The Russian Orthodox Church expands its spaces
by Vladimir Rozanskij

A grandiose and spectacular building development is underway.  At the behest of Kirill, the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius Lavra, 70 kilometers from Moscow, will become a sort of "Russian Vatican".  The enlargement of the monastery of Optina Pustyn ’, to make it the “new Mount Athos” of the spirituality of the starets.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Patriarchate of Moscow is implementing a grandiose and spectacular building development plan in the great historical centers of Russian spirituality.  Among these is the Lavra of Sergiev-Posad, the "Russian Vatican" which will occupy the entire center of the city of St. Sergius.  Even the famous monastery of Optina Pustyn 'is carrying out an enlargement project, evicting the inhabitants of the houses adjacent to the monastery.  This happens despite various protests against the new Orthodox churches in Russia, such as the clamorous ones in Yekaterinburg in recent months.

On October 9th last, visiting the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius Lavra, 70 kilometers from Moscow, the Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) has invited the authorities to hasten the works for the extension of the monastic territory, so as to conclude them by 2025. Kirill himself pointed to the example of the Vatican, to make the whole town "the greatest spiritual center of all Russia".  The monastery (photo 1) is the place around which at the end of the 14th century holy Russia was reborn after the Tatar yoke, under the leadership of St. Sergius of Radonezh and his disciples, like St. Stephen of Perm (missionary in the great  North) and St. Andrej Rublev, the greatest iconographer of history, author of the famous icon of the Holy  Trinity towering above the entrance to the monastery, and can now be admired at the Moscow museum of the Tretyakov Gallery.

The major project involves the elimination of hotels, shops and homes over a large area of ​​the center around the monastery, to build buildings that will house about twenty religious, cultural, civil and administrative institutions.  A large patriarchal library will be opened with the ancient manuscripts of the Orthodox tradition, a youth center and the representative offices of the other 13 national Orthodox Churches with which Moscow is in communion.  He therefore excluded Constantinople and the new Ukrainian Church.  In this way, the "universal" role of the Moscow patriarchate will be even more evident.  Economic returns will not be lacking: around the holy places, shopping centers, schools, cinemas, sports facilities and new transport infrastructures are planned.  The entire plan will be financed by the Russian central government.

The ’enlargement plan also affects the Optina Pustyn, a monastery of great importance in Russian history, located 200 km south-west of the capital (photo 2).  The new igumeno Leonid (Tolmachev, photo 3), just over forty years old, also appointed bishop of the local diocese of Mozhajsk, has developed an "evacuation plan" for adjacent buildings, forcibly transferring the inhabitants to houses in other areas, very much  less prestigious.

Around the monastery, near the town of Kozelsk, over time a village inhabited by people linked to the monastery's starets was formed, considered the true spiritual guides of the Russian people.  The Soviets closed Optina in 1918, reducing it to a "farm", and returned it to the Church in 1987, as part of Gorbachev's perestroika.  It was one of the first steps in the "religious revival" of Russia after communism.  Since then many people have bought a house in the monastic village, where prices have skyrocketed due to the particular prestige of the area.

Now the inhabitants will receive less valuable dwellings, to allow them to raise the entire monastic zone officially designated as "object of Russian cultural heritage of federal importance".  In practice, a kind of Russian "Mount Athos" is reconstructed with various levels of monastic and eremitical expressions.  In fact, the monks of Optina are the heirs of a great monastic renaissance that started from Mount Athos in the second half of the 18th century, when the Russian-Moldavian saint Paisij Velichkovskij inspired the rediscovery of the tradition of the "holy fathers", which became precisely the  school of starets.  As many as 15 "spiritual fathers" monks of the nineteenth century were canonized, and some of them drafted the famous text of "Tales of a Russian pilgrim" which spread the spirituality of "prayer of the heart" throughout the world.  Now the pilgrims will again have great sanctuaries to go to, to rediscover the renewed greatness of Russian Christianity.

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