Light in the wilderness. Monasteries in Russia
“Instead of bodily comfort, they sought great labors and suffering; instead of sleep, they took standing vigil; instead of mirth, they sought the weeping that brings joy; and instead of the company of men, they sought an eternal conversation with God. And, as if ascending by rungs, they came nearer to Him day by day, always saying: ‘My heart is ready, God, my heart is ready!’ For they did not turn their hearts to words of deception, and their heads were not anointed with the oils of sinners, but they instead followed the example of those ancient men who were worthy in the eyes of God, who wore sheepskin and goatskin coats, who experienced daily deprivation, who wailed in sorrow, who suffered greatly, who wandered in the deserts, the mountains, the hollows, and the gorges of this earth in service to the Lord and praising the Lord with all their body. And this is why God praised them, as it is written: ‘Those who praise Me, I will praise’.”
Life of the Venerable Cyr i l of Belozersk
Possibly the most striking example of the popularity of Christian ideals in Russian lands was monastic life in all it varied forms – from large religious houses with numerous inhabitants, which appeared in cities or became the centers of new towns, to lonely forest hermitages, where people were expected to immerse themselves in contemplation and in continuous silent prayer. The crucial role was played here not by the exterior beauty of the monastery buildings or the precious ecclesiastical paraphernalia – these often looked quite modest, - but by the interior structure of the establishment as an ideal model of a Christian community, and, particularly, what mattered was the character of the brethren themselves, whose efforts were aimed at reaching an angelic image and angelic existence.
Early Russian painters were trying to convey this very essence of life in religious houses in depicting the images of holy monks, who were founders of famous monasteries, such as Varlaam of Khoutyn, Sergi of Radonezh, Kirill Belozerski, Dimitri of Priluk, Zosima and Savvati of Solovki. The exhibition shows their illuminated Lives, as well as icons, representing monastic instruction and the miracles of the famous ascetics.