Trinity St. Sergius Monastery

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Sergius and his brother Stefan founded the monastery in 1342 in an uninhabited forest, thirty five miles northeast of Moscow, now the city of Sergiev Posad, and dedicated it to the Trinity. When Stefan left, Sergius lived as a hermit. His piety attracted disciples who in 1353 made him abbot. As their numbers grew, Sergius introduced a cenobite rule based on that of the Studios Monastery in Constantinople. It mandated communal property, prayer, work, and meals presided over by an elected abbot. Until his death in 1392, Sergius maintained strict discipline and vows of poverty. His example inspired the founding of other houses. Destroyed by the Mongols in 1408, Trinity was reestablished by Sergius's disciple Abbot Nikon. In 1422 Nikon inaugurated worship of Sergius's sanctity. Helped by the local prince and the brother of Moscow's ruler, whom Sergius had baptized, he built a stone church to house Sergius's tomb and commissioned Andrei Rublev and Danyl Cherny to decorate it with frescoes. Andrei painted his famous icon of the Trinity for its iconostasis. Thenceforth pilgrims flocked to Trinity to be healed, to request feasts and prayers for their souls and those of their family and ancestors, and to be buried. In return they gave Trinity land and money. Princes also favored Trinity with immunities from taxes and other obligations. In 1446 Grand Prince Vasily II of Moscow unsuccessfully sought refuge at Trinity during a dynastic war. Nevertheless, after his victory in 1447, he returned to bask in Sergius's charisma and be its patron. Tsaritsas went to Trinity to pray for heirs. Tsar Ivan IV "the Terrible" made many pilgrimages and provided state monies for construction and lavish personal gifts. Tsar Boris Godunov was buried there. During the Time of Troubles the monastery's walls withstood a Polish siege from September 1608 to January 1610. Afterward Archimandrite Dionisy and Cellarer Avramy Palitsyn sent appeals throughout Russia to organize an army to free Moscow from the Poles and reconstitute the Russian state. In gratitude Mikhail Romanov stopped at Trinity in 1613 en route to his coronation in Moscow.

By the 1640s Trinity housed 240 monks organized in a social order that was a microcosm of Russian society. It controlled numerous subsidiary monasteries and owned over 570,000 acres of tilled land, 100,000 serfs, and many urban properties throughout European Russia. The original communal order became relaxed, and wealthy monks

controlled their own property. As of 1561, Trinity's abbot held the rank of Archimandrite, senior to the heads of all Russian monasteries. Trinity again was important in 1682 when child co-tsars Ivan V and Peter I "the Great" and Ivan's sister and regent Sophia hid there until a military revolt was pacified. In 1689 Peter fled to Trinity from Sophia and her soldier allies, rallied support, and returned to Moscow as sole ruler. Neither the Law Code of 1649, nor the religious reforms of rulers Peter I and Anna I Ivanovna, materially diminished Trinity's status. It was designated a lavra in 1744, the highest class of monastery, one of four in Russia, and a seminary was established there. Catherine II "the Great," however, ordered that monastic lands and serfs be turned over to the state in 1764. Trinity was limited to one hundred monks and a state subsidy. It recovered during the 1800s, aided by a religious revival and the easing of restrictions on monastic landholding. In 1814 the Moscow Theological Academy took residence at Trinity. When Russia celebrated the five-hundredth anniversary of Sergius's death in 1892, the Trinity Monastery had over four hundred monks and novices and controlled five new monastic communities. After the Russian Revolution, the Soviets confiscated Trinity's properties, disinterred Sergius's remains, dispersed its monks, and closed the theological academy. It became a museum of Russian history and art. Many of its treasures and most of its archive were brought to Moscow. In 1946 Stalin allowed the monastery to reopen and rebury Sergius's remains. When Soviet power ended in 1991, Trinity flourished anew as a cult center.

The Trinity Sergius Monastery remains a treasure-house of Russian art and architecture. The Church of the Trinity (14221427) and the Church of the Holy Spirit with its graceful bell tower (1486) are the oldest buildings. The ceremonial center is the five-domed Cathedral of the Dormition (15591585). The huge refectory with a church of St. Sergius (16861692), the tsars' palace (c. 1690) in the Moscow Baroque style, and the five-tiered bell tower (17401770) are also noteworthy. Trinity's scriptorium and workshops produced important tant chronicles and religious writings, clothing, icons, and religious utensils to supplement equally lavish gifts from its patrons. In 1993 UNESCO recognized the ensemble as a World Heritage site.

See also: kirillo-beloozero monastery; monasteries; sergius (saint); simonov monastery; solovetsk monastery


Kenworthy, Scott M. (2002). "The Revival of Monasticism in Modern Russia: The Trinity-Sergius Lavra, 18251921," Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.

Miller, David B. (1997). "Donors to the Trinity-Sergius Monastery as a Community of Venerators: Origins, 1360s1462." In Kleimola, A. M., and Lenhoff, G.D., eds., Culture and Identity in Muscovy, 13591584. Moscow: ITZ-Garant.

David B. Miller

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Trinity St. Sergius Monastery

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Trinity St. Sergius Monastery