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Compiler Myroslava Lemyk
Lviv: Svichado 2011
pp. 13-19


Among the woody hills of the Holohory ridge in Lviv Region, at the very border between Peremyshliany and Zolochiv districts, behind the village of Univ, an ancient monastery is situated; it’s known as the Holy Dormition Lavra of Univ. About thirty five monks pray and work here, in the central monastery of the Studite Rule, every day leading a life of asceticism and prayer.

What is the history of this monastery?

The Univ monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Rus’. It has the status of Lavra, i.e. of a great or, rather, important monastic community. However, it were only some faithful of the underground Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church who knew about this sacred place that was being ruined and plundered at the hard times of communist and atheistic domination, other similar places being at the same time mentioned as distinguished monuments of history and culture.

Before retelling the history of this monastery it would be good to dwell on the name of both the monastery and the village on the outskirts of which it is situated. There are different ideas concerning the origins of the name. It is probable that it comes from an old Slavonic word un that means “good”, “fine”, “better”. The name of the village could also be derived from the name of the stream or spring since two streams, the Univets’ and the Dobryj, flow together in the very village. Somehow or other, the village of Univ probably owes its name to the word un.

The beginning of monastic life

So, when did monastic life appear in this place? Due to archeological excavations that every summer since 1998 have been carried out there by experts, there is every reason to claim that monastic life at Chernecha (Monastic) mount in Univ was active already in the 11th-12th centuries, meanwhile the foundation of the monastery at the foot of this mount is dated 14th century. A tradition tells that the knight Oleksandr Vanko Lahodovsky who had had sore legs for a long time had a dream about the Mother of God who told him: “Go from here to the east till you find a well in a deep ravine. When you wash your legs with the water from that well you’ll be cured”. The knight did what he had been told and recovered. As a sign of gratitude for the recovery, Lahodovsky made a vow to build there a church dedicated to the Mother of God. Subsequently, the sick and blind began to come to the miraculous well in search of recovery. After building the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Lahodovsky founded a monastery and brought monks there. It is probable that the old monastery had been destroyed and plundered before the knight found the healing well.

The family of Lahodovsky took care of the monastery in the 15th-16th centuries; the gravestone of Oleksandr Vanko Lahodovsky was kept in the monastery church till 1953.

The progress of the monastery

In the late 16th – early 17th centuries the Univ monastery lived its usual monastic life; the archimandrite’s monastery (the status of the main, mother monastery for the monasteries of Galicia and Volyn obtained by the Univ monastery in 1542) was becoming one of the cultural and educational centres of the region. In 1606, the archimandrite Isaiah attempted to set up a press in Univ. Perhaps it is for working at the press that the renowned monk Ivan Vyshensky was invited from Mount Athos. The monastery library was also enriched and enlarged.

In 1601, Ezekiel Kniahynytsky, a monk who had just returned from Mount Athos, was invited to the monastery for perfection of monastic life. Taking the schema in Univ with the name of Job, he started to actively carry out reforms at once. Afterwards, he also founded a scete near the village of Maniava in the Carpathians. However, Kniahynytsky didn’t cut ties with the Univ monastery and often came there to venerate the miracle-working icon of the Mother of God.

Beginning from the 1630s, the Univ monastery was going through rather hard times. Perhaps for the first time after Tatar raids the monks, saving themselves from starvation, had to turn to good people for help. At that time, a nobleman Oleksandr Sheptytsky helped them a ) lot. It was then that the old family of Sheptytsky started to play an important part in the life of the monastery.

In 1668, Varlaam Sheptytsky became the archimandrite of the Univ monastery; he began to rebuild the monastery turning it into a defensive stronghold once again. The Univ press resumed working at that time too, the archimandrite having invited to the monastery Dmytro Kulchytsky, a former printer of the Lviv Stauro- pegian Brotherhood; just a year later the first book, Vyklad o Tserkve sviatoj (The Exposition of the Holy Church), was published. In general, 28 titles of books of religious content were published during the 30 years of the press functioning.

It’s not known for sure how many monks lived in the monastery at that time but, presumably, their number increased.

In 1700, the archimandrite Varlaam Sheptytsky declared the renewal of unity with Rome. Meanwhile, the monastery lived its usual monastic life. In 1710, Varlaam Sheptytsky was consecrated the bishop of Lviv by the Metropolitan of Kyiv. At the time of Varlaam’s death in 1715, the Univ monastery was a strong and powerful community.

In 1713, the archimandrite of the monastery became Atanasiy Sheptytsky. During the time of his being in office the monastery church of the Dormition of the Mother of God was repainted, and the new iconostasis was installed in 1730.

The monastery attained the fame of a great pilgrimage site; thousands of pilgrims arrived there especially for the patronal feast. The process was facilitated by the crowning of the Univ miracle-working icon of the Mother of God carried out by Atanasiy who became the Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Rus’ in 1729.

“The Josephine reform” and the closure of the monastery

Not long after Galicia was incorporated into the Austrian Empire, the Austrian authorities aimed their activity at closing a certain part of monasteries. So, in consequence of the Josephine reform and consistent policy of the imperial government, the ancient Univ monastery that had survived Tatar raids, the Polish-Cossack war

and other hardships was closed in April of 1790. The monastery library was moved to the Buchach monastery and the collection of old printed books and manuscripts was moved to Lviv University that had just been created on the basis of the Jesuit College.

In 1806, the Emperor France I ordered that the former monastery be transferred to the possession of the Metropoly of Lviv. But only in 1818 the former monastery together with the villages of Univ and Yaktoriv was finally handed over to the then Metropolitan My- khail Levytsky who at first made it his summer residence and then settled down in Univ. The ensemble of the monastery was somewhat changed at that time. In particular, the ramparts were pulled down and the moats were filled up since both had lost their defensive purpose. The Metropolitan’s chambers were attached to the monastery from the south; it was there that the elderly Metropolitan Mykhail received the Pope’s envoy who brought him the insignia of the cardinal’s dignity.

The Univ Lavra and the revival of the Studite monasticism

Monasticism can go through hard times and different trials but it is always actual since, as John Paul II said, “religious life is in the very heart of the Church” and “is an integral part of its life”. So, there will always be those who will never forget “of the highest vocation – to be always with God”.

Revival of the old kind of monasticism in the spirit of the traditions of the holy Fathers has started in the late 19th century.

The “first swallow” of this revival of Eastern monasticism was a community of young men who came together to live as a single Christian family in accordance with the Gospel counsels. This community settled down at a homestead owned by the Basilian monks near Khrystynopil (now Chervonohrad). The spiritual father of the community was the hieromonk Andrey Sheptytsky future Metropolitan of Halych.

In spite of hardships, the young candidates were very zealous in their vocation. The first three of them received monastic clothes in 1899. From here on, according to the Eastern monastic tradition, the brethren began to grow beards.

In 1904, the Metropolitan handed over to the new community an estate property at Sknyliv near Lviv. During a year he neither supported the community with funds nor intervened in their inner way of life having put the young vocations on trial. The Metropolitan thus received evidence that the Lord blessed his idea since no one of the brethren had left the community despite a lot of hardships they had to go through during the year. Now the Metropolitan supported the young monks in the spirit of paternal love.

On October 30, 1906, the hierarchy of our Church approved “The Typicon of the Lavra of Ven. Anthony of the Caves”, composed by the Metropolitan Andrey. On November 24 of the same year, on the feast of St. Theodore the Studite, the Lavra was canonically founded and a few monks took the schema for the first time. The newly created community lived a severe and ascetic life; however, more and more people wanted to practice this way of life too.

A few filial communities didn’t take long to appear. In particular, the monastery of the holy hieromartyr Josaphat that was given the name of the Studion was founded in Lviv in 1909. The task of this monastery consisted in a thorough study of Eastern theology and spirituality.

However, all these undertakings were broken off by the First World War that burst out in 1914. The Lavra at Sknyliv was burnt out. In 1919, with the blessing of the Metropolitan of Lviv, the brethren moved to Univ that was destined to become the cradle and centre of the Studite monasticism in the UGCC.

In 1923, the Metropolitan Andrey received a decree of the Apostolic See encouraging the Studite monks to follow the Eastern tradition in divine service and devotion eliminating all the changes that have sneaked into it with the course of time. Having settled down in Univ, the monks had all the necessary conditions to become the leaven which had to turn the monks and the whole Church back to the sources of the Christian East.

The Lavra: the mother monastery of the Studite monks

To revive monastic life according to the Eastern tradition was not an easy task but the time came when the Studite monks became an oasis of not only spirituality but also culture and education for our people. A library was built up and publishing of spiritual literature was organized in the Univ Lavra. In 1935, Yasna put’ (The Clear Way), a periodical for monks, started being published; a year later, Prominchyk sontsia liubovy (The Little Ray of the Sun of Love), a periodical for the laity, appeared.

The Studite monks have done much for renewal and preservation of the Ukrainian-Byzantine sacral art traditions. In 1937, the icon painting school of the Studion was opened again. The principal work done by the Univ icon painters in 1935-1936 was painting of the monastery church of the Dormition of the Mother of God and of the monastery walls.

Under the wise direction of the hegumen, rev. Klymentiy Sheptytsky, the economy of the Lavra improved; mills and dyeworks, a tannery, a smithy, a locksmithery and a tin-smithery, carpenter’s, tailor’s and shoemaker’s works were opened. The brethren worked in all these places themselves. Apart from that, the Univ Lavra kept an orphanage where the children were educated and taught various crafts. The Metropolitan supported the orphanage with funds. The monastery didn’t forget of the needs of the village either: due to the efforts of one of the Lavra hieromonks a Prosvita reading house was built there. Renewing the old tradition, the Lavra becomes a known pilgrimage site again.

Blessed hieromartyrs

In the 20th century, the Studite monks gave to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church two new martyrs: Leontiy and Klymentiy who were proclaimed blessed by the Holy Father John Paul II during his visit to Ukraine in 2001.

Exarch Leontiy

Leontiy (Leonid) Fedorov, the future exarch of the Greek-Catholics of Russia, was born in St. Petersburg in 1879. A thorough theological education convinced Leonid of the necessity of reunion with the Universal Church. He got acquainted with the Metropolitan Andrey who became his spiritual father and exerted a profound influence on his spiritual biography. After admission to holy orders Leonid entered a Studite monastery in Bosnia in 1912. Having returned to Russia, he was arrested and sent into exile to Siberia. After suffering this punishment, rev. Leontiy became the head of the Greek-Catholic Church in Russia in 1917. Soon he was arrested again and, having spent long years in Russian prisons, died in 1935 as a martyr for the faith. The exarch became the first martyr among the monks of the Studite rule.

Archimandrite Klymentiy

The archimandrite Klymentiy (count Kazymyr-Maria Sheptytsky) was a younger brother of the Metropolitan Andrey. He was a monk for almost forty years and a superior and hegumen for over thirty years, so his influence on the development of the Studite monasticism was strong enough.

In 1915, Klymentiy Sheptytsky was ordained priest; later he became the hegumen. Our Lord imposed on him the burden of the Studite monasteries guidance in the hard times both during the wars and in the interwar period, and he carried out this service suitably and with dignity till he was arrested.

Rev. Klymentiy was a highly educated, erudite and noble person. In his office of hegumen and (since 1944) archimandrite of the monastery, he developed various aspects of the Lavra’s life and founded new monasteries; it was mainly due to his efforts that the number of monks was constantly growing. His most distinguishing feature was his paternal treatment of every one of the brethren; he always took care of their needs and never neglected their spiritual problems.

In 1947, Rev. Klymentiy was arrested. From the documents kept in his personal file we can conclude that he was heroically faithful to Christ. His faith and fidelity to the Church remained firm and steadfast. Rev. Klymentiy endured all the trials – blackmail, intimidating, frequent transfers from one prison to another – as a true warrior of Christ.

After the sentence was pronounced, the archimandrite was transported to Moscow and then to the prison in Vladimir where he passed away as a martyr and confessor of the faith in 1951. Thus Rev. Klymentiy realized his own call which he had earlier addressed to the brethren: the monk can have just one purpose in his life – to follow Christ bearing His cross and obtaining holiness.

The Studite Lavra under Soviet and Nazi occupation

As early as in 1930 the Metropolitan Andrey foresaw that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church would be persecuted; it was what really happened soon. In 19391941, the first Soviets as this two-year-long Soviet occupation was called didn’t in general resort to mass repressive and punitive measures. However, the new authorities commanded immediately that the Lavra be left by all the young monks who were the majority. So, in November of 1939 there were left just several priests and elderly schemamonks. Then Soviet officials took in hand the economical basis of the monastery: the powerful economy of the Lavra was destroyed by the authorities in a few months, its grounds, pastures and woods being nationalized. The monastery found itself on the brink of survival.

In this way, during the short time of the first Soviet occupation the authorities did their utmost to make the monastery collapse by itself or turn into a house where the elder monks would live out their days. However, the life of the monastery was prolonged for several years by German occupation.

After the Nazis’ coming in 1941, monastic life was partially renewed in the Lavra since the new masters didn’t interfere in the inner life of the community much. The premises (in particular, the tannery and utility buildings) that had been turned by the Soviets into an integrated industrial plant were restituted to the Lavra. Some part of the monks who had been driven away by the communists came back to the monastery. At the beginning of 1944, there were 23 hieromonks, 7 hierodeacons and 76 monks in the Lavra.

As the whole population of Galicia, the monks of the Univ Lavra were going through many hardships under different occupation regimes, but in spite of this they could not stand aloof from the suffering of the people who lived nearby. The monks hid Jews who were annihilated by the Nazis. During the war, a lot of Jewish children were saved due to the efforts of the Studite monks; later some of the children grew into outstanding figures of the world history, e.g. Adam Daniel Rotfeld, the foreign minister of Poland, Kurt Levin, the American economist, Dr David Kahane, etc.

The monks of the Univ Lavra were not indifferent toward the national liberation movement (OUN, and later UPA). There must be mentioned also spiritual care that the monks provided for the insurgents.

The Univ Monastery after the Second World War: the trials begin

When in July-October of 1944 the Soviet army came to Western Ukraine for the second time and the Metropolitan Andrey passed away in November of 1944, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was threatened with liquidation. Everyone understood that persecutions were at hand.

As early as in 1944 the Soviet authorities nationalized the whole property of the Univ Lavra. After the Lviv pseudo-counsil of 1946 where the actual liquidation of the UGCC was declared, monastic life in the Lavra began to fall into decay. Only weak and old monks were allowed to live there; later a nursing home for mentally handicapped women was opened in the Lavra premises.

Cruel retributions among local population followed immediately. Under pretence of suppressing anti-Soviet activities the new authorities started to eliminate also the monks of the UGCC. In the 1940s, several monks were arrested and sent into exile. In 1947, the 78-year- old archimandrite Klymentiy was arrested in Univ too; then a psychoneurological nursing house was opened in the premises of the Lavra. Thus till the mid-1950s the Soviet authorities virtually destroyed the monastery: all the valuable things kept in the monastery were confiscated or annihilated, the library was burnt down, the church was violated. Only some valuables were hidden by local residents. To erase even the memories of the once famous monastery, the very village of Univ was renamed Mizhhiria (literally ‘the place between mountains’). It seemed inevitable that the memory of the monastery would sink into oblivion.

The monastery after the closure

However, the monastery, nominally liquidated and ruined by the communist authorities, lived on its monastic and prayer life in the underground. Some sick or elder monks remained to live there, now as the patients of the nursing house. They took care of the household and of the monks’ cemetery on Chernecha mount trying as much as they could to keep to the rule of prayer. From time to time, some hieromonks came secretly to the former Lavra and celebrated liturgies. The hieromonk Yuriy Makar, the future archimandrite of the underground Lavra, lived in the neighbouring town of Peremyshliany; he used to come to the Lavra in secret and to celebrate Divine Service in the nighttime. The archimandrite, bishop Nykanor Deyneha lived in Lviv. He did his best to keep the spirit of community alive among the scattered monks.

Nevertheless, though living in the circumstances of “new socialist reality”, the monks who lived in different towns of Galicia in groups of several persons in both private and state houses didn’t forget of their Univ monastery; the same can be said also of those who went abroad.

An outstanding figure among the Studite monks during the time of the underground was the hieromonk Herman Budzinsky. This educated and erudite monk who endured several arrests and jail sentences was one of the bravest defenders of the oppressed Church. Even now a lot of monks and laymen remember the priestly zeal of Rev. Budzinsky in the times of persecutions.

A very special figure was also the hieromonk Volodymyr (Vasyl Voronovsky) who carried the burden of being an underground priest through all his life and passed away in July of 2010. Though he was persecuted and arrested he avoided a jail sentence just by a miracle. Until recently, this committed to prayer old man gathered thousands of faithful at his liturgies begging the Lord to send them the gift of recovery.

The revival of the monastery

The late 1980s – early 1990s brought freedom to Ukraine and to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Despite stubborn resistance on the part of the authorities, difficult struggle started for the restitution of the monastery church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God to the monks. The church and three cells were restituted in 1991 and on the Christmas eve the monks celebrated the first divine liturgy in the monastery church. Soon the district authorities were forced to restitute to the monastery all the premises and a part of the once nationalized grounds. The famous ancient monastery was at last returned to its rightful owners and after a long interval it was seething with monastic life again. The nursing house that had been located in the premises of the Lavra was finally closed in 1993. Repair and renewal works directed by the hegumen Sevastian Dmytrukh started immediately.

The number of monks in the Univ Lavra was growing as new candidates entered and monks who had lived in underground monasteries came back. There remained about twenty monks who had taken their vows before the war and survived the persecutions.

A novitiate began to function in Univ in 1993 and an orphanage for boys was opened under the care of the brethren; it functioned till 2004. The monks of the Lavra also paid much attention to the rule of prayer and liturgies.

The way of monastic vocation

Conditions and demands of the monk’s life have not changed since the time of the Studite monasticism revival in Galicia. Everyone who desires to enter the Studite monastic community has to set holiness as the main purpose of his life. And holiness is attained by one who seeks God and, having found Him, unites with Him closely.

Holy Fathers attained holiness in their everyday life which was based on two main principles: prayer and asceticism. Trying to inherit their experience of attaining holiness, the present day monks divide twenty four hours into three equal parts, each dedicated to prayer, work, and rest. The most important thing in the monastery is common prayer – divine services in the church celebrated in the course of twenty four hours in certain order: vespers, compline, midnight service, matins, hours and Divine Liturgy. According to the ancient tradition, divine services in the Studite monasteries are celebrated mostly in the Old Slavonic language.

One who has chosen the monastic way passes certain stages of introduction to monastic life to get gradually more and more acquainted with the particularity and depth of monastic vocation. Thus a man who wants to become a monk goes at first through a six-monthlong trial. During this period he can familiarize himself with the life of the monastery and become inspired with the spirit of the monastic community. Beginners who learn to live in absolute obedience, chastity and poverty are called novices.

After a successful trial the novice takes his monastic vows for the first time and becomes an archarius, that is a beginner of monastic life. Now he wears a black undercassock. The undercassock given to the one who has just taken his vows symbolizes humility and death for the world. A year later, he begins to wear a cassock and a kamelaukion becoming thus a rasophore. From that time on, he renews his vows every year in the course of the next three years.

The next stage is admission of the rasophore monk to taking the little schema. In the little schema the monk receives a new name. It symbolizes the beginning of new life; the little schema itself is also called the second baptism, i.e. the birth for the Kingdom of God.

The last, highest stage of monasticism is taking the great schema. The great schemamonk receives a new name again; it is a sign of his birth for a fuller life in God. He becomes a testimony of readiness for constant struggle with everything that prevents him from absolute unity with God. In this way, the inner life of the Studite rule monk that passes in constant yearning for holiness becomes a testimony of angelic life, an announcement of the reality of the Kingdom of God for the world.

The present day mission of the Univ monastery

Devoting his life entirely to God, the monk becomes at the same time open to the needs of the world to share generously the gifts God has given him. That’s why the Lavra is a pilgrimage site where faithful can take part in divine services and approach the sacrament of reconciliation.

To work for the sake of self-sufficiency of the community has become a traditional principle of the monastery maintenance. The Univ Lavra owns 40 hectares of ground, including 20 hectares of arable lands. Apart from vegetables, the monks grow rye and wheat, thus providing the monastery with bread that is baked all the year round. The Univ brethren also take care of an orchard and work at the bee-garden and on their own farm. A workshop where candles, thurible incense and charcoal are produced also functions in the Lavra.

One of the ministries of the Studite monks is pastoral care. In the Univ Lavra, there is a reatreat house where the monks organize retreats for the religious, priests, youth, families, various religious communities.

The Lavra takes part in carrying out various international educational programs. The Summer Theological School organized by Ukrainian Catholic University in cooperation with the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada) functions since 1995. The purpose of this school is studying theology that takes place in the organic spiritual and prayerful environment of the monastery. Since 2005, the summer school for precentors and deacons is organized in the Univ Lavra; its program includes musical, liturgical and theological studies. The program was initiated by the UCU Liturgical institute with the purpose of improving liturgical singing and its perfection. In autumn of 2009, the School of Spirituality under the guidance of hieromonks and brethren of the Studite monasteries was opened in the Lavra; its purpose is to make spiritual life and acquiring theological knowledge more profound.

The uniqueness of all educational programs organized in the Univ Lavra has to do with the fact that the studies take place in the monastery and faithful and religious belonging to different Christian denominations can participate in them.

The monks of the Univ Lavra are also engaged in icon painting. An archive of the monastery and a museum are being created in Univ. A film studio functions in the monastery, a few audio discs were issued with the records of divine services sung by the monks’ choir. The information bulletin Univskyj prochanyn (The Univ Pilgrim) telling readers about the main events of the monastery life comes out regularly.

Processes of beatification of two great zealots of Dora from the times of the underground UGCC, the hieromonk Myron Dereniuk (d. 1976) and the schema hieromonk Pavlo (Porfyriy) Chuchman (d. 2001), were initiated due to the efforts of the brethren. These elders served self-sacrificingly God and their neighbours during the hard times under the atheistic regime, and now one can experience God’s love and mercy through their prayerful intercession.

The monks of the Univ monastery also provide spiritual care for the pilgrims arriving in great numbers on Sundays and feasts as well as on the great feasts of the Holy Dormition Lavra – the feast of the Univ miracleworking icon of the Most Holy Mother of God (third Sunday of May) and the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. The Lavra’s sacred objects are the miracle-working spring, the Univ miracle-working icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, a particle of the Life-giving Cross of our Lord and relics of saints, a copy of the Shroud of Turin, Chernecha mount where many monks are buried who walked piously their way of zealots and confessors… And beside these sacred objects that have been known for years and years there are also other sacred objects in Univ, the monks themselves who due to their prayers and everyday work have become living stones that form the Holy Dormition Lavra in Univ.

Instead of a conclusion

In the course of the whole difficult history of the Lavra, this monastery has always been a special place of God’s grace, zeal and holiness. Now, the Univ Lavra that has the status of a Stauropegian monastery is one of the spiritual strongholds where thousands of pilgrims arrive from everywhere to renew and strengthen their souls amidst prayerful singing and a particular silence so that to foster the Kingdom of God here and now.