastery
again became Orthodox with Lavra status. Lavra is a Greek word meaning “street” or
“passage.” In old times, a row of monk cells managed by a warden used to be called
“lavra,” and later the title was given to important monasteries. In Ukraine, there are
only three Lavras.
In 1915, Pochayiv was occupied by soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Luckily,
the sacred objects of the Lavra were taken for safekeeping to Zhytomyr. During the
revolution 1917-20, times were even more difficult. Some dwellers of the Lavra were
blessed enough to flee, and others perished in the bloody rage of the Bolsheviks.
One such blessed refugee was a monk named Antony, who after reaching the United
States, founded a monastery in New York in honor of the Holy Trinity Sobor in
Pochayiv. (See www.hts.org) More turmoil continued in Ukraine as the Soviet era
began in 1939. Nonetheless, in spite of such an abusive and destructive history, the
Lavra has safeguarded its spirituality and preserved its existence to this day.
How to get there
To get to Pochayiv, start from the bus station in Ternopil, the oblast center. Buses
depart to Pochayiv hourly, and the ride is about 1 hour 45 minutes.
Where to stay
There are a couple options for accommodations. Centrally located on Shevchenko
Street, there is a small, orange hotel and café called “Sofia.” A larger hotel called
“Pochaiyivskiy Svit” offers excursions and is located 3 kilometers away along the road
to Kremenets: www.gotel.com.ua Tel: +38050 549 67 56 +38067 812-51-63.
Where to eat
Pochayiv has three cafés with standard cuisine, all near the Lavra: Taverna,
Pochayiv, and Sofia Café. A walk in the park after buying piroshki, kvas, and baked
goods from the bazaar kiosks for a 1 hryven baragin is also an option. And by the
way, if you forgot to bring the mandatory shawl to enter the sacred sites of the Lavra,
you can buy one (or more) at the adjacent bazaar with one of the best selections and
lowest prices in Ukraine.
Thanks to Sophia Sokolik, a Peace Corps Volunteer (Group 31) for this contribution.