Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar)
MONASTERY OF ST.JOHN CHRYSOSTOM IN KAMAN (ABKHAZIA)
On the 120th anniversary of the opening of the convent and the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the male monastery in the Abkhazian Kaman.
Monastery of St. John Chrysostom is located 12 km from the capital of Abkhazia Sukhum (Abkh. Aҟәa, ancient Diaskuria, Roman and Byzantine Sebastopolis), at the confluence of the Western and Eastern Gumista (Abkh. Ҳәыҧси Гәымсҭеи).
In the end of XIX century people began to call the area where the monastery is located Kaman (abkh. Ӡеиҵырха/Ӡеиҵыхра) and since that time Orthodox Christians have venerated it as the place of death and burial of the great father of the Church – St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (349 / 50–407).
There is no historical data on the existence of the toponym “Kaman” on the territory of modern Abkhazia. The anonymous manuscript “The Book of Knowledge about All Kingdoms, Countries and Possessions in the World …” informs about the “Christian Kamanes” who constituted the bulk of the population of the “Kingdom of Sant’Estropoli”, i.e. Sukhum. Prof. Sh. Inal-ipa believed that the author of the manuscript under the “kamanes” probably meant the inhabitants of Guma – the historical region of Abkhazia in the region of Sukhum and its surroundings. However, the name of a part of the population of the “Kingdom of Sant’Estropoli” (if indeed the above manuscript refers to Sukhum and its environs) could come not from the toponym “Kaman”, but from the name of the people “Kamanes” (or “Kumans”).
In XI century Byzantine sources informed about the people of “Kamanes” (“Κομάνοι”) or “Cumans” (“Κουμάνοι”). These people migrated from Asia, passing through the Ural-Caspian region to the territory of Eastern Europe. Arab, Persian and Georgian sources call “kamanes” (or “kumans”) “Kipchaks”, in the Russian chronicles they are called “Polovtsy”. In the 11th century, the “Kamanes”, pushing the Pechenegs back to the Danube, occupied the North Caucasus, all the southern Russian steppes, part of the Crimea, and settled in the places previously occupied by the Pechenegs for a long time. In 1118-1120 “King of Abkhazians and Kartvels” David IV the Builder (1089–1125) resettled a large mass of “kamanes” to the territory of the state of the Abazgs (Abkhazians) and Kartvels (Georgians). King David the Builder was married to the daughter of the “Kaman” (“Kipchak”) Khan Otrak (or Atrak), Queen Gurandukht. On the late medieval European maps, the settlement of the “kamanes” is indicated on the territory just above the modern territory of Abkhazia.
Nowadays any historical information about the area where the monastery of St. John Chrysostom, and the cultural monuments preserved in these places have not been discovered. The ruins of two buildings on the hill have survived to our time (nowadays one of which is revered as the burial place of the Holy Martyr Basilisk). On the Plan of the city of Sukhum and its surroundings, drawn up by V.I. Chernyavsky (1846-1915), these ruins were designated as “palace” buildings. The second monument is a medieval church (on the territory of the modern monastery of St. John Chrysostom). According to the Russian archaeologist Countess P.S. Uvarova (1840–1924), the area of modern Kaman was examined in the second half of XIX century by member of the Imperial Moscow Archaeological Society N.V. Nikitin. This researcher stayed in Kaman for several days and studied the ruins of one church, which he named in honor of St. Basilisk (we are talking about the main church of the monastery, which in our time is named in honor of St. John Chrysostom). In 1905, above the Kaman monastery, on the slope of the mountain, the tenants of the monastery lands found two copper crosses in good condition and one iron cross.
Crosses were rather big. On the copper crosses there are linear images (on the one side there are scenes of the Crucifixion of Christ, on the other side there is an image of the Mother of God with the Greek initials “Μ.Θ.”). Vianor Pachulia (1929-1978) in one of his works published in 1968, the Kaman church dated the XI-XII centuries. Attached to this work there was a drawing with a plan of the church (measurements were made by V.S.Orelkin).
The medieval church in Kaman was a single-hall stone building, without an apse protruding outward, with an inner altar semicircle and three entrances (central entrance on the west side and two lateral ones on the south and north sides). Light entered the room through two narrow windows located in the altar part and in the western wall. A lithograph with ruins of a medieval Kaman church was first published in the book of Archimandrite Leonid (Kavelin) “Abkhazia and the New Athos monastery of Simon the Canaanite in it” (Moscow, 1885).
According to historical and geographical data, on the territory of the Roman Empire there were several cities with the same name of Kaman (Greek Κόμανα). The most famous of them were the Armenian or Cappadocian Kaman (modern Şar / Adana, Turkey) and the Pontic Kaman (modern Gömenek, Turkey). According to Strabo and Procopius of Caesarea, the founding of the Pontic and Cappadocian Kamans (or the Armenian one) was associated with the name of Orestes and his sister Iphigenia (children of the Mycenaean king Agamemnon). Orestes, in order to heal from the disease, built these beautiful cities with temples in honor of Artemis. And in both of these cities he put his “mourning” hair, the name of these cities comes his hair – Kamanes (Greek η κόμη, dor. Κόμα, lat. coma, that is, hair).
Until 1884, the place of death and burial of St. John Chrysostom was considered the Kamanes of Pontic. In 1884, a Russian researcher in the field of church archeology, Archimandrite Leonid (Kavelin), visited Abkhazia. After his return to Moscow in 1885, he published a work entitled “Abkhazia and the New Athos Monastery of Simon the Canaanite in it.” According to archim. Leonid (Kavelin), while he was compiling the above work, he received news from the New Athos Monastery about a new unexpected discovery of the place of death of St. John Chrysostom. This discovery was made by a Greek archaeologist Constantine Vrissis. Archimandrite Leonid, referring to the message from New Athos, in November 1884 wrote that K. Vrissis arrived from Constantinople to Abkhazia and found the exact location of the city of Kaman, where St. John Chrysostom had died on the way to Pitiund (modern Pitsunda, Abkhazia) and was buried. Accompanied by a guide, K. Vrissis went from Sukhum to the confluence of the Western and Eastern Gumista, where the remains of ancient buildings and an ancient Christian church were located. It was this place, 12 km from Sukhum, the Greek scientist defined as the city of Kaman or Kumany, and the ruins of the church as the church of the holy martyr Basilisk, Bishop of Kaman (early of 4 century), inside it the body of St. John Chrysostom was buried (in 407).
In 2014, Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) successfully defended his doctoral dissertation at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki (Greece) on the topic: “The place of death of St. John Chrysostom “. On the basis of a thorough analysis of the biography of Chrysostom and many other materials, Archimandrite Dorotheos came to the following conclusion: St. John Chrysostom, during his journey from Armenian Kukus (or Cappadocian, modern Göksun, Turkey), the place of his second exile to the place of his final confinement in Pitius (modern Pitsunda, Abkhazia), died on 14 September, 407 in Pontic Kaman (modern Gömenek, Turkey) before reaching the destination. Archimandrite Dorotheos ruled out the possibility of the death and burial of St. John both in the Armenian Kaman and in the Abkhazian Kaman. During the research works, it was discovered that the version about the place of death and burial of Chrysostom on the territory of Abkhazia, which belonged to K. Vrissis (1884) has no proof. All attempts of Archimandrite Dorotheos to find the information about the above-named archaeologist, to find any of his publications, as well as to find the “mysterious” manuscript, on the basis of which K. Vrissis had made his discovery, were unsuccessful.
Thanks to the “new version” of K. Vrissis on the territory of Abkhazia, not only the Abkhazian Kaman “appeared”, but also a number of new Christian shrines: a monastery in honor of St. Basilisk and St. John with the tomb (sarcophagus) of Chrysostom; church (martyrium) of St. Basilisk with the grave of this ancient Christian martyr; water source of St. Martyr Basilisk and the place of the third discovery of the head of St. John the Baptist.
In the main church of the Kaman monastery there is a stone (limestone) sarcophagus, which is revered as the tomb of St. John Chrysostom. The sarcophagus was discovered in 1898 during the restoration of the ancient church. The bones of an unknown person were found in it, which had been kept there for several years. In 1905, these remains were removed from the sarcophagus and buried in an appropriate place. According to the priest Alexander Kremenetsky, at that time they did not have any information about the owner of this sarcophagus. Priest A. Kremenetsky supposed that the tomb could be the resting place of a person in high rank, possibly a bishop. After a while, this sarcophagus began to be revered as the tomb of St. John Chrysostom. According to the archaeologist L. G. Khrushkova, probably the sarcophagus dated back to the early Christian period. However, the owner of it is unknown. The photograph of 1939 shows that during the years of desolation in the Kaman monastery, the sarcophagus was located in the courtyard of the monastery and used as a water reservoir. In the beginning of 60s XX century, it was moved inside the western part of the church of St. John Chrysostom, and in 1967 it was transported to the Sukhum Cathedral. In 1990, after the completion of restoration work in the church of St. John Chrysostom, the stone sarcophagus was returned to Kaman and placed in the northern part of the church.
On one of the hills in Kaman, there are ruins of two buildings. In one of them there is a grave of St. Martyr Basilisk. Archaeologists N.V. Nikitin and V.I. Chernyavsky, who first explored the Kaman territory, at first indicated the ruins as household buildings, while the medieval church on the territory of the monastery of St. John Chrysostom was indicated by the same archaeologists as the church of St. Basilisk. How and when was the burial place of St. Basilisk “moved” from the hill where the monastery was located, to the hill where the ruins of two buildings were located, no one knows.
At a distance of about 500-700 m from the monastery of St. John Chrysostom, there is a water spring, the appearance of it is also related with the name of St. Martyr Basilisk. Indeed, this water spring can be holy, because the remains of ancient Christian churches have survived in its vicinity. However, it has nothing to do with St. Martyr Basilisk of Kaman. It is quite obvious that after the appearance of the “new version” of K. Vrissis and the creation of the Abkhazian monastery in Kaman, the water spring was attributed to St. Basilisk. Its first mention as “the source of St. Martyr Basilisk”refers to 1901. From the ancient hagiological texts related to the description of the martyrdom of St. Basilisk of Kaman, it follows that a miracle with a water source took place in the village of Dakozar (Greek Δακοζάρων), when St. Basilisk was led from the village of Humialo (supposedly modern Güzova, Turkey) to Pontic Kaman (modern Gömenek, Turkey). The distance between the last two settlements is about 15 km. that is, the water spring of St. Basilisk could not be in the Kaman, as we have it in the Kaman of Abkhazia.
In the Abkhazian Kaman, above the modern monastery, on a rock, there is another place revered by Orthodox Christians, where the third discovery of the head of St. John the Baptist happened. According to ancient hagiological texts, the head of St. John the Baptist, placed in a silver vessel, was found for the third time from the earth during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Michael III (842–867). This scene is clearly visible in one of the miniatures of the famous Menologion of Emperor Basil II (Cod. Vaticanus Gr. 1613). In the Abkhazian Kaman, on the contrary, we have a small place carved on a steep stone rock, where the head of St. John the Baptist was immured. It is known how and when this place appeared in the Abkhazian Kaman. In the summer of 1965, the sche-hegumen Savva Ostapenko (1898-1980), who arrived that year from the Pskov-Pechersk monastery in Abkhazia, blessed his two spiritual children to find (without any historical materials) the place of the third finding of the head of St. John the Baptist. After two weeks of “searching” in the mountains of Kaman, they finally found this place. Sche-hegumen Savva went there, served a moleben and blessed to paint the icon of the head of St. John the Baptist. A lot of pilgrims again began to attend this holy place. Perhaps it could have appeared a little earlier, in the early of the 20 century, when a convent functioned in the Abkhazian Kaman. However, regardless of the time of appearance of the revered place of the third обретение of the head of St. John the Baptist in the Abkhazian Kaman, it is quite obvious that it could have appeared here only under the influence of the “new version” of K. Vrissis.
In 1898, the Vasilisko-Zlatoust convent was founded in the Abkhazian Kaman. The circumstances for the foundation of the convent were as follows. Many people began to attend the New Athos Monastery, built on the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia. Some of them were women, followers of “zealous monastic life”, decided to create a new monastic community. At that time a “new version” of the place of death of St. John Chrysostom appeared and those women used that situation. They started the foundation of a monastery in the Abkhazian Kaman with the assistance of the Bishop of Sukhum Arseny (1895-1905). In 1898, the restoration of the medieval church began. In 1900, the restored church was consecrated in the name of St. John Chrysostom. An onion dome appeared above the central hall of the church, as well as a three-tiered bell tower attached to the western side and two vestibules on the southern and northern sides. The new bell tower (preserved to this day) is very close in architecture to the bell towers of the monasteries of Mount Athos (Greece), especially the bell tower of the Philotheou monastery, where the right hand of St. John Chrysostom is kept. Perhaps someone from the brethren of the New Athos or Dranda monasteries (founders of these monasteries arrived in Abkhazia from Mount Athos in Greece) suggested to the sisters of the Kaman monastery the project of the bell tower. Lithographs and photographs of the Kaman monastery (early XX century) have been preserved.
By the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church from 25 July to 9 August, 1901, a resolution was adopted “at the renewed ancient church on the bank of the river of Gumista, near the village of Mikhailovsky, Sukhum district, to build a convent, with the name of the Vasilisko-Zlatoust convent, for such a number of nuns that the monastery is able to maintain.” The same resolution allocated “317 acres of land” (346 hectares of land) to provide the monastery. The official opening of the monastery took place on 13 November (26 November according to the modern calendar) 1901, on the memory day of St. John Chrysostom. It was performed by Bishop Arseniy of Sukhum. The Vasilisko-Zlatoust Monastery was the first convent in the Sukhum Diocese.
In the restored ancient church of the monastery, a carved wooden (oak) iconostasis with gilding was installed. The walls of the church inside were painted “with oil paint and pictures” and “supplied with expensive utensils.” By the time the monastery was officially opened (November 1901), more than 50 nuns lived in the monastery. They temporarily lived in two wooden, plastered buildings. In a large two-story stone building, works were finishing and it was supposed to place a kitchen, a refectory and other household rooms on the first floor, and cells for all nuns on the second floor.
The first head of the Kaman convent was nun Anna. Until 1904 she was the head of the Vasilisko-Zlatoust convent. In 1904, according to her petition, she was approved as abbess. For unknown reasons, mother Anna was forced to leave the Kaman convent. Since 1905, the convent was headed by mother Nina, according to some sources, she began her monastic life in one of the Moscow monasteries, according to others, in the Mokva convent in Abkhazia. Abbess Nina in 1911-1912 was a member of the Sukhum diocesan brotherhood of St. Alexander Nevsky. A copy of the archival document with the name of mother Nina (background 1, op. 6364, fol. 7-9, 1912) (Central State Archives of the Abkhazian ASSR) has survived during the Patriotic War of 1992-1993. A document dated 21 January 1912, testifies that by the beginning of 1912 the number of nuns in the monastery was 150.
In 1905, the Kaman monastery was visited by priest Alexander Kremenetsky, in the second part of his small brochure entitled “Place of the blessed death and burial of St. John Chrysostom, and the Vasilisko-Zlatoust convent in Abkhazia”, dedicated to the description of the Kaman monastery. He noted that the restored ancient church is small in size, it can accommodate no more than 300 people. The walls of the altar and half of the vault are the remains of an ancient church. There is one throne in it. According to priest Kremenetsky, the divine service in the monastery was performed by a regular priest. Sometimes hieromonks from the Dormition-Dranda monastery helped him (in 1903, the hieromonk of the Dranda monastery Ierenaeus served in the Kaman monastery). Priest A. Kremenetsky especially noted the church singing during the service in the church of the Kaman monastery. According to him, such singing cannot be found in “the entire Caucasus: neither in Sukhum, during the episcopal service, nor in the ancient Dranda monastery, which is famous in the region, nor in New Athos.”
In the monastery by 1905 there were about 200 nuns. They were engaged in handicraft embroidery, sewed clothes, made shoes, worked in a garden, cleared the forest, planted gardens, were engaged in sericulture and beekeeping (there were 50 beehives by 1905), and even did plastering work. The monastery also had its own brick factory, the nuns also worked there. In addition to the brick factory, by 1905 the Kaman monastery had a two-storey, large stone building (on the lower floor there was a kitchen, a refectory and other household rooms, in the upper floor there were cells for nuns); three small stone buildings, monastery gifts for pilgrims were placed in two of them, the third room belonged to the priest; two wooden, plastered houses for nuns; stockyard (for two horses, one donkey and a dozen of cattle). In addition, in 1905, the construction of a flour mill began on the Gumista river. The only thing that the monastery lacked was a good fence that could be a protection in such a remote and secluded place. The stone fence, apparently restored on the basis of the ancient one, was only around the church of St. John Chrysostom (preserved to our time). Later (until 1914), on east of the hill, where the church of St. John Chrysostom was situated, a large three-story building for nuns with a church on the third floor was constructed. Two floors were made of limestone, the third one was made of bricks (the building has survived to this day).
The Kaman monastery also received pilgrims, their number increased every year. As noted in the “Guide to the Black Sea Coast” (Petrograd, 1915), the Kaman Monastery had a “small, clean hotel” where visitors were received “cordially.” The pilgrimage route to the Kaman monastery was as follows. People who arrived on steamers, should disembark in Sukhum. It was more convenient to travel from N. Athos to Sukhum on lineyka (multi-seater horse-drawn carriage). In Sukhum there was a courtyard of the Kaman monastery with the church of St. Nicholas on the Shervashidze Street (in Soviet times, Ordzhonikidze St., present-day Voronov St.), where travelers and pilgrims could stay. The route from the courtyard to the monastery was 12 km, and it was possible to go there either on horseback, or, leaving your luggage in the courtyard, and walk.
The road to the Kaman monastery in pre-revolutionary times was difficult, especially on the descent to the bridge in the village of Mikhailovskaya (abkh. Гәыма). By 1905, there was no bridge across the Eastern Gumista. By 1915, according to the guidebook compiled by G. Moskvich, the bridge across the Eastern Gumista had already been built. In 1916, in Petrograd, the reference book “The Black Sea Coast of the Caucasus” (published by M.A. and B.A. Suvorin) was published. It contains several interesting photographs with views of the Abkhazian Kaman. In one of them, the first bridge across the Gumista river is clearly visible. It made easier for nuns and pilgrims to get to the Kaman monastery. In the summer of 1907, the inhabitants of Sukhum chose Kaman as a “place for merry walks.”
Presumably by 1924 the monastery in Kaman was closed by the Soviet authorities. One of the last pilgrims who visited the Abkhazian Kaman was the saint of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Monk George Karslidis (1901-1959). As a young monk, he arrived in Sukhum in 1923 and made a trip with other Greek pilgrims to the Kaman monastery.
In 1943, after the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church, all of the churches on the territory of Abkhazia were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church. However, in the church of St. Nicholas, the former courtyard of the Kaman monastery, the service was performed by the Russian clergy, which was under the jurisdiction of the Russian Church. That is, after 1943 the church of St. Nicholas remained under the leadership of the so-called “Tikhonovites”.
During the Soviet period, the Kaman monastery was plundered, the main church of the monastery fell into complete desolation, and the monastery buildings were converted into a retirement home. However, believers still came to the source of St. Martyr Vasilisk. In 1962, the newspaper Sovetskaya Abkhazia (No. 126) published a short article by F. Tokarev entitled “The Holy Fair”. It reported that, according to the custom, annually to perform a prayer service at the source of the Martyr Vasilisk, on Saturday, 9 June, 1962, believers from the surrounding villages, mostly women, gathered at the source. In addition to them, seminarians, nuns and priests from the Sukhum church took part in the prayer service. Further, the author of the article, with sarcasm towards believers, writes that a “holy” fair was organized there, candles, crosses, icons and holy water were sold.
“This case,” continued F. Tokarev in the article, “would not deserve any attention. But he says that atheistic propaganda is very bad here, especially among the rural population.”
In conclusion, F. Tokarev advises the Shroma collective farm “Gamardzhveba” (we are talking about the village of Mikhailovskoye (Abkh. Гәыма), renamed in 1943 in the village of Shroma, and about migrants from Georgia who occupied the houses of the Greeks) to use the square in front of the holy spring, where there is a lot of water, for poultry or livestock farms.
In 1988, with the financial support of the head of the “Abkhazselzhilkomhoz” Department, Yuri Anua, the restoration of the Kaman church was started. At the same time, construction began on a two-storey residential building with attics (on the south side of the Church of St. John Chrysostom). In November 1990, the church of St. John Chrysostom was consecrated. The service was led by the Georgian Patriarch Ilia II. Hieromonk Andrey (Kurashvili), who died during the 1992-1993 Patriotic War in Abkhazia, became the abbot of the church. The body of Hieromonk Andrey was buried on the territory of the Kaman monastery (to the left of the central entrance to the church) by the Abkhazian soldier Daur Zukhba, who also died later.
During the Patriotic War in Abkhazia 1992-1993, heavy fighting took place in Kaman and in July 1993, the Abkhaz army liberated the village from the Georgian aggressors.
For some time after the war, the Kaman church did not function. In 1994, ancient icons and church utensils were transported to the Sukhum Cathedral. In 1995, the pre-revolutionary shroud with the image of St. John Chrysostom (it was in the sarcophagus) was stolen.
In 2000-2001 the Kaman church started working as a courtyard of the New Athos monastery (at that time the church was under the supervision of the monk Alexander).
On 9 October, 2001, at a meeting of the Diocesan Council of the Sukhum-Abkhazian Diocese, it was decided to open the monastery of St. John Chrysostom in the village of Kaman and to appoint Hieromonk Dorotheos (Dbar) as the abbot of the monastery. While Hieromonk Dorotheos (from 2001 to 2006) was the abbot of the monastery, three people were tonsured as monks in the monastery, repair and construction work was carried out on the territory of the monastery, a wooden church of St. Martyr Basilisk was built on a nearby hill. The construction of the above church began in the summer of 2003, and on 4 June 2005, on the feast day of St. Martyr Basilisk, its solemn consecration took place.
In 2003, the international organization “Hallo Trust” began demining the territory of the village of Kaman and its surroundings. During the Patriotic War of 1992-1993 there were the defensive positions of the Georgian military units in these places. By 2006, about 130.255 m2 of land had been cleared of mines in Kaman and 126 unexploded ordnance was defused.
On 29 December 2006, by decree of the co-chairman of the Diocesan Council of the Abkhazian Diocese, Hieromonk Andrey (Ampar) “in connection with the business trip of Hieromonk Dorotheos (Dbar) to Greece”, monk Candide (Kokoskeria) was appointed as the abbot of the monastery of St. John Chrysostom. In 2007-2008 the duties of the abbot of the Kaman monastery were alternately on the monk Candide (Kokoskeria), the laborer Eustathius (Eduard) Darsalia and the novice of the New Athos monastery Leon (Ajinjal). In 2008, the abbot of the monastery of St. John Chrysostom was appointed Hieromonk Gregory (Khorkin) and he headed the monastery until 2009. Since 2010, the abbot of the monastery has been Hieromonk Ignatius (Kiut) and during this period the interior and exterior of the church of St. John Chrysostom was renovated, the two-storey brethren building of the monastery was overhauled and other measures were taken to improve the monastery. While Hieromonk Ignatius was the abbot of the monastery, the number of parishioners of the Kaman Monastery increased significantly.
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Photos: Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar), Alexander Tokarev.