In our article about the Four Domains of the Most Holy Theotokos we briefly told you the stories of their appearance. What happened in these places afterwards? What were the saints, glorifying the Queen of Heaven, and the wonderful deeds that She Herself performed there? This time we are sharing with you the story of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, the third domain of the Most Holy Theotokos, closely connected with the appearance of Her first icon there, as well as the lives of two significant saints.
Icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God
According to the paterikon of the Kiev Caves, the Mother of God Herself donated this miraculous icon to Her third inheritance. It happened two decades after the monastery was founded there by Venerable Anthony.
Wishing to erect a temple in the Kiev-Caves Lavra, the Queen of Heaven, with the help of the angels, gathered four eminent architects in the Blachernae Church (Constantinople). There the Most Holy Theotokos appeared before them, surrounded by warriors, and said, “I wish to erect a church for myself in the Russian city of Kiev; I command you to take enough gold with you for three years, and set forth to construct it.” The architects asked whom they should go to in that distant country. The Queen of Heaven replied, “I send with you Anthony and Theodosius, who are standing here”. At that moment they saw with their own eyes the venerable elders who were then living in the Kiev monastery. The Most Pure One then continued, “Anthony, standing here, will only bless you to do the work, after which he will go to eternal rest. Theodosius will follow him on the second year. Take plenty of gold and set on your way without hurry… I Myself will come to that temple and stay in it”.
Then, instructed by the Theotokos, the architects went out into the open and saw in the sky a marvelous church, a copy of which they were to build in Kiev. “O, blessed Lady, in whose name do You wish to build a temple?” the artisans asked the Most Pure Lady when they returned. “The Church will be in My name ,” answered the Mother of God and handed them the holy icon of the Dormition.
In 1073, fulfilling the will of the Theotokos, the architects arrived in Kiev, where they handed the icon over to the Venerables Theodosius and Anthony and built the Lavra Assumption Cathedral in three years. All four craftsmen later took monastic vows in that monastery. Their imperishable relics still rest in the caves.
The miraculous icon of the Assumption of the Theotokos was placed above the cathedral’s holy gates and remained in the Lavra until 1941. When the German invaders blew up the Dormition Cathedral, the shrine disappeared. Currently, the monastery contains a 19th century copy of this icon.
Venerable Theodosius of the Caves
Theodosius was born near Kiev around 1009. His family moved to Kursk soon after his birth. From childhood, the boy grew up in piety. He loved worship and the word of God, and he did well in his studies. At the age of 14, Theodosius lost his father and remained in the care of his strict and overprotective mother. She did not nearly support the desire of the young man to give his life to the service of God. When Theodosius fled to neighboring cities to do church work, his mother returned home every time and severely punished him. When he tried to help church communities bake prosphora or followed the ascetics in wearing chains, she immediately forbade it to him. However, the desire to serve God remained unfaded in the soul of Theodosius.
It was during a church service that the young man once heard the words of the Gospel: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me…” (Matthew 10:37) After that he decided to flee again, now to Kiev. The monasteries in Kiev refused to admit Theodosius because of his young years. Having learned about the Kiev anchorite Anthony, Theodosius came to him and, showing determination, received a blessing for monastic tonsure. It was in 1032 that the young monk began his zealous ascetic labors at the Caves monastery. Same as before, his mother was able to find him here and begged him to return, but St Theodosius refused, showing the confidence that convinced his mother to follow his example and enter a nunnery.
After some time, the wondrous ascetic Theodosius was ordained a priest and made hegumen of the Kiev Pechersk monastery. Despite his dignity, St Theodosius participated in the monastery work as a simple monk, while the numbers of the Lavra brethren, as well as the size of its lands significantly increased during his ministry as an abbot.
In 1074 the prophecy of the Mother of God was fulfilled. Having participated only in the foundation of the Dormition Cathedral, St Anthony reposed. A year after that, St Theodosius, his spiritual child, peacefully rested in the Lord.
Venerable Nestor the Chronicler
Surprising as it may be, the saint, who carefully wrote down the events of great importance for the Orthodox Russia and compiled the lives of its so many holy fathers, did not leave any information about himself.
Presumably St Nestor was born in Kiev around the 1050s. At the age of 17, he came to St Anthony and St Theodosius and begged them to allow him to live in obedience to them. Despite his young age, even before his tonsure, Nestor showed the fathers the firmness of his intention to follow Christ, zealously and meekly fulfilling everything they assigned to him.
After their death, Nestor’s “death to the world” also became final. From the new hegumen St Stephen, he took monastic tonsure, and soon became ordained a hierodeacon. Since then, he has become even more zealous in serving God, increasing his virtues and sincerely considering himself a sinner.
Сhronicle writing was the saint’s particular obedience. Venerable Nestor the Chronicler recorded the life of St Theodosius of the Caves, and later also the miracles shown forth from his relics. He wrote several other works about the Kiev-Caves monastery as well. In 1113 the saint completed his outstanding chronicle, presenting the history of the Russian lands from Biblical times to the 12th century (The Tale of Bygone Years). In 1114 St Nestor departed to the Lord, entrusting the brethren with the continuation of his work.
Today the Kiev-Caves Lavra occupies an area of 30 hectares. There are 13 temples, 3 bell towers and a large number of other facilities on its grounds. Currently, more than 200 inhabitants live in the monastery, which contains the relics of about 130 saints resting in its caves. By their prayers, may the All-good Lord have mercy on us all.