Hermitage in the mountain

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Every year on August 11 the sounds of the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox St. Seraphim Feognost male hermitage are filling mountains in Kyzyl Zhar tract of Trans-Ili Alatau. The lord of the local diocese traditionally holds the celebratory service. Thousands of pilgrims, including people of different sex, age and status, residents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia come here to the wooden column wise cross decorated with a beautiful wreath of conifer branches and flowers under the shadow of ancient Tien Shan firs. This is the burial place of monks Seraphim and Feognost. 

In the early 1920s, a group of monks and nuns from Verny, fleeing from the persecution of the atheist government, were moving up along Aksai gorge. Now this area is built up with different-size villas, but back then it was quite remote and wild and looked like a perfect place for a secluded monastery grounds. The monks walked without knowing the direction, rather instinctively, looking carefully at the surrounding slopes. And here father Seraphim had a vision of the bright light rising above the wooded crest of one of the side canyons. Following the pastor others saw the light too. Believers take seriously all sorts of signs. That's why Verny monks went immediately "to the light". They climbed up along the hill overgrown by virgin spruce and founded their cloister here.

But monks - founders did not have a lot of time to indulge in solitary prayers. One evening, when most of the monks were out, three armed men dressed in Red Army uniform showed up in the hermitage and asked to stay over the night. In the morning Red Army men shot Seraphim and Feognost, took everything valuable and left. Dead Father Seraphim was found kneeling in front of the icons with rosary in hand. Feognost was lying in his cell with his arms crossed and a bullet in the heart. There was a third monk in the cloister, Anatoly, but he managed to escape to the mountains and hide in the woods.

According to Father Seraphim’s will, as if he anticipated his death, he and his spiritual brother were buried here, next to the cells. Nuns visited their graves regularly every year. And dying, they bequeathed path to the graves to their loved ones. Thus, burial place remained in the memory of people for over 60 years.

But this grave is rather a symbol. Relics of the martyrs are stored now in a special shrine that set in the local temple with gilded onion domes, which are shining in the dark background of the Tien Shan firs. New bells are filling the surrounding area with the miraculous peal. To enter the temple, you need to ask abbot for permission, or come here to the service. Inside, the temple is lit only with the light coming from the windows, and reflections from candles and oil lamps. That’s why it seems particularly comfortable and happy in here. The shrine with saint’s remains is located on the right side (if you are facing the altar as it should be in the church). Interestingly, there is the spring in the basement that struck out unexpectedly under this place during the construction of the temple.

In 2000 at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, along with 1090 other martyrs, both monks were canonized as ascetics of Orthodox Church that accepted death during the years of persecution. 

The biography of St. Fathers Seraphim and Feognost

Celibate priest Seraphim was born in Gluhov city, where after graduating from the high school he suddenly decided to leave the world and devote himself to the God; so he took monastic vows in Glinski hermitage. Then fate brought him to the new Saint Trinity Monastery, which was founded by Valaam missionaries on the eastern shores of Issyk-Kul Lake. And here paths of St. fathers Seraphim and Feognost crossed. Almost nothing is known about Feognost’s previous life. According to some reports, the two monks already lived together back in Glinski monastery and came to Issyk-Kul together as well.

What led them into the Asia wilds? Hard to say. Anyway, apparently they had a good reason to cardinally change their lives by altering the well-established and prosperous life in the old monastery in the center of the Russian plain to the life full of suspense in the new cloister in the mountains of Tien Shan. Having an idea about the mental properties of both monks, we can assume that the cause of this step was their deep faith in God. 

In 1909, Seraphim was transferred to Semirechye, to Verny city, where he became a priest of the Uspensky Church. In those years, the streets of the Orthodox capital of the Russian Turkestan were decorated with the several magnificent temples that were built instead of ones destroyed by the earthquake in 1887. And the most outstanding one is the Saint Ascension Cathedral that remained standing not only during the seismic disaster in 1911, but during the grim era of the total destruction of the temples. During the Soviet times, here was a historical museum, so juicy described by Yuri Dombrowski in his "Keeper of Antiquities." Feognost arrived to Verny soon after Serafim.

However, monks were oppressed by the noisy and vain life more and more, so their desire for the seclusion realized in the hermitage built on the slope of the hill Mokhnatka in Medeo gorge (where road to Shimbulak passes above the Medeo). His spiritual daughters, the nuns of Verny’s Iversky Seraphim monastery were with him from that time and until his death. Together with them monastery was founded in the Aksai gorge.

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