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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

local authorities...