THE MYSTERY OF CLOISTER'S WALLS
This August is a 100 anniversary of Saint-Trinity Nicholas
Monastery widely known as Shmakovskiy (by the name of a place
where it is located). It is the first Orthodox cloister of the
Russian Far East and the only one remaining. Nowadays some of
old buildings belong to a military sanitarium, but the church
wants all its property back. As you'll see from further
explanations pretty large domain is an object of that argue.
The entire story of Shmakovskiy Cloister is full of blanks,
unexplained things. There are at least two versions of how it
was found. Let's start with the official church point of view.
In 1893 The Saint Synod (supreme church body) started to
discuss the possibility to build an Orthodox monastery in the Far
East. Monk Alexia was sent over there for that purpose. He got
entrusted to find a suitable place for the construction and
and make all arrangements with financing, which was obviously
the most difficult assignment. Firstly Father Alexia liked the
shore of Petropavlovsky lake, but later he changed his mind
and decided to built the monastery on the top of a Medvezhey
(Bear's) Mountain, famous by its mineral springs.
Father Alexia arrived to the prospective construction place in
August 1895. There were no villages, no fields; nothing but a
small telegraph station Tihmenevo in boundless taiga (pine
jungles). The station that was connected by underground cable
to Khabarovsk was a top secret military object. Alexia started
his business temporary living in a house of that station's
master. His associates monks Sergey and German arrived over
there soon, and together they recruited the lay brothers.
Vladivostok newspaper reported in September 1895: "As you
know the first monastery is being built in Ussuriysky region
18 miles away from the railway station Shmakovka. The
monastery is situated by the governmental telegraph station."
The first temple-Innokentievski-got built very rapidly. The
first mass occurred on November 24, 1895. Look: such a grand
construction got finished just in three months. By the way,
exclusively Russian workers were occupied, Chinese and Koreans
were the cheapest labor force that time; however, they did not
take part in the construction. The soldiers helped a lot in
that God-blessed job, too.
The person of the founder of the cloister deserves some
specific attention. Father-Superior Alexey had a civic name
Grigoriy Afanas'evitch Oskolkov. Having graduated from a
military school in 1853, he became an artillery officer and
participated in the defense of Sevastopol (episode of 1856
war). Later he continued his service in Major Artillery
Department and retired when he reached 38. He traveled a lot,
visited the US, later became a close friend of Russian
Panteleymon's Cloister Makariy and a head of Jerusalem mission
Antonin. Having taken the monastic vows with a name of Alexia
he lived as a hermit for several years. September 27, 1893 he
arrived to Kamchatka (the peninsula on the very east of
Russia) trying to set up a monk community.
Well, here is another version of the cloister's foundation.
Some researchers suppose that Oskolkov (Father Alexia) was
working for Russian Army intelligence service in the 90's, and
the whole idea of the cloister was just a cover for spy
activities. Shmakovskiy Cloister is considered to be an
intelligence school, specializing in Oriental affairs.
In confirmation of so unusual ideas the researchers display
"Lists of graduates of General Staff" with marks by the names
of some graduates: "At chief minister's disposal. Place of
service- Primorskiy region." There are also rumors about some
mysterious monks who lived in the cloister. They appeared and
disappeared without any notice and nobody could find out
anything about them. Some suppose that they were intelligence
officers. They got in and out through underground
communications. Tunnels connected all entrances to the
building. The outlets were often located several miles away
from the cloister, in the mountains. That's why foreign
workers were not allowed to work on the construction. This
version is being worked out by military journalists and
historians, which is very easy to explain. If the cloister
was built for military purposes it does not belong to the
church. So, there's not need to give up valuable property.
Personally I am a lot more convinced by another argument: why
was the cloister founded right above the governmental
telegraph station? It would have been strange if they were not
connected by underground tunnels, just in case of war. Even
the relief itself proposes such engineering decision.
By the way, all inhabitants of local villages are sure that
underground tunnels do exist, and some of these go far beyond
the cloister's walls. There are also strange concrete
structures surrounded by barbed wire at the foot of the Bear's
Mountain. I think I won't uncover a State secret if I tell you
that people who live over there call all this "a bunker of
government communications." However, what really is inside
that mountain is known to the Secretary of Defense, and God,
As for the cloister founder, his "spy" activity has not lasted
long: he left in 1897 when he turned 60. Since that chief monk
Sergey became Father-Superior. Sergey proved to be a dedicated
worker of church. There were 100 monks in 1903, and about 300
in 1915. Brick houses and got built. The cloister owned lots
of land, part of which was used for agricultural works. The
economy included a steam mill, brickwork, candle factory,
icon-painting and other workshops, and even an electric power
station. A hospital and a school got opened. The monks
operated a printing-house and a photo-lab, which is very
unusual for a monastery.
Agricultural business was pretty successful, too. Monks grew
wheat, oats, beans, buckwheat, flax, potato, vegetables, and
rice. They built roads, managed a fruit garden, operated large
animal farms with cows, goats, horses, sheep, bulls, and
deer. Their berry plantations were giving just wonderful
harvest of strawberries, black currant, raspberries etc. So,
nothing is known about the results of its intelligence
business, but it was a perfect model farm.
The Revolution surely disturbed quiet existence of the monks.
Neither Reds nor Whites (sides of post-revolution civil war)
could leave the cloister alone, because it was a major object
from a military point of view. The printing-house was used by
"The Supreme Governor of Russia"-admiral Kolchak for printing
documents and proclamations. A regiment of White officers
stayed in the cloister for a while. Some historians think
that a part of missing Russian gold disappeared through the
tunnels of Shmakovskiy Cloister. Officers of General Staff
Academy that was placed in Vladivostok visited the monastery
pretty regularly. According to war-time documents once in 1922
a squad of Whites encircled by Red Army in the monastery
escaped just in one night with all its equipment: weapons,
ammo, food supplies, and perhaps gold. However, the whole
story of monastery cave still remains a mystery.
In 1923 The Soviets finally got interested with the monastery.
Primgubkom RKP(b) (local Soviet body) resolved to nationalize
all cloister's property according to the law of "Separation of
Church and State". The property was estimated at 115 rubles
and 92 kopecks; monastery got transformed into Shmakovskiy
collective farm. Monks and lay brothers stayed in their former
home till April 1924, and then left with Father Sergey. The
collective farm has fallen into decay without Lord's help.
Starting with 1939 a military sanitarium got placed on
cloister's territory. That's why we can still see a part of
large and nice complex.
About 10 people live in the monastery these days. Father
Feodosiy and monk Serafim live over there for half year. Lay
brothers live since last summer. They are going to rebuilt the
temple and widen the monastery's territory. Time will show
whether they've got enough persistence and power. They keep
good relations with military officials as well as with the