Pechory Monastery, Pskov Region, Russia, 2006.
We were told on arrival not to address the monks directly, not to stare at them or attempt to take photographs of them under any circumstances. Along with a few local pilgrims, our small group had already been waiting for over an hour for a local translator to arrive at the entrance to the caves. She had been booked by our tour operator, but didn’t turn up and our own tour guide did not have the authority to lead us through on her own. Unexpectedly one of the monks arrived and kindly offered to guide us without an official translator.
Silently we shuffled along the sandy floor, being lead by the monk’s shape, silhouetted by the candle he was holding. It was dark, damp and cool and there seemed to be natural ventilation down there. Every several feet apart candles provided illumination accompanied by dancing shadows on the walls.
Acting as substitute translator, our tour guide respectfully waited for pauses in the monk’s speech to translate the history and information he was providing in a measured, melodic tone of voice: “Thousands of monks are buried in these caves underneath the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, the monastery surviving numerous attacks by invaders throughout it’s history, which in turn lead to its impressive fortification. The monastery was originally established in the 14th century, but the caves were already in use by hermits and monks a century before that.”
Deep into the cave we finally stopped in a gallery area. Not everything said by the monk was translated from Russian, but after some moments our guide announced expectantly that an invitation had just been extended to anyone present, to come forward if they wished to receive a blessing. A brief moment of silence ensued. One of the pilgrims stepped forward and then another, followed by our Russian guide.
Afterwards the monk asked if there were any other person or persons present, religious or non-religious, who had a natural, spontaneous feeling of wanting to come forward at that moment. He continued to explain that many people in the past had had a spiritual experience there, regardless of their denomination or belief system.
A period of silence.
The monk renewed the invitation.
A much longer period of silence.
As we exited the caves into the bright daylight, our eyes still readjusting, the monk asked another question: “Can anyone tell us why the angel is pointing to the clock?” Everyone looked up at where the monk was pointing.
Then, hesitantly, a voice in our group gave birth into the pregnant void, as if to speak for all of us. The monk waited patiently to receive the translation, then smiled and nodded in a pleased manner, as if to say:
“What took you so long?”
Article and photographs by Jean-Jacques Montagnier
Based on an event in 2006. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Detailed information about the Pskov-Caves Monastery can be found on the following pages: