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1013's A.D.:  The Ukraine Has Cavemen For God

  To begin with, there is an old Chroncle called 'The Tale of Bygone Years' which speaks of St. Andrew.  Andrew was an Apostle of Christ, and the brother of Peter.  Andrew is also regarded as the founder of the church of Byzantium and its first Bishop. (Byzantium is the same city as was later named Constantinople, and in the 1930's, the name was changed yet again to Istanbul.) 

  When Andrew was out wandering far and wide with other disciples some time in the first century he once came to a sparsely inhabited area at the banks of the river Dnieper in what would eventually be the Ukrainian State of Rus.  He is said to have paused on a hill overlooking the large river, and he felt compelled to plant a cross there, in the ground, at that spot.  The reason, he prophesied, for planting the cross was that though it was not yet settled much at all, it would one day become the site of a very important Christian city.  And so the cross was planted on the hillside, and as time went by, the city that would eventually become Kiev began there as a village, and grew and grew, both in size and in political importance and in commercial importance, but most significantly, in importance to the Kingdom of God.  And today it has over 2 milliion residents and it is the center of the region's Christian Orthodox Church.  But of course, it happened in steps.

*****Isn't it strange how often brothers in the Bible end up at odds with each other, or unable to get along?  Cain killed Abel.  Abraham, raised as a brother with Lot, had to split ways with him due to their respective 'shepherds' fighting over pasture land.  Sister Sarah was caught in the middle of it. 

  Ishmael and Isaac were made into enemies of sorts by mom Sarah's unwillingness to have surrogate son Ishmael share the inheritance with her own blood son Isaac, and those two family lines (Ishmael and Isaac's) were always at odds, thereafter. 

  Jacob and Esau were split over both the inheritance and the blessing.  Mom - this time Rebecca - was involved, once again.

  In Jacob's own life, it was the wives (who were sisters) that could not get along.  They were rivalrous with each other to bear the most children.  (Are they symbolic of branches of the Christian church?)

  Judah slept with his disguised daughter in law by accident, and she had twins - Zerah and Phares - who caused a rift in that tribe, though it is not much spoken of in the Bible.  Yet there are legends that speak of who Zerah became, and they are interesting. 

  King David was rebuked by his older brother as a trouble maker for enquiring why no one would fight Goliath.  But that turned out all right for Israel. 

  One of King David's sons, Absalom, killed one of King David's other sons for the rape of one of King David's daughters. 

  And, among other cases that came later, how odd it is that Peter is claimed as the first Bishop of Rome, and his brother Andrew is claimed by some as the first Bishop of the other branch of the Christian church, the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Again, the family lines of two brothers cast almost as 'rivals', though there is no evidence that they were actually rivalrous at all in real life, that I know of.  And who was the first Pope of those churches is also a contested matter in the case of Rome.  Some say that Peter was never Rome's first Bishop.  But I am no expert on those matters.  *****

  Back to the subject!  

  In 983 , in Linbech near Chernigov was born a boy named Antipas.  This is in the North Ukraine today, and it borders the Dnieper River. The large city of Kiev, to the south but not too far, also is on the Dnieper River.  As for Antipas, as a boy he had such fear for God in his heart that it is remembered that he liked to wear the clothing of the monk, even when just a boy.  So, once grown up, it probably surprised very few people that it was a monk that he became.  He went to a monastery near Mt. Athos to live, in Macedonia; there he began living out what, as a boy, he had been dreaming.  He was accepted into the monastery called the Esphigmenon monastery, which still exists today, in Macedonia next to the sea. 

  Antipas had become a servant of Christ...his dream job.  A monk's job is good works, an orderly life, and lots of prayer.  Whatever else it is depends on which order that you join, and what God and Jesus have in mind for you.  For Antipas, it was a life that he found himself well suited for.

  The Mt. Athos area today is still a place - a mountain and a peninsula that is part of the greater Chikidiki Peninsula - with many monks and many monastic orders.  Today, in 2011 as I write, it is a peninsula that has been allocated for such things - nothing else is done there, really.  And Antipas's particular monastery - Esphigmenon - which is dedicated to 'the Ascension of Christ', is the monastery with the most monks there these days, having about 115.  

  And the Mt. Athos area also has the odd distinction, today at least, of being a geographical area that is off limits to females....of nearly all types, they say.  It is even off limit to female animals, say reports - except for chickens, which provide ingredients, extracted from their eggs, which are useful for making paint for religious paintings.  And there are apparently female cats.  I suppose a cat is just going to do what ever it wants to and go where it wishes.  Or maybe it's because of mice?

  But going back to more ancient times...Antipas received a new name while at the Esphigmenon monastery.....he became 'Anthony'....in keeping with his becoming a new person in Christ.  And there came a time when he was ready to go to a needy far away place and teach of Christ.  For 'Anthony', the mission field his Bishop assigned him was the town of Kiev, on the Dnieper River, in what is today called the Ukraine.  He was sent there in about 1011 A.D., and it was not far at all from where he came from.  In fact it was the very next Principality of Kievan Rus to the West of where he was born and raised.  He would be bringing Christ to the Rus.  Rus was the name of a state in those medievel times, mostly in what is now the Ukraine, and Kiev was already its major city.  Rus was also the name of one of the peoples that lived in that state. 

  The state of Rus had a several types of people, but principally Slavs and Polans and Varangians. 

  The Varangians were a people kindred to those of today's Sweden, for the most part.  They were men who might be called Viking traders, and their particular name, among the other Scandinavian branches of people, was the 'Rus'.  Some Vikings raided towards the West.  These Vikings raided towards the East, and were called Varangians instead of Vikings.  That's how, using the great rivers for trade and sometimes raiding and conquest, they ended up so deep into the land of the Ukraine.  

  Those Rus were warlike, and had for a time imposed their rule over the Slavic peoples of the Ukraine.  They would eventually fight as mercenaries in many wars in many lands, or would be the foreign gaurd for many political figures, and from the clues left in various historical writings, they were known for their bravery, their love of using the battle axe, and for drinking loads of alcohol! They were famous from Italy to Constantinople, and further.  In one such kingdom, a surviving writing refers to the Rus mercenaries as 'the Prince's wine bags'.  So, among their other skills, they were certainly fighters and drinkers. 

  As for Slavs, they have tended to be hard workers and adept farmers in nearly all places where they have dwelt.  There are many peoples that are referred to as Slavs, or Slavik.....everyone from Poles to Russians to Chekoslavakians and Bohemians are referred to as Slavs by at least some of their neighbors. 

  I have read that the origin of the word Slav is the same as for the word Slave.  Some of the people who were more warlike thought that the simple and hard woking Slavs, lovers of the land more than blood shed, were a people meant to be other people's 'Slaves'.  But, those who have fought them have often been taught a serious lesson about picking on farmers.  

  In Rus, the local Slavs were also tough, and once drove the occupying Varangians out for a while.  But, they then fought so much among themselves, that, in the interest of restoring peace, they invited the Varangians back to govern.  They'd become pretty used to them, I suppose, and preferred peace under foreigners to conflict among themselves, perhaps.  Whatever the case, they all learned to live pretty peacefully together.  By the year 1050 A.D. or so, the Rus of Kiev's area had intermarried so greatly with the local Slavs that they were basically as one people. 

  Just to mention another school of thought concerning the origin of the Rus, some have determined that the Rus were actually a branch of the Slavs from the area of the Black Sea.  My own guess is that they were both a people that had once lived near the Black Sea, and who then had largely moved on to Scandinavia, and who then had gone raiding and once again ended up in the Russian region of Ukraine, back closer to their roots.  It was that way with the Scythians, some say.     

  Whatever the case, in Anthony's time the local Rus rulers had heard of Christianity, and had some dealings with Christians, and there were some monasteries within Kievan Rus as well.  But apparently Anthony was among the first to come and teach of it in Kiev at that time period.  He took up residence in a cave left by one of those earlier Christians, Hilarion the Presbyter.  (Hilarion had been elevated to leader of the local Bishopric - he had become the 'Metropolitan', as they named their church leaders.  Catholics name theirs' 'Pope', these people used the name Metropolitan. There, in Hilarion's once abandoned cave, Anthony lived a monk's life of seclusion and prayer for those who were local residents.

  Anthony's life was not uneventful, and once, when a local ruler died and his sons fought for the throne, Anthony had to retreat to his old monastrery at Athos in Macedonia for a time, for the sake of his safety, but he returned. 

  In time, Anthony, who was a pious and sincere man of God, began to attract others to live in the same humble way in these caves.  In time there were 11 others, including some who would go on to become well known in that region: The Venerable Barlaom, and Theodosius.  And so this growing group lived, worked, and slowly caught the curiosity of the local people.  They lived the lives of Christian monks in their man made cave dwellings.  These caves were carved and formed into surprisingly comfortable and pleasant little homes.  As time went by many of these cave dwellings would become rather beautiful, in a humble way. 

 

 

  Anthony's view of being a monk involved a fairly solitary life, yet because he was well regarded for the actual holiness with which he lived, a growing number of other monks had built their caves close to his.  So, there came a time when Anthony explained that he wanted to relocate to a more solitary area, in keeping with what he felt was God's desire for him.  He appointed Theodosius as the leader of the monks that he now took leave of, and Anthony went to a new place, and dug a new cave for himself, and there he prayed for many people and many things, as he had originally done. 

  The first caves would in time be called the Far Caves.  The new location that Anthony moved to would come to be known one day as the Near Caves.  Note the plural: 'caves'.  Anthony's new spot did not stay solitary forever.  Anthony would no longer actually lead the monks, but Theodosius always loved and respected his mentor, and often consulted him on important matters even after he had moved a distance away.  Those two are largely considered the founders of the Monastery of the Caves, which was still in construction when they died.  Anthony died first, then the next year Theodosius.

  There began to be many monks - around 100 - living in caves.  The local Rus rulers were actually pretty supportive of Christianity, and they were willing to lend some land and some money to the cause of building a church.  The plan appealed to the monks.  It seemed a good idea to build a solid and visually appealing above ground monastery.  It would advance the cause of Christ to do so, they believed, and so the plan was approved.

 

 

  An important local person, Prince Iziaslov, was supportive of the building of an above ground monastery, and donated the entire Berestov Mount overlooking the Dnieper as a place to build the church.  Architects from Constantinople were contracted to help make it happen.  In 1015 A.D. it was apparently founded.  Soon, the Kiev Monastery of the Caves was built, and the Antonite monks, so named after Anthony, moved in and took up residence.  It became a center for the Russian Orthodox Church in time, and its influence for Christianity in that entire region can hardly be over emphasized.

  In intervening centuries much has happened in the history of that monastery and the buildings which were built around it.  At times, invading nations have swooped in and destroyed it, but it was always rebuilt.  The monks would go back to living in their caves for a while, but they would return to the surface when the church was rebuilt, and so it has gone through several cycles of destruction and rebuilding. 

  But today, it is a beautiful and historic monastery, with churches and other constructions nearby.  The Metropolitan of the region lives there.  And best of all, tourists and visitors can follow a guide on what is said to be a wonderful tour of some of the surviving caves, which are made into quite pleasing and tidy residences.  The cave residences can easily be viewed on the internet by doing a simple search.

 

 

  And once again, God and Jesus, working with the small and humble, built up yet another mighty church presence upon the Earth, this time among the hale and hardy Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

  It's almost like the Apostle Andrew planted that cross in the way that you plant a seed in a garden.  And after about 1000 years, little brown garbed monks began to grow in the dirt beneath the cross, like holy potatoes.  And when God thought they were mature enough, down there in the dirt, He brought them topside to build a monastery and church, to help with the harvest.  Well, it's sort of like that....   

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website