Enjoy the Peacefulness and Beauty of Valaam

Valaam - it was once the religious center of the Russian Orthodoxy and has great spiritual and historical significance. Many tales of heroic actions and brave monks have come from Valaam, which is not only a religious site and attraction but a collection of natural beauty and mystical splendor. Known as an archipelago, Valaam is actually fifty islands viewed as one entity, with the largest island also being named Valaam. Here, in the calm and peaceful waters of Lake Ladoga in the Russian Federation, is the island that is home to the oldest monastery in Russia.

As with many destinations in Russia, its turbulent past has seen the islands change hands and claim many times throughout their history. The Novgorod Republic laid claim to the islands during the twelfth century, and by the seventeenth century Sweden had captured Valaam while Russia was battling through a historical period known as the 'Times of Trouble'. Finland also had a chance to own the islands, but they were taken and kept by Russia in the aftermath of the Winter War.

It is widely believed that the first monks to inhabit the islands of Valaam came here during the first century. It has been told that St. Andrew came to the islands at the same time as the monks and was apparently responsible for bringing the Christian faith to the Slavs. One of the crosses, which can still be viewed on the islands, was also erected by the famed St. Andrew. The harmony and calm of the Valaam islands attracted many monks over the years, who found Valaam to be the perfect location to either complete their vows or create an atmosphere of tranquility in which to practice their faith.

The exact year and century for the founding of the Valaam Monastery is still under debate, but what is known for certain is that the legendary Elder Michael II came to the monastery in the year 1902. For fifteen years, Michael II lived here in silence and reflection until the Russian revolution saw the rise of Atheism, and many monks and leaders of churches were savagely killed or driven from their monasteries and churches. One day, during the cold of winter, an unknown man came running towards the monastery, risking his own life on the frozen lake. He warned of the approaching communist forces and gave the monks and Michael II a chance to escape to Finland. It is said that the cold of the winter breeze froze the tears on Michael II's face as he wept for the monastery he knew as home.

Even though many of the buildings on the Valaam islands were destroyed, visitors will still be able to enjoy those that have survived. Also, the islands have an unmatched beauty compared to other destinations in Russia and an atmosphere that is unexplained and unique to Valaam. As for what exactly drew the monks to these islands, it can probably be best explained in the words of Elder Michael II: “The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, but gradually, not all at once. This occurs through constant vigilance, self-denial, patience, guarding of the senses, repentance, self-reproach and above all quietude, silence and prayer.”

 



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