St. Petersburg, July 15, 2015
The Russian Presidential Library has digitalized the materials connected with the history of Valaam and made them accessible to the general public on the website. These form a collection called “The History of the Russian Orthodox Church” which is one of the largest among the 400,000 books in the first national electronic library, reports its official website.
The 1892 book, entitled A Travel to Valaam, to the Holy Monastery, and a Detailed Overview of All its Sights, which went through various editions has been digitalized and is now accessible. “In favorable weather of a July day, we, prompted by the religious feeling, prepared for our long-awaited journey from St. Petersburg to Valaam in order to pray to the Lord with due reverence, to venerate the saints of God whose incorrupt relics rest there, and to enjoy the nature of this holy island with its peaceful atmosphere – far from the hustle and bustle of the big city,” the travel sketch runs. These words, amazingly, have much in common with the situation today, when Valaam is again a popular pilgrimage center.
The history of the island and its monastery is closely linked with the history of the Russian state system, the development of relations between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Monks settled there from the time of Sts. Sergius and Herman of Valaam, who presumably lived on this island as early as in the 10th century; therefore, Valaam Monastery has existed for nearly nine centuries!” a passage below runs. “Valaam Monastery developed, its community grew, and finally it became very prosperous… But there were periods of harsh trials for it. Thus, in 1578 Swedes invaded Karelia and then attacked Valaam Monastery, plundered its brethren’s scanty belongings, burned down their humble cells, and murdered the monks by sword. Abbot Macarius (Makary) with 34 monks fell victim to the Swedes’ swords for their firmness in confession of the Orthodox faith… Later, in 1611, Swedes again razed Valaam Monastery to the ground. It seemed that terrible year would suppress the monastic life in Valaam by bloodshed forever. But 100 years passed, and, owing to Peter the Great, this light of monasticism was restored on its holy cliffs.”
There is also an electronic copy of “The Album of Views of the Transfiguration Valaam Monastery and its Sketes” in the library (published in 1910). The text of the book of 1890, The Description of Valaam Monastery, is richly illustrated:
“Light water of the turbulent lake, running into the Valaam mainland, forms picturesque bays and channels in various places and many of them are used as a haven for vessels seeking salvation from the rage of waves. High cliffs and the forest, growing on the banks of the bays and channels, like giants, are majestically reflected in the pure surface of the calm water,” the text runs.
The Presidential Library experts, choosing some unique rare books on Valaam, have noted that the books also contain much evidence of the rich spiritual heritage of the wise elders of Valaam. With time their sayings and notes became aphorisms. Elder Ambrose, for instance, compared a human life with a wheel, teaching his monks: “You need to touch the earth just slightly, with one side of the wheel, while all the rest should be directed to the heaven”. Schema-monk John the Silent preached: “You should not be concerned about the bodily fast too much: it means nothing without the spiritual fast. God expects the fast of body only from strong and healthy. The Holy Fathers say we must kill our passions, and not kill our bodies”. And he also said: “A certain elder taught that if a soul has words but has no deeds, then it is like a tree with flowers, but without fruit”.
The Presidential Library collection has recently been enriched by books such as, The Monastic Islands of Valaam and Konevets (1895), The Diocesan Archives in Valaam Monastery (1913), and Valaam Monastery (1896). They give a full picture of the life of Valaam and its role in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the whole of the Russian society as a stronghold of the nation’s spirituality.