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Modern traditions of an ancient convent

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.day.kiev.ua/207618 Modern traditions of an ancient convent A cloister on the Holy Mountain near Volodymyr-Volynsky is not only a center of
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2011

      Modern traditions of an ancient convent

      A cloister on the Holy Mountain near
      Volodymyr-Volynsky is not only a center of
      spirituality but is also involved in secular matters
      No19, Thursday, 31 2011
      By Natalia MALIMON, The Day

      VOLYN OBLAST – Ukraine’s oldest convent, Zymne
      Monastery, a stauropegial founded in 1001 by
      Prince Volodymyr the Great. The ancient cloister
      on the Holy Mountain near Volodymyr-Volynsky is
      going to mark its 1,010th (!) anniversary. You
      can feel the powerful energy of ancient European
      traditions and profound spirituality in every
      little stone here. This inimitable aura and the
      excellent human qualities of the Mother Superior
      and the nuns are working little mundane wonders every day.

      The event that occurred later last year at the
      village of Zymne (Volynians usually associate it
      with the large nunnery) remained, unfortunately,
      unknown to most residents of the region. Only one
      local Internet publication briefly reported it,
      quoting the website of the Volodymyr-Volynsky
      District Administration. Yet it was an uncommon
      event. With the blessing of His Beatitude
      Volodymyr, Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox
      Church (Moscow Patriarchate), Zymne organized
      music classes at a school restored at the convent’s expense.

      As a matter of fact, these classes — Volyn’s
      first and only rural music school — had existed
      in Zymne for several years. Stefana, Mother
      Superior of the Zymne Holy Mountain Convent, had
      used the cloister’s funds to purchase a range of
      musical instruments for the local school,
      including two pianos (one of them is digital), a
      6,000-hryvnia accordion (which she personally
      brought from Kyiv), violins, and pan-pipes. It
      was also Mother Stefana’s idea to set up a school
      choir oriented toward spiritual and patriotic
      songs, which also had elegant costumes made at the cloister’s expense.

      The Zymne school and convent face each other from
      across the road. Thousands of pilgrims from all
      over the world, five busloads of whom come here
      every day in the summer, saw ruins on the other
      side of the road for years on end. Since a new
      school was built in Zymne in 1989, the old one
      has not been in use. School principal Alla Melnyk
      says there were plans to tear down this
      structure, an eyesore in the very center of the
      village. Last year the roof caved in under heavy
      snow, and the walls also began to crumble.

      “The Mother Superior is now joking that the
      premises where children have classes is the ‘old’
      school and the renovated convent is the ‘new’
      school,” the principal says laughing.

      The elegant little yellow building by the road
      resembles an Easter egg. It now houses studios,
      where children learn to play the piano, violin,
      accordion, and pan-pipe. There is also a spacious
      room for choir practice. The Mother Superior also
      promises to renovate the dancehall because two
      groups from the choreographic society have
      already resumed work in the new premises. The
      convent has purchased furniture, a boiler, and
      even well-equipped restrooms. The cloister has
      also hired designers to redecorate the interior.

      Why is a self-supporting convent assuming these unconventional functions?

      “Who do you think I turned to when teachers told
      me shortly before September 1 that two children
      from a poor family could not afford to go to
      school? To Mother Stefana. She gave [them] a
      thousand hryvnias. The convent also gave 10,000
      hryvnias to finish the installation of electric
      lighting on the village streets,” says Zymne
      Mayor Viacheslav Katolyk who calls the cloister
      “the village’s asset and spiritual source.” As we
      can see, this “source” also renders concrete
      material assistance to the ancient village.

      Mother Natalia, who was authorized to take us
      round the ancient cloister, said there are 40
      nuns and lay sisters at the convent now. They
      cultivate 15 hectares of land, tend to the cows,
      and run greenhouses of their own. Incidentally,
      the world’s best landscape designers could envy
      the unearthly beauty that reigns supreme on the
      convent’s territory in the warm seasons. In fact,
      it is all the work of the modest nuns. The
      convent also has a mill and a macaroni production
      line of its own, where they baked bread until
      recently. Besides, the cloister lives an intense
      religious life full of long prayer services in
      the temple. Unfortunately, we failed to hear
      Mother Superior Stafana’s opinion about why the
      religious cloister is also assuming difficult
      mundane tasks. We came here at a time when almost
      half the nuns were down with the flu. Local
      schoolchildren were also sick. The Mother
      Superior was ill, too, so she instructed Sister Lukia to deal with us.

      Sister Lukia says that the Mother Superior still
      manages the convent’s choir, though there are
      people who could replace her. She adds that
      Mother Stefana comes from a singing family and
      she sees singing as a divine gift and a part of
      her life. Children from the countryside, like
      Mother Superior once was, cannot afford to not
      make use of their talents. This is why Mother
      Stefana supports the Zymne children, among whom
      there are many gifted ones. For example, when the
      convent gave shelter to a dozen girls from
      problem families a few years ago, it used its own
      transport to take them to the music school or the art studio.

      The small concert that the Zymne children gave on
      the same day after a PTA meeting aroused great
      interest among the teachers and parents. Packed
      in the small house, the audience reacted to the
      performance very emotionally. The school
      principal admits that children are eager to sign
      up for art groups, especially the choir of
      religious and patriotic song. When the choir won
      the 2nd all-Ukrainian festival of children’s art,
      Road to Success, held last June in Zaporizhia,
      the convent also rejoiced. The school choir had
      already sung at a convent temple liturgy together
      with the nuns’ choir on last year’s Easter Day.
      The school principal says that the reason why
      Mother Superior cares so much about restoring the
      old ruined school is that she can see the result
      of the nuns’ righteous labors. For the cloister’s
      charity also has a “mundane” price: it took the
      convent 331,000 hryvnias to restore the old building.

      “And if Mother Stefana had not chosen to help us,
      this building would have already been taken apart!”

      Oddly enough, we managed to find in the school
      only one good photo of children with the Mother
      Superior. It shows the choir kids caroling at the
      convent, but even on this photo Mother Stefana
      and Metropolitan Volodymyr, who was visiting the
      convent, are in the background. The teachers say
      that the nuns try to avoid displaying their goodness and charity “out loud.”
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