Table of Contents:

Materials and methods

For this chapter, 1 draw on data collected during extensive fieldwork conducted since 2012 in Russian Orthodox monasteries in the regions of Leningrad, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga, Ivanovo and Moscow in Russia. In 2012, I spent two months in the Nizhny Novgorod region, in 2014 - one month in two monasteries in Kaluga and Yaroslavl regions, in 2016 - one month in two monasteries in Yaroslavl and Ivanovo regions. During this time, I regularly visited monasteries in Moscow where I lived at that time. I noted my observations in a field diary; my interviews were either recorded or written down in a notebook. Apart from being researchers per se, scholars who conduct fieldwork in monasteries can acquire additional roles, such as ‘guest, pilgrim (trudnik), prospective (potential) monastic and monastic’ (Medvedeva 2016, p. 63). As for me, I usually stayed in monasteries as a volunteer worker, trudnitsa. For this chapter, I mostly draw on my fieldwork in Nizhny Novgorod region in 2012, when I lived in the tiny village of Diveyevo in the house of a local woman and worked in the nearby monastery making dried bread (rusks).

The woman (whom I call ‘Mother Sophia’), in whose house I lived was a ‘nun in the world’. She had lived in Diveyevo for almost all her life. After she retired, she went to a famous Orthodox elder who tonsured her and thus she became a nun. Mother Sophia, however, decided not to join a monastery, not even Diveyevo, and she remained a so-called ‘nun in the world'. Among the reasons she gave to me were her advanced age and poor health that prevented her from working in the monastery and also the potential loss of her own house near the monastery as a result of joining the sisterhood.

When I lived with her in 2012, Mother Sophia was in her late 80s. She, however, was very active. Every single morning we went together to the liturgy in the monastery, after that I stayed to work at the rusk factory, and Mother Sophia went shopping, worked in her garden and cooked. She rented several rooms in her house for pilgrims and was often busy washing the bedsheets and making the beds. Every evening, when pilgrims. Mother Sophia and I gathered in her tiny kitchen for dinner, she told stories about her life and faith, Orthodoxy, saints and the Diveyevo monastery.

I remember her always wearing her monastic habit, a full set for church or a simple one to work in the garden. Monastery nuns knew her, too, yet they openly showed disrespect when we went there for services: for them, she was not ‘the real nun’. Nevertheless, thanks to her connections in the monastery, Mother Sophia found a place for me at the rusk factory, where 1 worked Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

A regular position at the monastery was very beneficial for my participant observation. Having an organic status there, I was able to closely observe monastery life, establish relationships of trust with some monastics and trudniki and experience their peri-monastic, kenotic community from the inside.

I was a temporary worker in the monastery, but also a young, single woman, and 1 was often treated as a prospective (potential) monastic. I remember a day ‘at the rusks’ when we were busy moving boxes with dried bread from one room to another. A senior nun who worked together with us saw me and said, ‘Xiusha, why are you coming back empty-handed? While you carry these boxes there, you can take those boxes here!’ she said, and added, ‘I’ll make a nun out of you!' The contextual meaning of this phrase also meant that a nun should do her work quickly and efficiently. For the time being, I am not a nun.

As for Mother Sophia - a ‘nun in the world’, a nun ‘beyond the monastery walls’ - she was a beautiful nun, although not a typical one. Stories about people like her, who choose to be outside of mainstream monasticism for various reasons, can point toward further research on diverse forms of monastic life in contemporary Russia.


In this chapter, I have discussed monasteries as places of pilgrimage in contemporary Russia. Following a more decentralised view on religious involvement and acknowledging the diversity of forms of religious life ‘beyond the walls of the church’, I began by demonstrating many different ways of practising Orthodoxy in modern-day Russia. Some of them are structured, static and local, like parishes. Some are anti-structured, nomadic, exterritorial or interregional, like networks, flashmobs and pilgrimages. I argue that monasteries are popular destinations among Orthodox and non-Orthodox believers because they can accommodate various modes of contemporary religiosity and cater for different types of visitors. I also discussed monasteries as multipurpose locations that can function in various regimens, as parishes, flashmob locations, nodes of a social network and pilgrimage sites.

Here, 1 have especially focused on trudniki as a specific type of visitor (pilgrims), those who temporarily immerse themselves in a monastic structure. They join a semi-structured community of people on the periphery and thus form one more way of being Orthodox. While trudniki might or might not live a religious life outside of the monastery, within the monastery they are bound by a semi-structured religious life that comprises elements of parish and nomadic religious regimens.

Most of these various religious regimens (excluding flashmobs) enable believers to participate in the liturgical life (confession and communion) and therefore can easily become an alternative to regular parish life. Therefore, these examples prove that various ways of Orthodox life can be found in and are supported by monasteries as multipurpose locations.

Writing about post-Soviet society’s efforts to reassess and reclaim the prerevolutionary past, Stella Rock says that ‘the revival of its monasteries is one of the most astonishing aspects of this process. While Western convents are closing and selling their property, the reverse is happening in Russia’ (Rock 2009). It could be inferred, however, that there is a number of functioning monasteries in Europe which receive the attention of researchers some of whom have contributed to this volume. However, the growth in the number of Russian monasteries and their expansion is impressive, and Diveyevo is a good example of that. Like many other monasteries, Diveyevo is famous among visitors because it caters for different types of guests. Orthodox believers and non-Orthodox tourists alike. The local villagers participate in their regular church life in monastery churches; tourists arrive each day to bathe in numerous healing springs; occasional flashmobs are organised for all who are interested: processions of the cross are welcomed every year; and finally, numerous individual pilgrims come as trudniki to help the nuns and recharge their ‘spiritual batteries’. Even underground Orthodox Christians and those seeking ‘places of power’ can feel at home here. Diveyevo caters for various types of Orthodox and non-Orthodox, believers and nonbelievers who can function here in any ‘regimen’; there is a lot to learn, do and experience here for everybody.

To conclude, Orthodox monasteries in Russia serve as multipurpose platforms that host diverse forms of religious life and welcome various types of Orthodox believers, including practising parishioners, occasional ‘flash- mobbers’, neophyte networkers and numerous pilgrims who come to monasteries on a bus tour, in a procession of the cross, or as volunteer workers. They accommodate various forms of religious life and play a significant role as pilgrimage destinations. This openness of monasteries, however, triggers a number of changes in both the inner life of communities (the need to offer pilgrim services, run hotels, etc.) and the larger community of the local population (infrastructure, housing prices, local tourism, ‘migrants’, etc.).

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